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How to Photograph Tiny, Quickly Moving Birds

How to Photograph Tiny, Quickly Moving Birds

Wildlife photographers deploy a range of tactics when attempting to capture birds, and those which are very easily scared and move incredibly quickly offer a particular challenge. This video shows you some tactics to deploy in order to get some fantastic photos.

Wildlife photographer Trond Westby clearly has a lot of experience of photographing the goldcrests flitting around the forests of Norway. At just 0.2 oz (6 g), the goldcrest is Europe’s smallest bird and is found in throughout almost all of the northern hemisphere outside of North America. Rather distinguished in appearance, its scientific name, R. regulus, means knight or king. They certainly do not sit still for very long.

In addition to the techniques shown in this video, Westby has two other tactics: a lot of patience that couples with a good understanding of how the goldcrests behave. Knowing their feeding habits and movement patterns is fundamental to getting the best results.

Obviously, Westby has a serious amount of gear for capturing these images, and you might be intrigued by his tripod. Westby is using a gimbal head to make it easier to manipulate his huge telephoto lens, and like any good tripod head, one of these does not come cheap.

What other tips would you add? Let us know in the comments below.

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How to capture fast-moving birds (and animals)

How to capture fast-moving birds (and animals)

Photographing wildlife in action can be challenging, but with some patience and perseverance the results can be both dramatic and mesmerising. Make sure you enter the Movement round of APOY here


How to capture fast-moving birds (and animals) 1

Your guide: Ben Hall
Ben is one of the UK’s leading wildlife photographers with many international awards to his name. His images are widely published throughout the world, he has co-authored two books and runs photography workshops in the UK and overseas.
Visit www.benhallphotography.com.

How to capture fast-moving birds (and animals) 2

A fast shutter speed was used to freeze the motion of this osprey as it dived for its prey. Timing was critical in order to see the eye through the moving wings. Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, 300mm, 1/1000sec at f/4, ISO 2500

You don’t have to travel to far-flung, exotic places, as opportunities for action photography are all around us – from birds in our back garden and your local park, to the sea cliffs up and down the coastline. As with any type of wildlife photography, researching and observing your subjects is paramount, and will ultimately help to get you into the right place at the right time.

There are other important techniques, however, which will help you on your way to capturing spectacular action images of wildlife.

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Bright but soft light worked wonders here. It provided enough speed to freeze the moving bullfinch and chaffinch but kept shadows at a minimum, which has helped to reveal plenty of detail. Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, 100-400mm, 1/1750sec at f/8, ISO 1600

Birds in flight
Mastering the capture of birds in flight is difficult. Success demands plenty of perseverance, not to mention the tolerance of many failures, but practice some simple techniques and you will soon find yourself taking successful action shots of flying birds. Ideally, you will need to shoot in relatively bright light, since this will allow you to use a fast shutter speed – which is paramount if you hope to freeze the movement of a fast-flying bird.

However, you should avoid harsh, midday sunlight, as the resulting images will be spoilt by harsh shadows and bleached highlights. Shooting during the first and last hours of sunlight will give the best results, as the low sun will light up the underside of the bird, revealing important detail that would otherwise be lost in deep shadow.

Aim for a shutter speed of at least 1/1000sec and select the predictive auto focus setting. Expanding your focus points to a group is a handy way of increasing your margin for error when it comes to tracking your subject. You will lose some accuracy, however, so you may need to stop down to a smaller aperture to increase depth of field in case the focus point picks out the wing instead of the head.

A good panning technique will result in a greater number of sharp images, and obtaining critical sharpness is perhaps the trickiest aspect of flight photography. The key to successful panning lies in smoothness and anticipation. To adopt the correct posture, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and tuck your elbows in to your side to increase stability.

As your subject passes, swivel your upper body smoothly, matching the speed of the bird. Wing position can make or break a shot, so fire a burst of frames using the high-speed drive mode to give you a sequence to choose from.

