I have a new fascination! Birds of prey (or B.O.P.s as I like to call them). Spring is in full swing, flowers and trees sending out cascades of colour and small-fuzzy-floaty-things that make it look like its snowing on a sunny day. And so its the season of country fairs (or fayres depending on where you're from), people descending on a small village or town to meet the locals and soak up a party-like atmosphere. And with the country fairs come the opportunities for photography that do only come once a year. But I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about falconry. Ok, so you could argue that these aren't wild birds, and that I have cheated. But what better way to prepare for seeing BOPs in the wild than up-close and personal at a falconry display?
Camera (obviously - hopefully you wont forget it)
Plenty of memory cards/one with lots of space
A good zoom (not always necessary depending what the BOPs are doing)
And that is about it. You have to remember that these are technically wild animals, so flashes will probably upset them, and they might try to perch on your tripod if you decide to use one.
At these shows and displays the BOPs are generally kept at a little distance from you, mainly because of the sheer numbers of people trying to photograph them. If inside a tent to keep them cool and relaxed, you may have to put up your ISO and open up your aperture. Just keep an eye on your shutter speed, so that your bird doesn't blur the instant it turns its head away from you because it knows you're about to take a picture ;)
Although they are less likely to look away from you (provided the food is in your direction) you then have to keep your focus on them as they approach. Not so easy. With a big telephoto lens, this is probably easier, but you do have to remember to change the zoom as the BOP approaches. If you have a DSLR camera, switch your focus mode to AI Focus or SERVO as these will help keep the BOP in focus. With any luck.
You will need a fast shutter speed, and hopefully the weather will help you with this by giving you some good sunlight. Midday makes the light very harsh, so if you are able, try and watch the display either later in the day or earlier. This is obviously very much dependant on the falconers themselves and the schedule for the show. We can all wish for things like that, but sometimes you have to make do. And it is possible to get photos at a midday show. Like these:
Always the ideal is a late afternoon shoot, when the light is just softening off. Also, the crowds tend to disperse at this point, so there's not so many cases of "elbow-wars" as you all battle to get some good photos. This is my favourite time of day, and if you are part of a camera club, you may even get a special visit to a falconry place, where close-up becomes something very special.
Lastly, there is a very special bird I would like to mention. The Bald Eagle. Pretty rare wherever you go and pretty special when you see one. I have been lucky enough to see one in the wild. It was around 6.00am, from the back of a speed boat in the USA, which prompted vast shouts of "America!!!" from all the children. The first is the picture I snapped then, and the others are pictures of a captive bird.
So, there are great benefits for you if you go shooting BOPs at a show. Don't miss the chance to get out there and visit these places, you will find the falconers themselves are great sources of information and they really do understand that they are working with some very special creatures. They may even be able to help you get some great photos from the day too.
Down here in the south of England, falconry is extremely popular, so if you're thinking of visiting some places, here's a few to help you out:
I'm sure there are plenty of other places too, so please do share with me and everyone else by posting them on my facebook page :)