A GUIDE to PHOTOGRAPHING Twitchy WOODPECKERS.

Started Mar 11, 2013 | Discussions thread
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Stevie Boy Blue
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A GUIDE to PHOTOGRAPHING Twitchy WOODPECKERS.
Mar 11, 2013

Well, after an annoying 14-hour period of not being able to log in to my DPR account for some reason, I can finally say Hi folks and move to the main reason for my posting – which is how I go about photographing woodpeckers here in the UK.

For some reason, woodpecker shots have suddenly begun appearing readily in the forum, so if this timely/topical contribution helps just one person to adopt a reasonably sound approach to gaining consistently passable woodpecker images, then my aim will have been achieved.

As with many a pastime or vocation, when it comes to wildlife photography, we may aspire to improve on the fundamentals and add the type of natural appearance to our images that we’d prefer over those all-too obviously manufactured ones. Many tricks can be used to make images of wild creatures appear as though the photographer was just plain lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes this may well have been the case. But it’s often the preliminary tactics we employ that separates the good from the not so good shots. Largely, therefore, we can actually make our own luck more often than we may realise by doing the simplest of things before we begin tripping that shutter.

Each to his or her own I suppose, and I don’t knock those who like such shots, but how many times have you taken a photo of any bird clinging to a feeder full of unnatural food and realised how much the container of bait detracts from the overall result? The fact is, most of us begin photographing many wildlife species in this fundamental way and it’s a good method of gaining practice and becoming familiar with our subjects before moving things on to another level. In that sense, I certainly don’t knock the approach. Many of us need to gain confidence by any means possible, but if we want better pictures, we have to change something.

No matter where we live in the world, I’d guess that woodpeckers in particular can prove notoriously difficult for many folks to photograph to a standard with which they’re entirely happy. I know that here in the UK, few birds are quite as shy, twitchy or flighty as our three varieties of woodpecker - the green, the lesser spotted and the greater spotted. So, in an effort to pass on a simple tactic that may not first appear obvious to all, I submit the following in relation to the greater spotted member of the species, for it is this that responds especially well to the approach.

Firstly, know your species. A little background knowledge of your subject’s behavioural and feeding patterns can help tremendously in terms of capturing those images. From purely a natural, surviving-in-the-wild perspective, great spotted woodpeckers eat all manner of foods, from small grubs, moths and various other insects to newborn chicks of other small birds. Like many species of bird, however, woodpeckers have evolved an opportunist approach that will often ensure they’re tempted by foods they’d otherwise never find if it were not for our willingness to provide them as easy pickings. Enter the seed and particularly peanut feeders, of which great spotted’s are especially willing to exploit – and often in preference to their usual diet. Suet pellets are brilliant woodpecker attractors too!

Possibly above all else we can offer great spotted woodpeckers as nourishment, however, is pure bog standard, straightforward and relatively cheap animal fat in the form of lard. Nothing more, nothing less; they absolutely love the stuff. As they’ll gladly gorge on lard alone, it also means we can use the fat as a carrier for other foods to broaden the attractiveness. Hence, if we so wish, we can warm and soften a cold slab of lard for one-minute in the microwave before adding peanuts, suet pellets and perhaps mealworms to create a blend that will bring in other species of bird too – especially nuthatches, robins and various members of the tit family. Occasionally with mealworms, we may get the likes of tree-creepers too.

Back to the woodpeckers though. We can either potentially spend weeks of our time finding exactly where they live in a wooded area, then bait certain spots to attract them to feed where we want them in relation to the light levels available. Or perhaps we already have them coming to our garden, in which case all we need is a tree trunk/nice fat and relatively straight branch we can place upright so as it looks natural for our photographic purposes. Otherwise known as a prop, it’s now time to drill one or two holes into which we can cram whatever blend of lard we’ve chosen to attract the woodpeckers to the ideal spot, as we’ll obviously have worked out where the sun is positioned at relevant times to maximise the effects of the final image. Below are some clear examples of how the process works to useful effect.

Before you study the step-by-step series, however, please be aware that I never use a tripod, either with or without a TC attached to my camera, which these days is the FZ150 more often than not. Neither do I ever shoot Raw files. Hence all of these examples were originally shot as fine quality Jpegs, which have received very little if any PP other than resizing and adding text. Most were shot with my old FZ28 with the Raynox 2.2x TC added for extra reach but there are a couple that were taken with the newer FZ150. Like all wildlife, preserving detail is all about how close we can get to the subject before tripping the shutter. So, I always emphasise the closer the better and to use a TC if there’s no other option. Do not shoot with digital zoom and expect it to work wonders. It can’t! If you’re a stickler for quality as I am, use only the optical range of your zoom with or without an additional magnifier.

In closing, I feel I should emphasise a major bonus of FZ cameras, which is that these machines afford a relatively silent shooting option. In this regard, they have a huge advantage over DSLR’s where edgy woodpeckers could easily be spooked by the merest sound of a mirror flipping through much more expensive and far heavier equipment. So, along with adopting the step by step approach I’ve outlined here, take advantage of the almost silent shooting mode that your FZ has. If you haven’t already done so, go and make that menu change ASAP, and I’m certain you’ll enjoy success given that you can spare the time to be out and about. The fact is, no matter how solid our technique might be; there’s no substitute for spending lots of time creating our own levels of luck. Just make sure that you can conceal yourself from any woodpecker’s view before you even consider attempting to photograph them.

Hope this helps in some way.

Kind regards to all Panasonic Forum visitors and viewers of my contributions,

Stevie Boy

















Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
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