Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

Backroads

Backroads
Kentucky Backroads Wheat Stubble

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hunting with a Camera

Over the years I've spent a great many hours in the field hunting...deer, quail, ducks & geese, squirrel among others.  As I have grown older, I still do some of the traditional type of hunting, but more often than not I hunt with a camera.  The challenge to photograph wildlife is basically the same as the techniques required to do the other kind of hunting. I discovered early on that doing so can be very difficult as the lighting conditions are usually not in your favor for such endeavors, and the wildlife rarely cooperates.  Regardless, I've found it to be quite rewarding and fun.

On one arm of Barren River Lake not far from home, I discovered a few years ago that Kentucky has a good population of Greater Sandhill Cranes that migrate through and even winter over.  They are an ancient bird standing almost four feet tall with a wingspan of almost 6 feet.  They migrate from southern Canada and the northern United States by the thousands through Kentucky. Their cousins the Lesser Sandhill Cranes, migrate across the central plains states from areas a bit further north along the Artic circle.

The Greater Sandhill species were almost hunted into extinction by the early part of the 20th century and were down to only about 25 or 30 mating pairs at one time.  With protection and migratory bird treaties their numbers have rebounded to around 40,000.  The Lesser Sandhills number into the hundreds of thousands.

They are a difficult bird to photograph as they are extremely wary and have excellent eyesight.  The middle of December will find me donning full camo and heading out to find the birds as they work the cornfields in and around the lake area.  They tend to like using the same locations and will fly in and out during the course of the day.  If you can catch them  early or late when a large group of them are flying in, then your odds of getting some good photographs improve.

What I normally do is find a field I know they like to use, and then station myself along a fence row or tree line, hide amongst the cover, and wait for them to start coming in.  Sometimes I wait in vain, but usually I will be rewarded for my efforts.  I use a 50-500 mm zoom lens as you need a lot of reach.  It's great fun to observe them by the thousands circle and settle into a field.  Their chattel like honking is very distinctive and sounds nothing like anything else in the wild.

Hunting with a camera can provide much of the same kind of rewards that traditional hunting offers.  Both activities require stealth, perseverance, a knowledge of the natural history and tendencies of your target, and a lot of luck.

Keith Bridgman

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