My first interview is with Marie Read whose 2011 Midwest Birding Symposium topic will be Photographing Birds' Secret Lives.
What is your favorite bird and/or bird behavior to observe and photograph?
I particularly like to photograph birds that have interesting behavior or that lead complex social lives. If they are colorful and attractive too, so much the better.
One bird that fits the bill is the Acorn Woodpecker-one of my all-time favorite subjects. With its habit of storing thousands of acorns for the winter and the fact that it lives in extended family groups with lots of interactions going on, there's a wealth of possible images there.
You're out there photographing birds summer, winter, spring and fall but what time of year do you most prefer to observe and photograph birds? When is it most challenging?
Spring is my favorite season to photograph, with birds looking their best, and courtship and nesting activities going on. Winter is the most challenging season physically: trying to keep myself warm while outside in bad weather, trying to concentrate on the photography itself at the same time. On the other hand, I've shot some of my best images in winter-brilliant male cardinals with falling snowflakes, swirling flocks of Snow Buntings, and of course that famous shot of the chickadee sipping from the icicle!
You take joy in photographing bird behavior right in your own backyard. Can you give us amateur birdwatchers one easy-to-implement tip for photographing birds in the backyard?
One easy thing to do is to set up perches for the birds to land on as they approach your bird feeders. Instead of just a stick, though, consider setting up a natural food source, like a dried sunflower still on the stem or a spray of colorful berries, especially if it's a native plant from your area that your local birds might feed on anyway. It'll look more natural, plus the bird might actually start eating the food and you'll get a nice behavior shot. Be sure to locate your perches against an uncluttered background so there are no visual distractions to take attention away from the bird.
Image used with permission from Marie Read
Your photographs capture more than just bird portraits, you create images showing bird behavior. Tell us how that changes your approach to photography.
Great question! Actually my biology background plus my training in ornithological field research in east Africa early in my career really formed the basis for the way I go about bird photography from the very beginning - trying to tell stories and show the essence of each bird species I photograph. What is this bird doing and why?
In practical terms, striving for behavior images means I spend a lot more time working at it than I would for just portraits. I often stick with an individual bird longer and usually return to "work" a good situation again and again. It's hard work and often disappointing, but while I'm out there waiting for something to happen I see all kinds of wonderful bird activity, and often notice something that I hadn't thought of to try for in the future.
What are we going to see and hear about from you in your presentation at the Midwest Birding Symposium?
I'll certainly share behind-the-scenes stories behind some of the bird behavior images in "Secret Lives of Common Birds" (sneak preview: what went into getting the shots of nesting Baltimore Orioles? Among other things, building a tall scaffolding tower!) But I also want to show people some of my most recent bird images - peak action images as well as drop-dead gorgeous portraits - and I'll include plenty of photo tips for budding bird photographers!
Thanks, Marie! I can't wait to hear more at the Symposium!
Marie Read is an acclaimed wildlife photographer from near Ithaca, New York, who specializes in birds and bird behavior. Her numerous photo credits include Bird Watcher's Digest, Living Bird, Birds & Blooms, Nature's Best, National Wildlife, Ranger Rick, and National Geographic as well as many other magazines, calendars, and books worldwide. During her 25-year photography career, she's traveled to Australia, East Africa, and Central America in search of subjects, but has taken many of her most memorable and beautiful images in her own backyard.
She is the author of many articles and photo essays about birds and bird photography, as well as two books Secret Lives of Common Birds: Enjoying Bird Behavior Through the Seasons, and Common Birds & Their Songs (with Lang Elliott).
You can hear Marie and many other great speakers at the Midwest Birding Symposium, September 15-18, 2011 at Lakeside OH. Click here to register.
Check back in a couple weeks for an interview with Symposium speaker Ben Lizdas of Eagle Optics.