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I photographed this heron bringing in nesting material during the first hour of sunlight. The low angle of the sun has created some subtle backlighting and wonderful background colours. Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, 500mm, 1/60sec at f/4, ISO 320

Courtship action/behaviour
Images that depict wildlife behaviour, such as a breeding pair of birds performing a courtship display, bonding, or passing food to each other connect with the viewer on an emotional level. They tell a story and offer a glimpse into the subject’s life cycle. When tackling a project like this, you will need to be prepared to put some time in.

Researching and observing your subject’s behaviour will be the key to success. Pick somewhere local, ideally offering easy access, such as a city or country park. This will allow you to make numerous visits over a period of time.

Start by simply observing potential subjects, noting down any patterns that you see. Search out possible backgrounds and pay attention to how the light changes throughout the day. You should soon be able to visualise the type of images that might be possible. Being armed with as much information as possible will pay dividends in the long run.

When photographing birds on water, such as displaying grebes or swans, shooting from a low angle will immediately create a more intimate feel. With the help of a large aperture, a low viewpoint will also make it easier to blow the background out of focus, separating your subject from any potential distractions.

For ground- or water-level subjects, a beanbag is a great choice of support, and should allow you to get down low enough to include a foreground which will immediately create a sense of depth.

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A very fast shutter speed was needed to freeze this kingfisher as it dived for its prey. Small, fast-flying birds such as this will require at least 1/2500sec to ensure sharp focus. Canon EOS-1D X, 70-200mm, 1/4000sec at f/7.1, ISO 2000

Action in motion
Pin-sharp images of wildlife in action undoubtably hold arresting impact but revealing the movement of your subject using a slow shutter speed can be a great way of capturing a sense of motion and energy. Pick an overcast day and select shutter priority to give you control over the shutter speed.

You will need to experiment to find the best results for your chosen subject, but between 1/15 and 1/60sec is a good place to start. Birds in flight or shaking water from their wings can work well for this technique, their wing beats resembling brush strokes on canvas.

Dropping your shutter speed to over 1 second and intentionally moving the camera during the exposure can result in some interesting and abstract effects. There are no rules here, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different shutter speeds and camera movement.

Abstract images connect with the imagination, so your subject doesn’t even have to be recognisable for the image to work. A mammal in full sprint can look equally impressive, so why not visit your local deer park to experiment with panning? By using a similar technique to flight photography, but using a slower shutter speed, you should find it possible to create a motion blur effect in the background, whilst keeping the subject relatively sharp and distinct.

Garden birds
With a bit of preparation work, even your own back garden can become a haven for wild birds, providing endless opportunities for action photography all year round. By placing a simple feeding pole in your garden, you should find it easy to attract a variety of subjects within range.

For natural-looking shots, search for some attractive perches and use a spring clamp to attach these to the pole. You should find that, after some time, the birds will land on the perches momentarily before hopping down to the feeder. Action can be fast-paced at a feeding station, so look out for moments when the birds squabble over the food and be ready to fire at a moment’s notice.

You will need very fast shutter speeds to freeze the movement of small birds, at least 1/2000sec, so keep your aperture wide and use a suitable ISO. To capture flight shots, try pre-focusing on the perch using manual focus, and fire a burst of shots as the bird takes off, or comes in to land. You may need to stop your aperture down to increase depth of field but be careful with your shutter speed and raise the ISO if necessary.

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Capturing the behaviour of your subject will give a real insight into its life cycle. For this image, I sought out a shadowy background for these mute swans, to create drama. Canon EOS-1D X, 500mm, 1/3200sec at f/5, ISO 250


Ben’s Kit List

Telephoto lens
For most wildlife subjects, a tele or tele-zoom lens will be needed, especially for wary subjects. For any fast-moving action, a lens with a large maximum aperture such as f/2.8 or f/4 will be useful, but it is by no means essential.
Beanbag
For low-level subjects, a beanbag is an excellent choice of support. It will offer a rock-solid platform for your lens whilst still allowing a good freedom of movement.
Tripod and gimbal head
When using a tripod, a gimbal head is a great way of supporting long telephoto lenses. A gimbal will take all of the weight out of the lens, whilst also allowing a smooth panning movement – which is perfect when you’re photographing birds
in flight.
Portable hide
When photographing garden birds, unless you can shoot from an open window, a portable hide will be useful. You can alter the position of the hide easily to take advantage of different backgrounds and the changing light.


