Crow Photo Tips

Marvin 2018

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months … possibly years.

I’m often asked about my photography — what kind of equipment I use, lighting and so on — so I naturally I thought I’d blog about it.

Starting a new post is a bit like deciding the angle from which you will dive into a pool. The first few attempts often end as belly flops.

I began composing an epic, encompassing my personal photographic journey, plus every thought that’s ever crossed my mind about the possible significance of photography.

You will be relieved to hear that it has, after days of literary struggle, been edited down to a more modest offering. Hopefully a cleaner dive.

If you’re in a BIG rush, here’s the Cole’s Notes version:

  • Keep everything portable. The best camera is the world is no good to you if you didn’t bring it along because it’s too heavy and/or precious.
  • Don’t get bogged down in the technology.
  • Flat light is your best friend. There are exceptions to this (and most) rules.
  • Photograph subjects that mean something to you, and aim to communicate why it’s special in each image.

 

EQUIPMENT/TECHNOLOGY

I am utterly hopeless at retaining any kind of technical information. Each and every time I go to reply to someone about what kind of camera and lens I use, I have to go and actually find the camera to have a look at the the numbers on it.

olympus OMD EM1 blog

So — this is the camera I use currently. It’s an Olympus micro-four thirds model, the OM-1D EM-1 model, about four or five years old. As you can see, it’s a bit battered, because I just pick it up a take it with me almost every time I head out of the door. It’s been soaked more that once. Last fall it suffered the camera version of a stroke — I took a picture and it made a terrible sound and everything went white. The shutter was stuck open and I had to take it for repair. It’s back in business now, but has never really been the same.

I almost always have my camera on the same setting for my crow photos — fast ISO, big aperture (so the background will be out of focus) and speed as fast as the available light will allow. Since my camera’s brush with death these are the only settings at which it will work properly — so I guess woman and machine have become one.

OMD w lens blog

The lens I use almost exclusively is an Olympus zoom, 75-300mm. It’s not the “best” quality lens by any means. It’s plastic, rather slow, has eccentric focusing habits. It too has also had to be repaired a couple of times. On the plus side, it’s not too heavy and relatively inexpensive, so if it does get terminally injured on a raven-seeking mountain trip in the snow, it’s not the end of the world. I do own an Olympus “pro” lens (40-150mm) and it is unquestionably a superior lens. I use it when photographing close to home, or when I go to the Still Creek roost, because it’s better in low light. But the weight of the thing! And the cost!!

camera strap blog

One technical tip — if you have a larger than pocket-sized camera, replace the strap with one like this that allows you to wear it over your shoulder and tuck it behind you when it’s not needed and swing to the front when you do. This one’s a Joby (there are lots of other brands) and the only reason I made this awesome discovery is because I won the strap, and some other gear, in a photography contest a few years back.

LIGHT

Coat of Many Colours

A bright sunny day would show this young crow as a black bird. The myriad subtle shades of sepia, indigo and mauve in those lovely immature feathers would be quite lost.

Flat light is what I love the most — those days when there is some high cloud and a weak sun filtering through it. Yes, I am one of those obnoxious people who complain about a long run of hot sunny days.  They’re terrible for taking photographs of dark feathered birds — too much deep shadow and burning highlight, and almost impossible to get the subtle detail. In the middle of summer I tend to get up really early to try and get  some photographs before the sun is fully up. I always aim for a photograph that looks as if it could have been painted, and diffuse light really is the only way I’ve found to achieve that effect.

Junior crow portrait

Exceptions to the Rule

Bright sunny days are often good for taking interesting corvid silhouette pictures.

Ruffled Crow Silhouette

SUBJECTS/REASONS

Obviously, crows and ravens are MY subjects, with occasional other birds, and a bit of rust and foliage on the side.

Whatever “your” subject is — fashion, flowers, architecture, slugs, barbed wire fences, kittens, soup tins — just follow it. Set yourself little assignments every day, if you can. Look at the results and see what you like and what you don’t like.

Does the image tell the viewer something specific about the subject, something that conveys the emotion you feel in its presence?

If yes — do more of that.

If no — try something slightly different next time.

The side effect of this process is that you set up a bit of a feedback loop. The more you look at your chosen subject, the more you think about the reasons why you take photos.

