Getting Closer: Rediscovering nature through bird photography

In an excerpt from his new book, author Paul Sorrell teches how to connect to nature with a photographer's eye

  • Mar 29, 2021
  • 584 words
  • 3 minutes
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Many people think that to get into photography and nature you need to be an expert, out hiking a mountain with an expensive camera — but not Paul Sorrell. The author’s new book, Getting Closer: Rediscovering nature through bird photography, offers a simple, practical path for readers to begin to ‘rewild’ themselves, introducing hands-on techniques that will enable readers to both deeply connect with their environment and become proficient wildlife photographer right at home.

Read an excerpt below:

Sometimes, when I show people an image I’ve taken recently, they might exclaim, ‘What a great shot!’ And I might reply, perhaps a little too smugly, ‘I shot it from my bedroom window — I didn’t even have to leave the house.’

Creating a suitable place to photograph wild birds around your home is a great first step for the budding wildlife photographer. Such a move has many advantages. First, with a little planning you can create an environment that comes closer than anything else to an outdoor studio. Second, it can be as simple or as elaborate as you care to make it. And, finally, because there’s no need for you to leave home, you can use your setup anytime the mood takes you.

In my case, I’m lucky that my setup comes ready-made in the shape of a native k?whai tree on the lawn behind my 1908 wooden villa in the suburbs. By standing on the veranda, or setting up my tripod in the bedroom and shooting through the sash windows, I can focus on a variety of attractive lichen-encrusted branches and twigs where I hope my avian subjects will settle. Shooting from indoors is the ultimate in comfort — you can even pull up an easy chair…

Having arranged your ‘studio’, the next challenge is to attract your quarry. Here there are a variety of approaches. Sometimes I use playback, with the speaker sitting close to my target perch, or I use food as bait. In New Zealand, a simple container of sugar-water will attract our three native honeyeaters: t??, bellbirds and silvereyes. More elaborate feeders offering fat, seeds and nuts will draw a variety of small birds including finches and (in Europe, for example) warblers and

If your garden lacks suitable natural perches, then you can easily make your own setup. This might be as simple as a couple of stakes driven into the ground, one holding a feeder and the other with a photogenic branch or foliage attached. Arrange the perch so that hungry birds will alight on it –albeit briefly—before proceeding to the feeder. Position your feeding station close to a place that offers some concealment, such as a garden shed. And be aware of the background and direction of the light –you can often change your position to get the result you want.

Handy Hack: Autumn leaves can be used in at least two ways: as part of the foreground, adding texture and shape as
well as bold colour; or (if sufficiently distant to provide an orange–red blur that will provide your subject with an attractive backdrop.

Top Tip: Once you have found a suitable perch –well lit, with attractive bokeh (out-of-focus highlights) or interesting foliage – in a spot where the birds are active, don’t be tempted to shift your lens onto another target, even if you have to wait a while. Unless of course something extraordinary is happening on the next-door-twig. One way to maximize your changes is to keep both eyes open as you peer through the viewfinder.


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