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Why it works

I used a fast 300mm f/2.8 lens to capture this osprey as it dived for its prey. I selected an aperture of f/4 and shot from a very low angle to the water which has created a diffused foreground and background, helping the bird to ‘pop’ and eliminate any distracting elements from the frame.

The light at the time was bright but overcast, so there is plenty of detail underneath the wings and no harsh shadows on the water. Compositionally, I broke the usual rule and placed the bird to the left-hand side of the frame, so it is exiting the picture. This would usually create an unbalanced feel to an image, especially with a moving subject, but my aim here was to show the impact on the water and include as much of the water droplets as I could, so in this instance it works.


Ben’s top tips for capturing birds in flight

  • When panning, be sure to switch your image stabiliser to setting 2; this only corrects vertical movement and should help to speed up the autofocus.
  • Switch to predictive focus mode, because this will allow you to track your subject, keeping it in focus at all times.
  • When panning, expanding your focusing area will give you a greater margin for error when it comes to keeping your focus point on a moving target.
  • If the light is bright enough, try stopping your aperture down to f/8. This will increase depth of field, making focusing accuracy a little bit less critical.
  • Shooting in high-speed drive mode will allow you to fire a sequence of frames, giving you the best chance of capturing the optimum wing position.
  • When shooting birds against the sky, you will need to increase the exposure to prevent your subject from becoming a silhouette – unless that is your intention, of course. Up to two stops of positive exposure compensation should result in a
    nicely balanced exposure.
  • To compose in-camera, move your focusing points to one side of the frame: right if your subject is travelling left, and vice versa. This will leave space in front of the bird, creating an effective composition.
  • The histogram is a powerful tool. Make a habit of checking it regularly to prevent under- or over-exposure, especially when shooting in changing lighting conditions.
  • Using back button focus means that you can leave your focus set to predictive mode at all times. To lock focus, press and release the back button, to track a moving subject, simply hold your thumb down.
  • When attempting silhouetted flight shots, use spot meter and take your meter reading from a bright area of the sky. This will prevent any highlights from overexposing.

Before and after

These two images are from a similar sequence. My aim was to use a slow shutter speed and pan to capture the motion of this fallow deer as it sprinted across the bracken.

This can be a very hit-and-miss technique, the success relying on both the choice of shutter speed and a smooth panning technique.

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The first image (above) was taken with a shutter speed that was too slow and has resulted in poor definition of the deer. In the second image (below), a better choice of shutter speed combined with the panning movement has created a motion blur effect in the background whilst still rendering detail in the subject.

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The position of the deer is also more effective, conveying a real sense of speed and energy.


Set up a garden bird feeding station

A feeding station for garden birds can be as simple as you wish and should be a relatively inexpensive project. The beauty of a set-up like this is you will have ultimate control over the positioning, the background and its orientation to the light. You could take advantage of both front lighting and backlighting opportunities by simply moving your shooting position. This easy step-by-step guide will help you to set up an effective feeding station in no time and therefore provide you with a steady influx of garden visitors that you can photograph all year round.

How to capture fast-moving birds (and animals) 10

Set up a feeding station
A feeding pole will need to be fixed into the ground. On this you can then hang one or more feeders. Make sure the background is distant enough to blow out of focus with a wide aperture.

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Offer a variety of bait
Try a variety of bait in your feeders such as sunflower hearts, peanuts and fat balls. This should attract a variety of species to your garden, creating more opportunities for capturing action shots.

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Clamp a natural perch
Clamp a natural perch to the feeding pole to give the birds a place to sit before dropping down to feed. Look for attractive perches covered in moss or lichen to add interest. For authenticity, make sure the perches are in keeping with the birds’ natural habitat.

How to capture fast-moving birds (and animals) 13

Invest in a hide
If you are not able to photograph from an open window you will need a hide from which to shoot. The advantage of using a hide is its flexibility. You will be able to move position at will, allowing you to experiment with a variety of backgrounds and lighting conditions.

