Bird Photography – WC Answers Your Questions (2017 Edition)

What the Duck, by Aaron Johnson

What the Duck, by Aaron Johnson

WC has had a flurry of questions lately, focusing (heh) on his bird photography. WC will attempt to answer some of them here.

Why birds? Why not landscapes, or mammals, or macro?

WC is a birder. That’s the influence of Mrs. WC, who is a pretty extraordinary birder. And birds are endlessly fascinating. Combine WC’s love of birds and the challenge of photographing them and you have as much explanation as WC can offer. Maybe, too a paraphrase of the late Robert Heinlein: “Birds are sufficient unto themselves and need no excuse.”

How many photos do you take to get a good one?

It depends. Sometimes, in dubious light, for example, WC will set his camera to bracket the exposure, shooting as many as five shots with one press of the shutter. Sometimes WC will follow a bird for a while, trying for a better angle, better pose or better background. WC will answer this way: if WC can get one or two decent shots out of a day’s photos – typically 250-350 shots – then the day is pretty successful.

How many species of birds have you photographed?

WC doesn’t know; he’s never counted. WC does have about 2,080 species on his life list. Generally, on birding trips WC gets photos of a third or less of species he sees. More recently that number is closer to half. So likely 700-800 species. WC knows of bird photographers who are trying to photograph all North American birds (1,000 plus) or even all of the birds in the world (10,000 plus). WC is not so ambitious, even if he didn’t have a day time job.

What camera rig does WC use?

For 2003-2013, WC used Olympus gear, Olympus E-1 through E-5, and a 300mm lens with a 2.0 teleconverter. Olympus abandoned WC. In April 2013, WC melted down his credit card, converting to a Canon 1D-X, a Canon 500mm f4 lens, usually with a 1.4 teleconverter. If weight or very low light are issues, WC uses a Canon 300mm with a 2.0 teleconverter.

You’ve said the coolest bird you’ve photographed was the Resplendent Quetzal. What’s the coolest family of birds?

You are correct about the Resplendent Quetzal. The family of birds that is coolest tends to be the one that is in front of WC’s lens at any moment. But, if pressed, it would probably be tanagers. There are about 240 species, although ornithologists tend to get worked up about what is or is not a tanager. Even a drab tanager is colorful. And there aren’t very many drab ones. WC will close with two South American Tanager species, to illustrate his point.

Green and Gold Tanager, Ecuador

Green and Gold Tanager, Ecuador

Golden-hooded Tanager, Peru

Golden-hooded Tanager, Peru

Obviously, anything WC could say after birds like that would be superfluous.


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