ring, ring .
“What do you think about going into Zealandia wildlife sanctuary and shooting the juvenile shags tomorrow?.”
I knew what Chris meant I had seen some of the photos of the young Pied shags (many New Zealanders call cormorants shags in this country) and had mentioned to Chris that I was interested in having a look at them, hence the phone call.
The great thing was that these nests are at eye level, so you are shooting almost into the nest its self.
“I’m in” I says, knowing that early morning would mean that the shags would be backlit (the sun strikes the subject from behind) and that would be a challenge to get some interesting shots and so this proved to be the case.
As soon as the Zealander wildlife sanctuary was open for the day we were through the gate , we more or less ignored all the other bird life and made our way smartly down onto the platform across from the Shag nests and set up for the day.
It was a beautiful day and in typical Zealandia style, the place was alive with birds calls.
Kaka traded across the sky above us from one side of the valley to the other, native bush pigeons swooped, ducked and dived gracefully above the tree tops and the adult shags powered up the lake, past us , making sharp u turns at the head of the lake returning and landed noisily on or around the nests before us.
What a palaver, the young shags jostled and fought for the most favoured position in an attempt to temp the adults to feed them first.
It was chilly cold and steamy breathe vapour escaped from the mouths of the shags and with the sun being behind the birds, the puffs of steam stood out and became my main focus.
Remember to click on the image to see a bigger one
The problem with shooting into the sun esp in a valley is that to the human eye, there seems to be a lot of light bouncing all over the place but the camera does not see light the same way.
I idealy would want to work with a shutter speed of around 500th of a second and upwards with birds not in flight.
I could see I was not getting that most of the time through the viewfinder but I still tried, I timed my shots to drop the hammer when the birds seem to be moving around less.
Because the light was not great I knew if I pushed the ISO up too much, the birds would lose feather detail and the images would have so much digital noise that not even light room would be able to deal with it.
As it was, even ISO 800 was pushing it a bit and because I needed depth of field my normal F8 would be the fastest setting I could use and still get some handy images.
With birds moving across and around each other feeding and squabbling, I needed a fairly deep area of focus to keep both feeder and feedie in focus.
F 8 being the highest I could push meant many of my images have one bird in focus but not the other, the remedy was shoot heaps and save the best
As the sun slipped higher and slightly around to our left and began striking the birds side on, I began to see the possibility of underexposing the shots by one full stop.
This would darken the shadows and protect the brighter parts of the bird where the sun strikes the brightest and double my speed, a win, win situation.
As I nearly always shoot in AV mode and my exposure is pattern or average, I knew the camera would want to even out the dark background and over expose the brightly lit foreground so by underexposing by one full stop I got some images I was very happy with.
I could see the some light still hitting from behind slightly, but now mostly to the side and I could see the way the light penetrated the feathers when the birds spread their wings, so it became a simple matter of waiting for an opportunity to capture this with the camera..
Watching a young shag playing with a piece of wood then attracted my attention and the way the light backlit the water spray came off the water.
The result was a pleasing image.
As the day wore and the sun rose over head and my attention wandered to the other birds in our immediate area, a brown teal pāteke (Anas chlorotis) was sneaking around at the head of the dam but before I got there I was stopped by the Grey warblers as they were flittering among the trees.
These birds had the most striking colours of this species I have ever seen and it became a matter of life and death to get some useful images of them.
The problem this day was trying to get some distance from them as they seemed to enjoy the warm winter sun staying close to the outsides of the trees quite close to the floating walkway we were on.
I eventually felt confident I had some useful shots, so then I moved onto the brown Teal.
It was a female, although not as colourful as a male she had her own charms and I enjoyed our time together.
Meantime going right back at the beginning of our day, Chris and I had picked up a French photographer or more like it, he came to spy out what we were doing and ended up spending almost the entire day in our company, he had stayed with us the entire time while we shot the shags. Laughed and shared jokes and stories.
Such is the comradery that exists among some photography enthusiasts, in fact we had to practically boot him off down the path, to explore some more places before the sun slung to low behind the hills , there was still so much for him to explore.
The light left our valley by 330pm .The day was done.
Before he left we spied a native wood pigeon land on a low branch in a tree above us so we snuck up and got a good shot of him or her.
I wont spend to much time describing Zealandia other than to say this place is a real gem and then some.
The native birds are there in numbers that come with no predators and an abundance of food.
It’s a birders paradise, please check out the link below for information about Zealandia.
Don’t be scared have a go at anything that grabs your attention , you never know , you may end up with a pleasing image
backlight allows for some interesting light, I like the way the birds neck lights up.
Chris and I will be running photographic workshops at Zealandia for individuals or smallish groups so if you want a day in there with myself or Chris give contact me .
I will be writing a lot more on what is available at Zealandia through the coming months .