The first thing that really dragged me into the world of photography was the fascination of the small. Insects, flowers, leaves, the diminutive objects all around us, when expanded and blown up on a big screen, are absolutely fascinating. The challenge of even spotting the subject matter, then carefully approaching it, with caution as not to startle it, and then, once in, dealing with the tremendous challenges of incredibly narrow depth of field, an often sporadic and highly mobile subject, and quite usually inferior lighting, all add up to an addicting hobby (so maybe I do have a sadistic streak after all). The fact that all this was on hand in a small patio garden in urban Brooklyn, New York, was both an eye opener for me and the inspiration for this website.
Well, as Fall passes and December envelops us, the luster of the patio continues to wain, with most of the plant life no longer exhibiting any life. Up close Macro work is what grabbed my initial attention, but there was always wildlife that remained out of reach. Upon acquiring my first modest telephoto in September, up and away I went to see what critters I could capture with 250mm at my disposal. The first creatures that come to mind in Brooklyn are probably Pigeons and Rats, perhaps in the the opposite order…two species I’ve happily avoided snapping off pictures of at this point. What is interesting is that I’m located both by Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery, both of which I’ve come to learn are prized birdwatching havens, with more than 200 species (and up to 300) spotted annually. I would say going into this I was “pretty good” at identifying birds, but I’ve really been humbled. Even with my trusty Sibley’s Field Guide at my disposal, I’m still at a loss much of the time.
My first thoughts on capturing wild birds on film will be altogether, and in hindsight predictably, repetitive. The challenge of even spotting the subject matter, then carefully approaching it, with caution as not to startle it, and then, once in, dealing with the tremendous challenges of the limits of the lens’ zooming ability, an often sporadic and highly mobile subject, and quite usually inferior lighting, all add up to an addicting hobby. I still have a lot of respect for a crisp macro shot, but even getting a barely presentable shot of some of these birds is downright frustrating! That said, I think 250mm is a bit shy for this particular hobby, yet I endure. While certain birds like swans and ducks will happily approach, looking for a handout, most are very wary animals that you literally have to use stealth and cunning to near, and all while trying to keep the sun at your back.
Here’s a selection of some of the better bird pics from my first season in the field. Though there were many, my highlight this first season was finally witnessing some bluebirds, the State Bird of New York, for the first time in my life. There were quite a few species that didn’t make the cut (ie, I couldn’t manage to get a decent picture), and even here not all are the highest quality, and some remain unidentified, yet some are still posted just to demonstrate and celebrate the diversity of life present right on our doorstep here in Brooklyn, NY. And sorry, no pigeons.
After not being entirely impressed with the Canon EF-S 55-250mm IS, I decided to try out something with a little more range. The Tamron SP 70-300mm Di VC USD has been getting a lot of positive press. At around twice the price of the Canon, I was hoping for twice the lens. It’s a much bigger and heavier item, one that makes you feel like you have a powerful piece of equipment in your hand. First impression is that the extra 50mm does not make a very dramatic difference in the zoom capabilities. I really like the way this lens handles, and frankly I feel like I got more “keeper” images out with this one. The colors are great and solid and I like the overall quality of the images. That said, sometimes the backgrounds can get very distracting, instead of pleasantly blurring, and I’m really not getting the sharpness at full zoom that I had hoped for. Is this lens worth twice the investment? You can be the judge…
After much deliberation I’m trying to decide between the Canon EF-S 55-250mm IS telephoto or the Tamron SP 70-300mm Di VC USD. This is my one day experiment with the Canon. It’s light and small, which can be a positive, but also feels a bit frail. AF is pretty fast, in my opinion, and the resolution is not bad. This is my first experience with telephoto lenses, and I was expecting more reach, but I guess that’s not really how they work. Despite many many pictures, there are only a few that really won my attention.
…and just got extension tubes for the camera, with the hopes of better macro-type photography. My girlfriend and I visited the Atlantis Aquarium which happened to have a butterfly exhibit. That’s always an easy way to snap off some exotic looking photos without really doing a lot of legwork. As it was 105 degrees over the weekend, the humid butterfly environment really didn’t seem so bad. However, the most fun for me was being back at the lake and stalking the dragonflies, which let me tell you, is not an easy thing.
Sometimes I get away to my folk’s summer house for some R&R and photo opportunities. The house is on a small pond that is very healthy and has a wealth of wildlife and interesting things to photograph. The birds in particular are plentiful. If I ever get a telephoto there will be some avian updates. For now, life on the small scale…