Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and with it come many great opportunities to take some great photos. It doesn’t matter whether you are putting together something special to remember a lost loved one, hosting a party, simply spending time with your family, or making you first weekend getaway to the outdoors; make sure you have plenty of memory cards, charged batteries and are ready to capture all he memories from this holiday weekend.
Although sadly it seems that Memorial Day has become more about barbeques and the beginning of summer, let’s not forget that it is truly about honoring our fallen soldiers. Do I dare admit that I am old enough to remember when it was still called Decoration Day? In fact, Memorial Day was officially first proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by Illinois’ own General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
With that in mind, here are a few specific tips for taking photos this long weekend:
an example of the type of “environmental/candid portraits” one can capture at Memorial Day services
Many people remain hesitant about photographing Memorial Day Services. In all honesty, if done with discretion and respect, there’s nothing wrong with taking photos that help you remember lost loved ones and fallen heroes. Some suitable subjects at the services held across cemeteries this weekend include; flags, presents left at headstones, photos of memorial activities, wide angle views of monuments and cemeteries decorated for the holiday etc. Maintain an attitude of respect and discretion, and be mindful of other attendees. Turn off any excess camera noises to avoid becoming a distraction, or wait until the ceremony part is over prior to taking photos. Something I have found useful is to use a longer focal length lens (200mm and upwards) and shoot quietly and somewhat hidden from a distance away from the actual ceremony. Don’t forget about the emotion that shows on many attendees faces. Some of my best candid and environmental portraits have been taken at Memorial Day services.
Sometimes the candid moments at picnics and gatherings end up being the most favored photos
Take advantage of the weekend to get outside and have a picnic with your family. Getting outside is a great way to celebrate Memorial Day and also gives you many wonderful settings for photos, whether you are in the backyard, at one of Illinois great State Parks, or the beach. Pose the family all sprawled together on a blanket or picnic looking table cloth Be sure to remember to pack a tripod and remote along, or utilize the timer on your camera to take some shots of the whole family INCLUDING YOURSELF! Be sure to remember that when you a photographing subjects in very bright sun or in a highly reflective environment such as a beach, or on the water your camera may underexpose, so you may wish to either auto bracket a few shots or shoot in manual mode and under expose the image by a stop or two. If you can “pose” your subjects in a shaded location and use a little fill flash all the better. As always don’t forget to snap those candid moments that usually end up being the most favorite photos from the day!
Don’t forget to look for a higher vantage point at an event in order to get a wide shot of the crowd attending!
Concerts and events:
Take in an all-day concert or one of the many community celebrations. Play paparazzi and shoot candid shots of the crowd and activities. Take the paparazzi approach one step further and using a longer focal length lens photograph the stage, the performers, and close ups of concert goers. Again, don’t forget to get a few images of you and your friends enjoying the day’s activities.
If you are hosting a barbeque consider having a photo shoot area set up to add to the fun. All you really need is a camera, tripod, trigger (remote or timer), a backdrop (sheets, tablecloths, or wooden fence do fine) and to really add to the fun, a box of dress up clothes. Your friends and family will have a blast dressing up and taking photos together, and you’ll have a ton of great and fun shots to take commemorate the day. If you are little paranoid about setting up your camera and leaving it on tripod, as well as allowing others to trip it using a remote, designate a couple of periods throughout the day as fun photo time and snap the images yourself.
Most of all, get out, enjoy our first summer holiday weekend, remember our fallen soldiers and make some memories.
Next week we’ll talk about some nifty and creative things to do with all those photos from this weekend!
visitors are greeted with this sight at the entrance to the Baldwin Lake
While Baldwin Lake at Kaskaskia Fish and Wildlife Area, in Baldwin, Illinois, may be best known for great fishing even in the harshest months of winter, it’s also well known to birders and waterfowl enthusiasts for the large numbers of waterfowl that it attracts and holds. Not only does Baldwin boast a designated waterfowl refuge during the winter months, it also serves as a waterfowl resting and nesting area year round.
There are teeny tiny band new goslings….
There are big, gangly, bordering on ugly goslings…
Goslings everywhere you look!
IL DNR, Kaskaskaia Delta Waterfowl, and Mississippi Valley Duck Hunters , to name just a few, all work hard throughout the year to improve habitat, provide nesting boxes and structures and and also keep the public waterfowl hunting blinds at the adjoining Doza Creek Waterfowl Management Area in great shape. These conservation efforts have made the area a hotspot for not only birders but waterfowl hunters as well.
While many of the migrating waterfowl have moved on and out to to their spring breeding grounds, large numbers of Canada geese have taken full advantage of the habitat improvements and nesting opportunities provided at Baldwin.
A drive to the boat ramp these days is a little like an obstacle course as groups of goslings parade around the grounds, practice their swimming, and in general just infuse the area with an awful lot of baby goose cuteness. It’s a great opportunity to see and watch the parenting and social behaviors of the geese up close as the multiple family groups interact and share feeding grounds.
This wee little fellow made the grave error of trying to snuggle under the wrong mother. She sent him packing in a hurry!
If I am feeling a little down in the dumps, a quick trip to watch the goslings at Baldwin is a quick way to lighten the mood. It’s hard to stay out of sorts while watching balls of yellow fluff, gangly “teenages” and close to ugly older chicks cavort around the lake, fields, and well maintained bank fishing areas.
