For the Birds Radio Program: Bird Photography
I’ve been taking lots of photos of birds lately, and just bought a new 8-megapixel digital camera, which has an 8x optical zoom. This does a fantastic job of taking close-ups, so I got some great pictures of baby mice, and outdoors it brings birds a lot closer, to it’s taken some really nice photos but I’m already sensing its limitations. I went to the Sax-Zim Bog this week and took some lovely photos of Northern Hawk Owls and Great Gray Owls, but most of them look better as scene shots than as close-ups. So now I want to try my hand at digiscoping. With digiscoping, you just hold or hook up a digital camera to your spotting scope and click away. The trick is, it’s very hard to use a digital camera with a big lens for digiscoping, because the camera’s objective lens shouldn’t be bigger than the spotting scope’s eyepiece or your image will be inside a black circle. But especially for people who already have a decent spotting scope, digiscoping is a lot cheaper than getting outfitted with a long-lens camera system, and one can take exquisite photos.
I tried some low-budget digiscoping when I was in Costa Rica, and a few of the pictures weren’t horrible, though none would be acceptable for printing. I was using the spotting scope I bought in 1997, held together with a big of duct tape because the center got loose, and an early Sony digital camera. I didn’t have an adaptor—I just held the camera right up to the eye piece. The camera lens was a little too big, so all my pictures had that black circle framing the image, and most weren’t centered because it was so hard holding the camera precisely, but a few came out decently. I took three photos of my lifer Resplendent Quetzal—all of them were rather crooked, but I still treasure them.
Over the past year, I’ve taken a few good bird photos and am starting to want to get pictures of all the birds I see. Small birds within 25 or 30 feet, and big birds within about 50 feet turn out pretty well with the zoom camera, but a lot of birds are seen at greater distances, so I am going to start getting more serious about digiscoping. I can hardly show pictures on my radio program, but I have been posting some of the pictures I’ve been taking on my website, especially my blog. There’s some baby mouse photos there, too for those who aren’t squicked out by such things. And if I finally get the hang of digiscoping, I’ll not only post the bird photos, I’ll post pictures of my set up. A lot of birders have a spotting scope, and as more and more of them get a digital camera, more and more will want to put the two things together to have permanent remembrances of the birds they see.