Birds in a Blur

Fort DeSoto North Beach egret 5680 September 27, 2018

Image: Great Egret flying at Fort De Soto Park, Florida. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 270 mm, f/5.6, 1/13 sec, ISO 2500, hand-held.

It has been a busy week with almost no downtime to process photos, let alone post a blog.  Last weekend and most of the week were spent at Fort De Soto Park along the western coast of Florida with Artie and two of his clients on his IPT.  I then joined my friends Leslie and Albert in Sarasota for some more wildlife and landscape photography for the past couple days.

While at Fort De Soto Park last week, we photographed birds from sunrise into mid-morning and then again in the afternoon until sunset or the arrival of a storm. When we had conditions of low light around sunrise, I practiced photographing birds as a blur. 

Fort DeSoto North Beach heron blur 6004 September 27, 2018

Image: Great Blue Heron flying at Fort De Soto Park, Florida. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 410 mm, f/5.6, 1/30 sec, ISO 160, hand-held.

I had learned this artistic technique a couple years ago with landscapes when photographing trees whose leaves had changed in autumn, but I had not tried it with wildlife until recently. It is a hard technique to master and takes a lot of practice to get a feel for it. I practiced one time a month ago on shorebirds in New York with Artie, but I was determined to play with it more at Fort De Soto Park each morning.

 Fort DeSoto North Beach gull blur 5861 September 27, 2018

Image: Gull flying at Fort De Soto Park, Florida. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 310 mm, f/5.6, 1/30 sec, ISO 640, hand-held.

During the first couple mornings at the park, there were thousands of birds along the shore enjoying a feeding frenzy of fish dying from the red algae bloom that has been plaguing the Florida coast over the past two months. 

Fort DeSoto North Beach blur 0051 September 24, 2018

Image: Gulls flying at Fort De Soto Park, Florida. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/16, 1/40 sec, ISO 2000, hand-held.

We had several blast-offs of flocks of gulls and when I used a slower shutter speed, I was able to capture the movement of the birds through the blur of their wings. 

Fort DeSoto North Beach blur 5689 September 27, 2018

Image: Blast off of gulls flying at Fort De Soto Park, Florida. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 270 mm, f/5.6, 1/13 sec, ISO 2500, hand-held.

At times I was able to isolate a small flock of the gulls and capture them flying in one direction. I tried to match my panning with the camera to the speed of the bird so I could get the bird’s head and body slightly in focus while the rest of the image was blurred. 

Fort DeSoto North Beach blur 7381 September 23, 2018

Image: Laughing Gulls flying at Fort De Soto Park, Florida. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 310 mm, f/16, 1/30 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held.

I found it easier to do this with larger birds like the Brown Pelican. They tended to fly parallel to the shore over a sand bar in the sea. I was able to track them easier and caught several images of them. 

Fort DeSoto North Beach blur 6079 September 27, 2018

Image: Brown Pelican flying at Fort De Soto Park, Florida. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/5.6, 1/30 sec, ISO 160, hand-held.

They also tended to fly in small flocks so I spent time trying to capture the flock in a image blur. 

Fort DeSoto North Beach blur 3718 September 26, 2018

Image: Brown Pelicans flying at Fort De Soto Park, Florida. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 380 mm, f/6.3, 1/30 sec, ISO 100, hand-held.

As the light and colors of the sky changed each morning, the background also became an important consideration when composing images. During some moments of the mornings, there was a pink hue on the water due to reflections from the pink clouds so I tried to capture birds flying over this area. 

Fort DeSoto North Beach blur 5778 September 27, 2018

Image: Gull flying at Fort De Soto Park, Florida. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 350 mm, f/5.6, 1/30 sec, ISO 1250, hand-held.

After the sun rose, the color of the water turned the bright blue which also created a beautiful peaceful background, especially when it contrasted with the white Great Egret. 

Fort DeSoto North Beach pelican blur 5683 September 27, 2018

Image: Great Egret flying at Fort De Soto Park, Florida. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 270 mm, f/5.6, 1/13 sec, ISO 2500, hand-held.

The sand bar that was a couple hundred yards off shore had a few plants so I tried capturing birds as they flew along it so it added more scenery to some images. 

Fort DeSoto North Beach blur 5848 September 27, 2018

Image: Gull flying at Fort De Soto Park, Florida. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 290 mm, f/5.6, 1/30 sec, ISO 640, hand-held.

When I exhausted all the possible landscape combinations, I watched for various bird species, especially the bigger birds. The last morning, I was lucky enough to see a Great Blue Heron fly over the sea in front of me and land close by. 

Fort DeSoto North Beach blur 5935 September 27, 2018

Image: Great Blue Heron flying at Fort De Soto Park, Florida. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 360 mm, f/5.6, 1/30 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Many images did not turn out well and were tossed. The ones in which I could discern the bird species and see parts of the head in focus were the most appealing to me. Sometimes I didn’t mind more abstract photos. In the image below, the tern is flying to the left with its wings flapping in front of its head. The angle of the wings makes it harder to view the bird’s head and body, but I enjoyed the lines created by the wings. 

Fort DeSoto North Beach blur 7213 September 23, 2018

Image: Royal Tern flying at Fort De Soto Park, Florida. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 270 mm, f/22, 1/20 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held.

After practicing this technique for a couple days in a row, I found settings that allowed me to capture images that I enjoyed. Initially, I played around with various shutter speeds, apertures, shooting modes, and ISO.  I preferred shooting in manual mode with a shutter speed around 1/30 second. When there was less light, I had to drop the shutter speed to avoid going over an ISO of 2500. With my current camera, I don’t like the amount noise in the image with an ISO higher than 2500. I came to prefer an aperture at the widest opening of f/5.6 to allow in the most light to the sensor. 

Fort DeSoto North Beach blur 5871 September 27, 2018

Image: Gull flying at Fort De Soto Park, Florida. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 310 mm, f/5.6, 1/30 sec, ISO 500, hand-held.

I am still playing catch-up on image processing and responding to comments and emails. We are getting close to leaving for Argentina and Antarctica on October 15, but I will post as much as I can before then.

To see these images individually and more that were not included here, please visit my gallery here: Amy’s Impressions

Author: Dr. Amy Novotny

Amy Novotny is a physical therapist, marathon/ultra runner and nature photographer. She treats patients for a variety of conditions but specializes in chronic pain and calming an overactive nervous system using special diaphragmatic breathing. She has used this technique to help her qualify and run in four Boston marathons! She enjoys the outdoors and can often be found running and hiking on trails in throughout Arizona. She attempts to capture the beauty of nature with her photography both locally in Arizona and also throughout the United States. She is becoming more interested in wildlife photography and attempting to capture the emotion of animal interactions. In her spare time, Amy volunteers as a photo guide for the Arizona Highways PhotoScapes nonprofit and shares her joy of nature with others. Please feel free to contact her regarding her photography, physical therapy or running.

10 thoughts on “Birds in a Blur”

  1. Very creative…love the almost “landscape” looks of some of these! I find this technique fascinating… The Great Egret is my favorite…you nailed that one perfectly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Amy,

    Nice to meet you on the IPT. Great work on the blurs. I ignored the larger birds thinking they were too slow moving for effective blurs. Your shots prove me wrong. The panning technique is interesting, in addition to sharper heads I like the streaky effect on background…adds another dimension of motion. I look forward to following your blog.

    -ED

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ed! It was really nice to meet you too on the IPT! I love meeting other photographers and sharing our passion! Thanks for the kind words. It’s amazing all the different types of techniques that are available to allow us to capture interesting images. I hope your photography has been going well on the West Coast!

      Like

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