Picket Fence Crow

Some Reasons to Take Photographs

  • to create a periscope up from the choppy (or becalmed) sea of daily life
  • to try to stop time from moving on
  • to make yourself think more about a subject
  • to see that a single subject can look very different from another angle
  • to simply record things (many photos I take are just to keep a note of which crow is where and when)
  • to try (perhaps over years) to find the truth in something

 

Junior Crow on Blue Fence

I consider my work to be a combination of wildlife and portrait, with an emphasis on the latter. My daily struggle is to create images that don’t just tell the viewer what the bird looks like, but also to hint at what is going on behind those glinting, intelligent eyes.

Ultimately, I’d love to create the corvid version of Karsh’s portrait of Winston Churchill.

Moody Crow

Failing that, maybe just a few more like this …

Interpretive Dance

Corvid Interpretive Dance, Vol: 1

 

 

SaveSave

Nesting News

Eric Face

In our local Crowlandia we’re ricocheting between serenity and stress.

Suspense is the name of the game as eggs and hatchlings start to fill the nests.

Most days it’s seems really very peaceful. The crows maintain an uncharacteristic hush behind leafy screens, quietly guarding their nests.

In April, it was possible to see a pair of crows constructing, and then sitting on, a nest high in the poplars from the comfort of my dining room window …

A couple of weeks later and the nest is discreetly hidden by foliage.

I’m pretty sure that this nest belongs to the Firehall Family of crows.

One day earlier this week both of the nesters made a rare double trip down to terra firma for a chat.

Perhaps they were out on a date, although one of them seemed to be feeling the need for a little personal space ….

Eric and Clara are around too. I think their nest is also in the poplars, just a bit to the south of the Firehall nest. It’s not within view of my window and too far up to see from the ground, but Eric is guarding his corner diligently.

Eric on Alert

A couple of weeks ago there were a few inter-crow skirmishes between Eric and the Firehall gang, presumable sparked by minor breaches of neighbourly conduct.

Crow Skirmish

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A detente seems to have been reached lately.

A circumspect hush has fallen over the neighbourhood.

Now that nests are becoming populated, location is an even more closely guarded secret. Energy must be saved for the most important things.

Part of the silence seems due to the absence of some of usual crow enemies at the moment.

The ravens have moved on. I haven’t seen or heard one near here for almost a month now. Also missing: the pair of bald eagles that usually cruise the area at this time of year. Perhaps both ravens and eagles are waiting to hear the quacking of baby crows before they start their “grocery shopping” expeditions.

But there is one sure thing around now that will get the nesting crows to break their silence.

With a vengeance.

Crow Raccoon Committee

Meeting of CCC (Concerned Corvid Citizens) in the alley earlier this week.

Cawing Marvin

Two weeks ago Marvin cawed for an entire day. He was cawing when I got up, before 6am, and he was still at it when dusk fell. Even by crow standards, he was sounding a bit hoarse by then.

The culprit, in both of these incidents, was almost certainly the masked bandit. The tree in which Marvin and Mavis seem to have their nest has been robbed by racoons every spring since I’ve been noticing such things.

Yesterday, on the dog walk, I heard a furious crow, then noticed a small, lollipop-shaped tree in someone’s garden shaking as if in a hurricane.

As it was a windless morning I decided to wait and see what happened next.

Sure enough …

Raccoon climbs out of a tree

Raccoon on a Wall

I’m not sure if the raccoon scored any eggs this time. Perhaps Geordie and I interrupted this particular heist, but those clever little hands are very adept at nest robbing. I suppose there are little raccoon kits waiting for lunch somewhere.

Circle of life, and etc …

Crow Seeking Advice

Marvin and his trusty pal, Rusty, engage in philosophical discussion on the back gate.

Marvin is still coming by occasionally for a snack and visit. I imagine Mavis is on the nest, so I’m hoping Marvin is thoughtfully saving some peanuts to take back for her.

Morning Visit from Marvin

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On a recent dog walk I heard a crow begging call coming form a cedar tree. It sounded just like a baby crow calling for “food, food, food” — but it’s too early for such noisy youngsters. As I suspected, it was a mother crow, confined to nest duty, calling out to dad to quit lolling about, pondering the meaning of life, and *@#*%! bring her something to eat.

Mother Crow with Nest

Soon, we will be hearing the ceaseless “quacking” sound of dozens of baby crows, all vying for parental feeding service

Calling Baby Crow

Feeding Baby Crows

I am the cutest of my siblings. I am the loudest. Feed me. Feed me. F-E-E-D M-E!!

For a further preview of things to come, see my 2014 post: DIVE BOMBED BY CROWS

In the meantime, at least when the area is raccoon-free, it’s pretty quiet around here.

But those devoted parents are ever-vigilant. Was that the shadow of an eagle  … ?

Crow Sky Watchers

SaveSave