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Create your own backdrop
If you are struggling to find a natural background, a large canvas can be attached to a garden wall or shed to create a faux background. Choose muted colours such as greens and browns to keep your shots looking as natural as possible.


Further reading
Wildlife photography tips and techniques

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johnriley1uk’s latest blog : garden birds galore

johnriley1uk's latest blog : the cameras with the wonderful lenses

Garden Birds Galore

18 Jun 2021 1:50PM  
Views : 58
Unique : 49

Our back garden, such as it is, has been resplendent with bird activity for weeks now. They all have a technique where they come down to feed, and then as soon as one of us appears with a camera they all flee to the four corners of the earth. Lens cap on, birds come back. Lens cap off, birds fly away. However, today I tricked them by shooting pictures of flowers in the garden, and then they came down, lulled by this strange alternative pursuit. Here’s a selection of images as they attack the fatballs kindly provided for their superior dining experience…..

I presume this is a juvenile, sitting atop the feeder in a wistful sort of way.
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Unfortunately the grown ups are in charge.
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So wistfully looking up is the next brave step.
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A quick attack to gain a place at the table, followed by a scuffle.
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And a new order is established.
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And that is how to get service in a restaurant…….

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Zeiss Lens Families Are Named After Birds

Zeiss Lens Families Are Named After Birds

Zeiss Lens Families Are Named After Birds 15

In the past decade, Zeiss has launched a number of new lens lines for DSLR and mirrorless cameras with unusual-sounding names such as Batis, Otus, and Milvus. Perhaps you own one of these lenses, but did you know that each of those lens lines is named after a bird?

After announcing its first family of lenses for mirrorless cameras back at Photokina 2012, Zeiss announced the name, Touit, in April 2013. In a blog post, Zeiss explained the reasoning behind the name choice and shared that it would name future lines after birds.

But where does “Touit” come from? This illustrious name was found through an intensive international selection procedure. We followed a concept that is already well established in the automotive industry: selecting certain themes for product names. As an example, one well-known German carmaker names its automobiles after types of winds and currents.

We decided to derive the future names of the lenses from the Latin names of birds. That fits well, as birds usually have excellent eyesight and can take unusual perspectives. Birds are also diverse and lively animals. Furthermore, the Latin names all have an attractive sound and are common in many languages and cultures.

The German carmaker Zeiss is referring to is Volkswagen, which names its famous models after winds. For example: Golf refers to Golfstrom (“gulf stream” in German), Jetta is “jet stream, and Passat is “trade wind.”

Here’s a closer look at what birds Zeiss chose for its lens lines:

Touit

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Zeiss Touit lenses offer “high image quality with a fast and accurate autofocus function,” and they’re available for APS-C cameras using Sony E and Fujifilm X mounts.

“The name Touit comes from the band-tailed parrots,” Zeiss says. “This bird is very small and agile, and its plumage is deep green. The Touit parrots live in Latin America and the Caribbean in a wide range of different habitats, from damp-tropical island regions to lowland rainforests to thorn-bush savannas and even high in the Andes Mountains at altitudes of up to over 20,000 feet.”

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Brown-backed parrotlet, Touit melanonotus. Photo by Dario Sanches and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

“Touit is pronounced like the English ‘do it,’” Zeiss says. “Touit stands for good visibility, agility, mobility and diversity, qualities which also aptly describe the new ZEISS lenses for mirrorless camera systems.”

Otus

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Zeiss Otus manual-focus lenses offer a “medium format look and quality” for full-frame cameras using Canon EF and Nikon F mounts.

Otus is the largest genus of owls when it comes to the number of species — roughly 45 species are currently known. Their brownish color allows them to blend in against tree trunks. The owls are small in size and are known for being agile.

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A well-camouflaged African scops owl, Otus senegalensis. Photo by Alastair Rae and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Batis

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Zeiss Batis lenses are “professional full-frame AF lenses” for Sony E-mount mirrorless cameras.

Batis is a genus of songbirds that are found in Africa. They are small, have striking plumage, and are agile enough to catch flying insects in mid-air.

