Saturday, 14 March 2015

Bird Photography Workshop in Newstead

I had the pleasure of attending a bird photography workshop organised by Geoff Park and presented by Chris Tzaros in Newstead this morning. I've been an admirer of both Geoff and Chris's work and a follower of Geoff's great blog, Natural Newstead, for several years. Geoff and I were also at university together more years ago than either of us will admit to so I was looking forward to catching up again.

Chris gave a fantastic presentation on the art and craft of bird photography, sharing his experience as a wildlife ecologist and photographer in a way that was easy to understand and valuable for an audience with a wide diversity of experience in photography and with birds. This was followed by a field trip into the local bush at Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve where Chris and Geoff demonstrated a range of the skills, techniques and approaches to bird photography that had been covered in the earlier session.

Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, near Clydesdale Victoria
Pentax K-5, Pentax 16-50mm f/2.8 @ 21mm, ISO 400, f/11 1/250

Two bird highlights of the morning were this Spotted Pardalote, which reacted on cue to Chris's demonstration of using playback of bird calls to attract birds closer.

Spotted Pardalote, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, near Clydesdale Victoria
Pentax K-5, Pentax 16-50mm f/2.8 @ 21mm, ISO 400, f/11 1/250

We had a long discussion on the pros and cons of playback for bird photography with differing opinions but the emphasis was that any photography (or other activities in the field) should be done with minimum disturbance to the birds and their habitat.

This Australian Owlet-nightjar was spotted by Geoff high up in a tree. It pays to go into the bush with locals who know what to expect and often where to find it. It poked its head out of the hole long enough for most people to practice some of the techniques Chris spoke about earlier in the day. I took a few quick shots to make sure I at least recorded the bird. As this is the first time I have managed to photograph this species, it was worth the time and money for the workshop just for that! I then spent quite a bit of time working out the best angle from which to shoot this little bird, to avoid distracting highlights from sky and over-exposed leaves and branches in the background while still maintaining eye contact with the bird. This was about the best angle I could find.

Australian Owlet-nightjar, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, near Clydesdale Victoria
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/5.6 1/400)

Even though I knew I could crop some of the rubbish out later (which I did), I was still not particularly happy with the light background and the very dark hole surrounding the bird so I tried fill flash. This allowed me to close down the aperture to darken the background while still maintaining good exposure on the bird and tree and brightening up the hole around the bird. The smaller aperture also gives a better depth of field allowing more of the bird and the hole to be in focus. The slower shutter speed (controlled by the flash) is compensated for by the high speed flash that freezes any movement.

Australian Owlet-nightjar, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, near Clydesdale Victoria
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/8 1/180 (P-TTL flash -1.0 EV)

To my eye the flash is just a little over the top and I would have liked to drop the EV adjustment on the flash another 1/3-2/3 of a stop just to see the result but the bird disappeared back into its hole before I had the, as with much of wildlife photography, you do what you can to get the best shot possible and take what nature deals up after that :-)

One thing I try to do whenever I am driving around the countryside is to take minor roads wherever I can. As I was driving home late this afternoon, I took the 'scenic route' through Wombat State Forest and came across a flock of Australian Wood Duck in a field on Bradys Lane near Greendale.

Australian Wood Duck, Bradys Lane, near Greendale Victoria
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/16 1/125

A farmer driving by stopped for a chat about the ducks and ibis (there were about 50 Straw-necked Ibis further off in the distance) and then, driving over the next crest, this gorgeous valley was laid out in front of'd never stop for a chat with the locals or to take in a view when you're doing 100 km/h along the main road.

Brady's Lane, near Greendale Victoria
Pentax K-5, Pentax 16-50 f/2.8 @ 45mm, ISO 400, f/11 1/100

...and to reinforce this, I took a slight detour around the back of the You Yangs instead of straight down to Geelong and the sun just peaked around the approaching storm clouds behind me creating this eerie purple-green light just as I was approaching this paddock.

Little River Road, Balliang Victoria
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 400, f/5.6 1/400


  1. It sounds like a wonderful workshop you attended. Love the rolling hills shot. Good to take back roads so you can stop.

  2. Really beautiful pictures, Ian. I love both the bird pictures and those tremendous landscapes. What a great country.

  3. Hi Ian, this is my first visit to your blog and I am really enjoying it. Thanks for the great report on the photography workshop with Geoff and Chris which I found equally useful as you said. Great shots of the Owlet-nightjar! See you somewhere down the track.

  4. Pretty good just getting to see an Australian Owlet-nightjar let alone bring back photos.


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