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Learning Photography: Photographing Birds in Flight is Hard, But it Has Become a Daily Ritual For Me

I have been taking my Fujifilm X-T4 with me on my terrace walks everyday, sometimes twice a day. I usually go a little after lunch, when the sun is up high in the sky, the light is good, and the terrace is empty. The building is surrounded by a canopy of trees on two sides and the trees are filled with birds — kites, crows, pigeons, parrots, sparrows. In the mornings and evenings I can hear the birdsong from my three balconies. In the afternoons, I’m hoping to get close enough to them to photograph them with my not-telephoto-enough 135mm portrait lens.

I walk around the terrace, round and round, mask on face, camera in hand, my head tilted up to the sky, watching birds in flight. I notice how sparrows and parrots flutter past me far too quickly, how pigeons and crows fly from perch to perch, how kites glide around the sky, round and round, mirroring my own motion. My feet trace the line of green ceramic mosaic next to the parapet, counting down the 10,000 steps I need for the day to close the red circle on my Apple Watch.

Every few minutes, I glimpse a kite take a U-turn in mid-flight, dip its head and swoop down towards the terrace, towards me, low enough to capture with my lens. Instinctively, I bring my camera up to my eye, press the shutter halfway to focus on the kite above me, and swirl in a semi circle, like a Sufi dervish, finger pressed hard on the shutter, to capture a burst of its flight.

Or, I am walking fast, my head literally up in the sky, and I look down and see a bird perched on the parapet a few feet away, framed perfectly against the sky, the sea, or the trees: usually a crow, sometimes a pigeon, rarely a parrot, once a kite. I stop in mid-step, my momentum causing me to lean forward, bring the camera up to my eye, frame the bird at one of the intersections of the 3×3 grid that I now instinctively see in the world around me (but which also helpfully appears on the viewfinder), level the horizon line so that it’s green, change the aperture from f5.6 to f2 to blur out any distractions in the background, and press the shutter; all, it seems, in a fraction of a second.

I am shooting a lot of bird photos but only keeping a few. Birds in flight are difficult to capture without a 200-600mm telephoto lens, and, even then, bird photography needs more skill than I have. I did some research today and found this excellent how-to-guide on bird photography with the Fuji X-T4. I played around with my camera’s autofocus and drive settings and learnt more about my camera than I have done in weeks of photographing LeelaCat at home. Still, the birds seem too fast when I am pressing the shutter, and too far when I am reviewing the photos later, and the frame inevitably includes some old building that I want to blur out or crop out.

So far, parrots have been elusive; I can see them in the distance, but can never get close enough. Pigeons seem to like to pose for me and I have a few pigeon photographs with interesting backgrounds. Crows seem to have no fear, and I always find one perched on the parapet whenever I want a close subject to focus on to blur out the background. But, my favorite birds to photographs are the kites. Kites are big and beautiful and they fly slow enough to photograph; they will be the perfect subjects if only I can get them to perch on the parapet and pose for me like the pigeons and the crows do.

I’m enjoying this new daily ritual of my afternoon walks on the terrace with my camera and the birds. It’s humbling to take a hundred photos, delete ninety, and get three that are really worth keeping, but I’ll get better. I’ll get better at understanding the birds (the quirks of their behavior, the patterns of their flight, the secrets of getting close to them), at describing them in words, and at capturing them in photos. As I am learning photography, I am also learning how to see the world around me, how to really give my full attention to it, and how to write about it; the closed Apple Watch circles are a happy bonus.

More tomorrow.

By Gaurav Mishra

Learning to see the #beauty, #play and #vitality in #quarantinelife, mostly by learning to make photos and learning to write about them.