Monday, Oct 15, 2018
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Matt Markey

'Shooters' look for prize bird

Professional photographer gives tips on getting trophy images


"Techniques for Better Bird Photography" workshop leader Christopher Taylor, left, talks with participant Michael Allen, of Ojai, Calif. during the "biggest week in American birding" in Oak Harbor on Sunday.


OAK HARBOR, Ohio -- While thousands of bird watchers fanned out across the marshes near the shore of Lake Erie early Sunday morning, one small group initially sought separation from the throngs that packed the boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.

They were here not to watch, but to "shoot" birds.

Eight serious wildlife photographers spent the next three-plus hours picking the brain of Los Angeles-based pro shooter Christopher Taylor, whose work photographing wildlife has taken him to the Galapagos Islands, Alaska, and Antarctica.

His Sunday students were equipped with enough gadgets, gizmos, and accoutrements to rival the well-outfitted trout fisherman. They carried pricey graphite tripods, and huge lenses that cost as much as a decent used car.

After Taylor, a Canon aficionado, established the ground rules by apologetically issuing the disclaimer: "I don't speak Nikon", it took only moments for the discussion led to get pretty technical as Taylor clicked off guidelines about the proper situational blends of aperture and shutter speed.

"There are many different ways to get essentially the same result," Taylor said, while indicating his preference to shoot at one-thousandth of a second and not use a flash. He fielded an array of specific questions in rapid-fire order, while the students in this advanced class followed his words while simultaneously scanning the trees for the tiny warblers most of them hope to capture in stunning digital images.

These shooters are part of a boom in wildlife photography that has most participants in the region's on-going "Biggest Week in American Birding" carrying a camera as well as expensive binoculars.

"With a camera in hand, you take something home without disturbing the birds at all," said computer programmer Jim Garber of Dayton, who took part in the session with Taylor. "Once you start collecting images of birds, you want more images and better images. There's a lot to learn about how to photograph birds, so I'm soaking up all I can."

Linda Rockwell of Corrales, New Mexico, said the variety of warblers flitting around the trees in the Lake Erie marsh areas, plus the chance to pursue these birds under the tutelage of Taylor, made her long trip to Ohio worthwhile.

"We don't get the opportunity to photograph these birds in the Rio Grande flyway where I live, plus every time you have an opportunity to shoot with a very accomplished photographer, you gain a lot," she said.

"His technique is outstanding and it makes him an artist with the way he composes his photos of birds. Chris is really generous about sharing his knowledge, so you hope to be able to duplicate some of that."

For Ken Schmidt, a former Cleveland resident who is retired from Ohio Bell and now lives in Oviedo, Fla., the extreme challenge of photographing birds in the wild is part of the allure.

"Some wildlife -- deer, rabbits, and things of that nature -- are easy, but birds are very hard to photograph," said Schmidt, who carries more than $40,000 worth of camera gear with him as the group navigates the boardwalk at Magee Marsh.

"You have to be technically sound in every respect, but then you might sit and wait two or three hours to get the right shot. This is a waiting game, but you have to be ready for the moment when that tiny bird steps out into the open."

Taylor said bird photographers also have to resist the reflex to first grab their binoculars before raising the camera to shoot. He also added that even for the pros, the birds still have to show up for good photographs to result.

"It's always a gamble with birds -- you have to take what you can get," Taylor said.

Black Swamp Bird Observatory executive director Kim Kaufman said she chose Taylor to conduct the advanced bird photography session due to his expertise in the field, and the fact he does not fit the stereotypical image of a serious birder.

"Chris is a young guy from California who brings so much knowledge and passion to this work," she said. "Plus, we've worked hard to break down the stereotype of the birder, and it doesn't hurt that his involvement completely contradicts that inaccurate image of what a birder supposedly looks like."

The Biggest Week in American Birding continues through Sunday, with numerous daily events at Magee Marsh, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Oak Openings Preserve, and at other locations throughout the area.

A complete schedule is posted at the biggestweekinamerican Web site.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: or 419-724-6068.

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