The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Photographing Red Kites

Click. Missed.

Click. Out of focus.

Click. Over exposed.

Click. Over exposed and out of focus.

Click. Missed again.

Wildlife photography is one of those photographic genres I have never been able to get to grips with.

It's not that I don't enjoy looking at great wildlife photos - I love them - it's just not something I've ever had any success with.

As a portrait photographer, or even fantasy narrative photographer, I interact with my subjects. I can tell them to move here or there, turn this way of that, and work with their ideas about how they wish to be portrayed.

And of course none of this is possible with wild animals.

Instead, you have to be patient. You have to find the right spot to set up in and wait for them to perform the action you wish in the place you want. And if they don't, you go away empty handed.

A few miles along the road from where I live is a Red Kite Feeding Station. Red Kites became extinct in Scotland back in the 19th century, but were reintroduced a couple of decades back. About 10 years ago the Galloway Kite Trail was created as a tourist attraction for the area and the Feeding Station is open to the public every afternoon.

Every time I've driven past it I've thought I should take my camera along at some point. Approximately 80+ birds gather there at 2pm each day so I figured I would have a better than average chance of getting a reasonable shot.

Last Saturday the Red Kite Feeding Station had an open day, so I put the big lens (70-200mm) on the camera and went wandering along.

I have a good camera, a good lens and make my living from photography. How hard could it be?

Extremely hard, it turns out.

You! Yes, you on the right - just hold that position for a few seconds longer. Dammit, are you not listening to me?

Red Kites can move very quickly. By the time you have seen one hovering, lined up the camera and focused, it is long gone.

What I ended up doing was rapid-fire shooting - as soon as I thought I was lined up on anything I held my finger down and fired off half a dozen shots in quick succession.

I wasn't the only person to try this: all along the viewing platform cameras were busy clicking away, creating a near continuous sound not dissimilar to the background noises of jungle scenes in movies. However, for me this approach would lead to me ending up with half a dozen over-exposed, out of focus shots of birds half out of the picture each time.

350 pictures or so later, my best image (by quite a long way) was this:

Randomly caught, lucky bit of back lighting, best shot of 350 clicks - no real skill involved

Whereas, despite it being a different bird and there being no water about, what I'd been hoping for was something more like this:

Photo GJ Wildlife Photography

For the time being, I think I'll stick to photographing people...


Kateri Von Steal said...

Practice makes perfect!

I think that it's great that you have acknowledged a weakness in your amazing art.. and you still go out and at least TRY to get a good shot.

If you just said "Meh, I'm no good at this, why bother?" That shows a close minded attitude.

You sir, you know that you've got to keep going.. pushing on!


Anonymous said...

Your experience harkens back to remembering watching nature shows. The most often heard thing from photographers was that it required a lot of patience and persistence. It paid off with your second photograph!

Anna van Schurman said...

This reminds me of taking photos on our honeymoon. We watched a baby whale splash about in the ocean. I had a brand new digital camera at the time--and took at least 30 photos of baby whale splash. Clearly I just needed to take about 300! :)

hope said...

Proof that persistence and talent pay off. :)

Hindsfeet said...

you may not be thrilled with your photos here, Kim, but your story-telling is still spot on.

"A good story covers a multitude of sins" you may quote me. ; )

Liz ~*

Kim Ayres said...

Kateri - if it was too easy, I'd get bored and give up... :)

Allen - I'd like to say it was patience and persistence, but to be honest it was a lucky shot

Anna VS - get a big memory card and take thousands... :)

Hope - true - sooner or later you get lucky...

Liz - the more things go wrong, the better story they usually make :)

Hindsfeet said...

....that, my darlin', should make me an *incredible* writer....

; )

kiss hug,
Liz ~*

Kim Ayres said...

Liz - when I was a kid, if I complained to my grandfather about things going wrong, he'd always say it makes a better story.

"'I went for a walk today and it was sunny' is not much of a story," he would say, "but, 'I went for a walk and got lost, then the mist rolled in and I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. Suddenly I heard a wolf howling...' - now you have the makings of a good story!"

"Only if we live to tell the tale..." I would mutter.

Claire Tilley said...

Kim your image is breathtaking…. perfect even. I love minimal nature photography and this absolutely fits with the types of images for which I am always searching. It is far better than the one you were aiming for. Sometimes the thing in our minds that we want actually limit us from seeing the real beauty. You might have gotten this through luck rather than skill but sometimes the greatest things we do are like that. You are absolutely great at what you normally do but sometimes stepping out of our comfort level provides us an opportunity to learn to see and respond in a different way. Some day you may remember your day trying to capture the image of a Red Kite and put the limitations you've had to overcome and the lessons learned to good use in your studio. Be proud of that image.. it didn't come easily… they're the best ones.

Guyana-Gyal said...

Love the way you push yourself to try new creative work.

And please tell your grandpa I say THANK YOU.

Pat said...

Well I think your red kite is wonderful.
BTW My new shower is finished. Took a fortnight - it's got a pump and everything:)

Kim Ayres said...

Claire - thank you for your kind words and insights - they are greatly appreciated :)

Guyana-Gyal - he's been gone for nearly 30 years now, so it'll be a bit tricky. However, pushing to try something new is, I think, essential. The moment we decide we will just stick with what we know, we start to withdraw from life.

Pat - I'll be looking for the opportunity to try it out :)

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