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Chinspot batis, Batis molitor. Photo by Derek Keats and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Loxia

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Zeiss Loxia lenses are “compact, full-frame MF lenses” for Sony E-mount mirrorless cameras.

Loxia (also called the crossbill) is a genus of six species of birds in the finch family. The birds have beaks with crossed mandibles, hence the name “crossbill.” The colorful birds use their unusual beaks to pick out seeds from cones.

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A red crossbill, Loxia curvirostra. Photo by David Menke.

Milvus

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Zeiss Milvus full-frame manual focus lenses “unleash the performance of high resolution cameras” designed for Canon EF and Nikon F cameras.

Milvus is a genus containing the black, red, and yellow-billed kites, which are birds of prey found across Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

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Red kite, Milvus milvus. Photo by Charles J. Sharp and licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

To recap: Touit is a parrot, Otus is an owl, Batis is a songbird, Loxia is a crossbill, and Milvus is a kite.

If you’re wondering what the next Zeiss lens family is going to be called, just take a look at the very long list of all the bird genera that exist — there’s a great chance it’ll be a name from that list.


Image credits: Header illustration bird photo by Thomas Kraft and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

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Learn How To Photograph Birds Of Prey With These 5 Top Tips

Learn How To Photograph Birds Of Prey With These 5 Top Tips

Owl

 

Photographing birds of prey in the wild isn’t something that’s easy to do, however as the UK is home to some excellent birds of prey centres where photographers have the opportunity to shoot up close with these majestic birds when armed with the right kit and technique. 

At centres, the birds are trained to fly close to visitors which gives photographers, with a bit of patience, the chance to capture images of birds of prey in flight as well as photos of other natural behaviour they demonstrate.
 

1. What Gear Will I Need? 

Thanks to the close range, photographers can generally capture shots of larger birds of prey with shorter lenses, however, for shots of birds in flight, you’ll need a lens that has a longer reach.

For portraits, use a tripod but when in flight you may find this kind of support doesn’t give you the fluidity of movement you need. Plus, these centres are popular locations and you can find yourself in a crowd where tripods won’t be a welcomed feature. If you do have room for a tripod, put a ball head on it as this will allow you to adjust the position of the camera quicker and easier. A pistol grip could also be useful as they are ideal for pursuing and capturing fast-moving subjects.

Some places have hides which offer enough space for tripods so you won’t be fighting for elbow room. 

 

2. Make Sure You Follow The Centre’s Rules

Centres have different rules when it comes to displays. Some allow you to move around while others don’t so do check before you start taking your images. It’s important to pick a good shooting spot before the display begins so do have a scout around the location well before the scheduled start time.

 

Bird of Prey

 

3. Capturing Shots Of Birds In Flight

Photographers with fast prime lenses are at an advantage with this but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try if you have a different piece of kit. It can be a little hit and miss and will take some perseverance to get right but there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of capturing a good shot.

Birds tend to take off and land into the wind so if you can position yourself so the wind is blowing from behind you, chances are you’ll be able to capture a head-on shot of your subject in flight.

It’s also worth manually focusing on a spot you know the birds will fly through/into as with some practice, this should improve your chances of capturing a good shot.

A bird flying across you is easier to track the path of than one flying towards you as you can pan with its movement and its path won’t change as quickly. Continuous shooting will increase the chances of you capturing a shot with the bird in-frame, but depending on your camera autofocusing may struggle. 

Aiming to capture a shot just before a bird lands tends to be a little easier, as Linda Wright explained in a previous article: “Birds stall just before they land – slowing almost to a stop and spreading their wings wide – so this is a good moment to aim for and easy to predict.”

Do remember that each subject flies at a different speed and often has different characteristics of flight. Understanding this will help you improve and modify your technique accordingly.

For more tips on capturing shots of birds in flight, take a look at this article: Photographing Birds In Flight

 

4. Master Your Shutter Speeds

When it comes to shutter speeds, faster is good, although slower speeds can result in some interesting blurring of wings if you want to take a more artistic approach.

Check your exposure, taking a reading from roughly where you’ll be aiming before the action begins can help, and go for a higher ISO rather than risking a wider aperture if you find light levels to be too low. 

