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Blind Luck

June 5, 2014
Audobon's Oriole

© jmillerphoto.com – Audubon’s Oriole

A recent comment, a recent visit, and a lot of photo editing reminded me that it has been a while since I spoke about my love of making bird images inside photography blinds.

I have been shooting in bird blinds (or hides, as some call them) since my return to the States in 2006.  I had done some bird photography during my time in Iceland, but it was pretty much restricted to shooting from inside the car (which some say is one of the best forms of bird blind photography) or at the bird cliffs at Látrabjarg.

A little more than a year after I arrived in San Angelo, Texas, I discovered the bird blind at San Angelo State Park.  It took me two or three more visits to realize that we were allowed to go into the structure and sit inside rather than waiting behind the fence.  I’m not always a quick learner.

After three or four visits, I had gotten a taste for shooting from the blind but I still really liked getting out and hiking.  And then my foot problems began and I found myself spending more and more time in the blind.  And then I found the bird blinds at South Llano River State Park near Junction, Texas.  And then I went to my first private ranch (The Petersen Ranch, which unfortunately is no longer in business).  And I was hopelessly addicted.

So what is so special about making bird images inside of blinds?  If the blind is set up properly, the bird’s so called Circle of Fear diminishes significantly.  It means a higher likelihood of getting birds acting naturally at a much closer distance.  In turn that makes for sharper images.

I prefer to shoot in blinds located on private ranches over public lands for a couple of reasons.  The biggest reason is that the blinds are setup with photography in mind.  The light is where it should be.  Ample space is usually available for tripods and other support equipment.  And non-photographers are nowhere to be found.

Lesser Goldfinch

© jmillerphoto.com – Lesser Goldfinch

But I shoot more often in blinds on public lands.  The biggest reason for this is simply scheduling.  For me to go to a private ranch means planning at least a couple of weeks ahead, making my schedule line up with the property owner’s schedule, and in most cases planning on spending the entire weekend because of the distance involved.  With blinds on public lands I can make the go/stay decision as late as the morning of and it is usually just a day trip up and back.  Cost is also consideration–in a good year when I budget well enough I can probably afford to do a couple of ranch trips.  But as gas becomes more expensive and with the ranch weekends being a ton more productive, the cost ratio goes down significantly.

So what are my favorites?  Of the private blinds, hands down my current favorite is the Rocking R6 Ranch near Laredo, Texas.  It is the one I most recently visited and I’ve never made so many great shots over a 36 hour period.  Block Creek Natural Area near Comfort, Texas is also a certifiable favorite.  What the two places have in common is both have great blinds to shoot out of and great people running the properties.

On public lands, my favorite remains South Llano River SP.  Four blinds.  Good facilities.  Great volunteers and park staff.

I maintain a Google Map with all of the ranches and public blinds I know about.  I hope to update that map during some downtime I expect to have in the next couple of weeks.  I still have a blog that is devoted to bird blind photography, but as readers of this blog know, my time is limited and I have sadly had to ignore that one as I have regained some mobility and have done more dragonfly work.  That work may get transformed into a blog/website combo if I can find the time.  Throw that onto the pile of idle time projects…

So in a nutshell, why do I like shooting in blinds?  Great images.  And isn’t that one of the reasons we go out and shoot in the first place?

About the Images:
One image from a private blind, one image from a public blind.  Both of them shot this year and both shot on the Standard Gear with the unsteady tripod and no flash.  Up top is an image of an Audubon’s Oriole (Icterus graduacauda) made at the Rocking R6 Ranch this spring.  It was the only one I saw all weekend and I didn’t do as well with it as I would have liked.  The light was quickly going away from us but at least it is good enough for an ID.  Technical specs were ISO 200, 1/500 sec at f/6.3.  The bottom image is a Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria) getting ready for spring.  Tech specs were ISO 400, 1/500 sec at f/10.

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 5, 2014 9:30 am

    Beautiful.

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