Well how does that work as a pick-up line? That was more or less the first sentence I said to MG when we first met in Israel in March. He joined a night tour I led to the Dead Sea region. When we saw our first Tamarisk Nubian Nightjar at a distance of five meters, he stood up, shaking like crazy, and started taking lousy images. As a result of too many years in the military, I yelled at him and the other clients: “On your bellies!”. In two seconds MG and all the others were lying on their bellies in the desert sand like babies, taking super images.
This is perhaps the most important lesson when learning how to photograph birds. Get yourself in the same level as the bird. If the bird is on the ground – go down to ground-level yourself. If you do so, the background behind the bird becomes more distant, making it blurred and gives the bird more attention in the frame.
Tamarisk Nubian Nightjar, Neot Hakikar, Israel, October 2011
When I started birding as a kid, I birded mostly on foot. Nowadays when I’m old(er), I bird mostly out of the car. Cars are excellent mobile hides for photography, but are very problematic hides when trying to photograph birds sat on the ground. Then the background behind the bird becomes much closer, has more detail and steals much of the attention the bird should get. Same bird, bad photo:
Tamarisk Nubian Nightjar, Neot Hakikar, Israel, March 2008
Desert sand is fun, but when dealing with shorebirds this becomes a dirty business. Lying in the mud is really not much fun. Especially if you need to spend several hours, motionless, under a camo net. Add to that hungry mosquitoes and rich aroma – this is the real thing. But again, the 50 cm height difference between kneeling and lying gives the image an added value.
Common Sandpiper, Nizzana, Israel, August 2012
And when you do it the wrong way, photographing out of the car window from the top of an elevated bank, it looks much worse:
Broad-billed Sandpiper, Eilat, Israel, March 2011
Sometimes cars work well though. If the bird is perched on something at the correct height, about 1 meter above ground, you score gold shooting off the window. The background looks like in a studio, and the bird gets all the focus of the image:
Finsch’s Wheatear, Negev, Israel, December 2009