 

Owl

 

5. Check The Position Of The Sun

Note where the sun is for when you’re shooting with your lens towards the sky as you don’t want to pan and find it’s shining down your lens. It’s dangerous to look directly at the sun and can be very painful so do take care. 

 

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johnriley1uk’s latest blog : lenses to capture birds by

johnriley1uk's latest blog : the cameras with the wonderful lenses

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Lenses to Capture Birds By

5 May 2021 10:53PM  
Views : 65
Unique : 61

When shooting birds I generally am using either the SMC Pentax-DA 55-300mm (APS-C format) or the SMC Pentax-FA J 73-300mm (Full Frame). This is probably long enough for most subjects, but for a more dedicated trip I would also use the HD Pentax-D FA 150-450mm. Then we are really talking about a long reach. However, the length of the lens may be helpful but it is as important to be in the right position. Frankly, for some situations no lens would be long enough, so we still need to move closer.

Bird photography is quite a challenge, so I’ll share now some of the images, some old, some newer, but these are theb ones I quite liked.

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Portraits of Birds Photographed like Humans

Portraits of Birds Photographed like Humans

Portraits of Birds Photographed like Humans 38

Australian fine art photographer Leila Jeffreys has been shooting studio portraits of birds since 2008. In addition to capturing the beautiful plumage across various species, Jeffreys also shows how birds can have expressions that are strangely humanlike.

“I’ve long noticed how many birds have specific expressions, just like us”, the photographer says.

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Jeffreys has spent years researching and exploring the world of birds alongside conservationists, ornithologists, and sanctuaries. After finding her subjects, she works to develop an “intimate” relationship with them before they go before her camera.

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“[Jeffreys] is best known for visceral and mysterious images of birds that explore and subvert the traditions of portraiture,” writes Australian writer Neha Kale. “Her avian subjects are photographed at human scale with a startling attention to color, line, form and composition.

“For Jeffreys, birds are both medium and message. Her practice opens windows into critical questions about the shared anthropomorphism that connects humans with animals, the sense of wildness that tugs at the fringes of everyday existence and the fleeting and precious connections that bind us to the natural world.”

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For her latest project and exhibition, titled High Society, Jeffreys photographed budgies in pairs and groups to show the flock societies birds create.

Portraits of Birds Photographed like Humans 48

Portraits of Birds Photographed like Humans 50

Many of her portraits have just been published in a new photo book titled Des oiseaux. The hardcover book features 47 photos across 96 pages and is available for €35 (~$41) through the publisher Atelier EXB.

You can find more of Jeffreys’ work on her website and Instagram.

(via Leila Jeffreys via Colossal)

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Birds of Caparaó

I edited this video during the pandemic. Although I was not fully trapped in the area where I live during lockdowns, I still suffered from depression and discouragement, which significantly delayed my editing process. In the video below, I explain what boosted my encouragement to work on it.

As for the gear, I used the Nikon D500 to capture all footage. The lenses used were Nikon 20mm f/1.8G, 50mm f/1.8G and 200-500mm f/5.6E VR. Filming the birds with a DLSR was quite difficult and required patience, as the time required to raise the mirror for live view mode made me miss many scenes. Sound capture was also very important, so I used a Rode shotgun microphone and the Tascan DR5.

I hope you enjoy the video! As always, I am open for your feedback, comments, questions and criticism.

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Birds of Caparaó

I edited this video during the pandemic. Although I was not fully trapped in the area where I live during lockdowns, I still suffered from depression and discouragement, which significantly delayed my editing process. In the video below, I explain what boosted my encouragement to work on it.

As for the gear, I used the Nikon D500 to capture all footage. The lenses used were Nikon 20mm f/1.8G, 50mm f/1.8G and 200-500mm f/5.6E VR. Filming the birds with a DLSR was quite difficult and required patience, as the time required to raise the mirror for live view mode made me miss many scenes. Sound capture was also very important, so I used a Rode shotgun microphone and the Tascan DR5.

I hope you enjoy the video! As always, I am open for your feedback, comments, questions and criticism.

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