Each year, many of these geese will be banded at Baldwin, so when you’re out goose hunting, if you have the good luck of bagging one with jewelry, it just may have started it’s life as one these balls of yellow fluff at Baldwin!
One of the easiest ways to hone your skills photographing birds is to practice in the comfort and convenience of your yard. While simply hanging up a couple of feeders and putting a birdbath or flat dish for water can and will attract birds to your yard, those options don’t always lend themselves to the most attractive photos.
By building a back yard “studio” you can control the setting, minimize distractions in your photos and also help out the feathered friends in the neighborhood.
To attract the birds you need three things; food, water, and shelter. To make a “bird studio” you will utilize these three things, with extra thought given to how the light falls, when it is at its best, what position you will be in when photographing the birds, and the best ways to minimize background distractions.
Your goal is to have a natural looking area, with minimum background distractions like multiple branches, the neighbor’s fence, the dog house, swingset etc. With just a little time and effort you can set small areas within your yard that will allow you take advantage of things such a patio doors, windows, a vine covered trellis, or shrubbery that you can use to “hide” yourself and your camera from the birds.
To get started with your own backyard bird studio, you should first start feeding the birds regularly to encourage the birds to develop a habit of visiting regularly. Although many stop feeding birds in the spring and summer I continue to keep my feeders full year around. By keeping food available all the time many birds will become regulars and will often become more and more tolerant of a bit of human presence and make capturing those images even easier. Carefully consider you feeder placement so that you can easily place perches close to the feeders yet still in a good location for photographs. Bear in mind you will likely be shooting within 15 feet or so and in general will want the sun at your back or a 45 degree angle to the perch.
I can’t stress enough the need for a distraction free background. Background elements should be as plain as possible and as far back as possible so they will be out of focus.
You will need to collect a variety of sticks, twigs, limbs etc. to use for perches. I like to change them frequently so all my images don’t look the same. Our house is surrounded by trees, and every summer storm knocks down a few limbs and small branches, the bigger pieces I salvage from the fence row or when trees are trimmed. I like having some older, larger, snaggly, looking logs handy to set out for the woodpeckers, nut hatches etc. to climb and root suet, peanut butter etc. By using existing cavities, loose bark, or even drilling a few holes, you can stuff these with treats that will encourage the birds to pose and hammer away.
After you’ve gathered up items for the perches, experiment with placing them at different angles and in different spots around the feeders and feeding station. One easy way is to use a large flower pot filled with old worn out potting soil or sand. Simply stick you perch in the pot and position it to suit you. The important part is to keep things looking natural and simple. Too many perches and you have clutter that will distract from the bird image. Be sure to allow the birds time to get accustomed to the perch and to begin using it with regularity.
Don’t give the birds too many options of where to land; You want to keep the number of perches to a minimum so that you can easily have your camera set up and aimed at that particular perch. This is infinitely easier when you are able to predict where they will land and how they will be positioned. If the perch has umpteen little branches, forks etc. you may find you are missing shots, as the birds hopscotch all over the place. Keep it simple. If the branch has leaves you can remove a few in just a small section and birds will naturally perch in that open space.
If you are trying for bigger birds (like blue jays, wood peckers, thrushes) you can use a thicker perch and drill some holes in it to fill with suet or seeds.
If you have small chair style blind that you will be using, place your blind about 15 to 20 feet from the perch (close to the minimum focus distance of your lens) and leave it there as much as you possibly can so that it becomes part of the landscape to the birds, and they become accustomed to it. A lattice covered with vines can also work to your advantage as a blind or hide. Simply open up an area in the lattice for your lens to fit and you are set.
One very quick way to start is to set up a platform style feeder, brush around it a little to conceal edges if need be, and using the flower pot method above plant some perches. Just an aside, it’s best to keep the perch proportional to the bird – the small finches and sparrows look better on thinner more delicate perches while larger birds will look better on perches suited to their size.
Add a birdbath, or small fountain nearby, and you will increase the number and variety of birds that visit.
When I set up my first bird studio, since I already had some fast growing evergreen winter creeper that was rapidly taking over the deck on the south side I set about trimming it back a little – opening holes to place small flat bowls of seed and water dishes on the deck rail, (allowing the dishes to remain hidden in the photo), adding some fallen branches at advantageous angles as extra perches, and in the summer I trim back more of the creeper and put in pots of blooming flowers to help attract the butterflies and hummingbirds as well. I also have a mulberry tree that grows up through my deck (oh the mess, but so worth it) and do a little creative pruning each year when it starts to make berries to have a relatively cleared area to photograph the birds that flock in to snatch up the mulberries.
This set up works especially well for me, as in the winter I can sit inside and shoot either through the patio doors (on the rare occasions all the dog nose prints are cleaned off the glass), or open the patio doors just enough to poke the lens out. Additionally, just for fun, I mount a trail camera on the side of the house facing the “bird studio”.
It certainly helps that the deck at my house faces east and south, giving me that great morning light when the birds are their most active feeding.
Over the years I’ve created several different “bird studios” in my yard – some near the open field edges, some along the winter evergreens, around a brush pile, near the fountain and son on. Each year I add another little spot or refine one I’ve been using awhile.
Here are some extra resources to help you get on the road to capturing some great bird images right from the comfort of home!
Photo Migrations – Building a Backyard Bird Studio
Bird Photography Near Feeders
Organizing Your Backyard For Bird & Other Wildlife Photography