Composing an appealing image with your subject in an aesthetically pleasing position tends to be pretty straightforward. Folks can loosely follow simple guidelines like the basic rule-of-thirds and still wind up with an acceptable composition. Working tight with close-range subjects changes the dynamic a little, however.
What then, is your subject, is it still what it was originally, or has it changed?
It is for this reason I completely enjoy the experience of working with animals. Birds especially – the closer you get the more detail you notice. Of course, it helps to be able to get close in the first place. Sometimes luck must play a part. This female Rufous-tailed Jacamar had her eye on me from her hiding place in a small thicket.
A feeder is an excellent location to grab some quick and easy tight images. At the world renowned Cuffie River Nature Retreat, two tables are generally full of fruit – bringing all sorts of characters together in search of an easy meal.
Perhaps you can get a better view of the fruit tables through the eyes of this Trinidad Motmot!
Nesting or roosting birds are also decent candidates for tight portrait shots – do note that one must never ever approach so close as to cause any sort of disturbance under these conditions, however! Always be aware of the frame of mind your subject is in.
Roosting nightjars are supremely confident in their camouflage and will only flee if they feel threatened. Even though they may be “asleep”, they are constantly aware. I have seen people approach a roosting nightjar carefully, treading as softly as possible – only to have the bird flutter away. Conversely, if you walk right up to it and ignore it, it too will ignore you. Fascinating how they seem to know exactly what your mind is on.
This White-tailed Nightjar is T&T’s smallest nightjar and the source of the strange trail across the night sky I posted a couple weeks ago. I contemplated taking a wide shot of it roosting, but it didn’t want me that close. I opted for my long lens – which allows for a detailed study of the cryptic plumage of this species. Fascinating stuff.
Seabirds like the Red-billed Tropicbird nest on terra firma, and due to their minimal contact with humans are also surprisingly confident at their nest site. It completely blew my mind to be this close to a bird I’ve only seen at distance previously.
Working close allows one to appreciate more than just the existence of the bird. It gives a deeper insight into their lives, and an even more detailed look at their beautiful plumage. I have a new appreciation for Red-billed Tropicbirds now – just take a good look at the gradient coming up from the bill. All the subtle black touches look like gentle dabs from a soft brush.
Also part of the package of working close, one must be extremely careful not to disrupt the lives of one’s subjects. Each bird featured here either approached me or was approached very carefully and left undisturbed. It also helped that all of the birds featured in today’s blog post were photographed in Tobago – a haven for tame birds. Meanwhile in Trinidad, we’re killing everything and anything possible.