Bird in the Hand

Probably the area of photography where I’ve grown the most. Also quite possibly the single area of photography where I actually know how better gear would improve my results (slow manual-focus lenses only allow for so much). Granted, I’m not sure I want to be a better bird photographer since I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns.

DSC_0011 big bill

When I first started shooting birds, I was taking photos in a purely documentary way. See bird, shoot bird, identify bird—repeat with each new bird. I even tended to avoid “common” birds like gulls and ducks. Now, having been able to ID every species I see during my lunch breaks, I find myself bringing a bird lens infrequently.  And using it less and less when I do bring it.

Blue Eyes DSC_0020 DSC_0009

Documentary shooting only goes so far and only means something when everything is new to the shooter (the root cause of much of the inanity of travel photography). Now when I go birding, I’m trying to capture the bird doing something. Whether it’s something as commonplace as flying—giving me the technical challenge of being able to hit it in-flight—or even more interesting behavior. Or at the very least, the bird should be in an interesting location.

DSC_0058goblin handsDSC_0029Coot Armynot elegantyawnfishingscoopglideBrown Pelicanout of heresurprise

It’s not like I wasn’t looking for those types of shots before. However, now that that’s all I’m looking for, I find that I’m carrying that long lens around and not using it a whole bunch.

Part of me feels like this is wussing out and optimizing for quantity instead of quality. However, since I generally only have my lunch hour to take photos, it’s a tough call. I wouldn’t mind birding for a day and coming back with only a few images. But when I have less than an hour to shoot? I find I optimize my photowalks toward exercises where I think I’ll actually expect to take a few decent frames.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

8 thoughts on “Bird in the Hand”

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