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Jan31

Photographing the Birds of the Camargue

Written by // David Wagner

Flamingo After
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Flamingo coming in for landing – Info: Nikon D810, Nikkor 200-400 f/4 zoom, 1/1000 sec, f/4

In my previous post –The Horses of the Camargue, Serge Krouglikoff of Create Away and I were waist deep in a marsh in southern France, horses charging at us under the watchful eyes of the gardians. At dawn on this day I catch up with Serge and drive to the bird sanctuary in the Camargue wetlands area, the Parc Ornithologique. Serge knows the secret handshake and gets us into the park well before it opens.

It’s a wonderland full of life and bird chatter, and totally void of people except for the two of us. It’s wakeup time for the birds of the Camargue and the flamingos, spoonbills, white storks, grey herons, egrets, ducks and more that I can’t name are busy flying in for breakfast or socializing in the warm early morning light. I don’t know in which direction to point my lens, but after a few moments of feeling like a kid in a candy store, I settle on going for the flamingos first. They are the superstars here.

Pair Of Flamingos After
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A pair of flamingos with ruffled feathers – Info: Nikon D810, Nikkor 200-400 f/4 zoom, 1/1600 sec, f/4

Flamingos are funny. Taking off and landing in the marsh, they are both awkward and graceful. When they are paired face to face, their necks and heads can form hearts. In packs they have a Mick Jagger strut. They have jaundice yellow eyes that stare at you. It’s hard to stop shooting. I find myself blowing off thousands of frames in the hopes that I catch a close-up of a pair forming a heart or one in-flight directly overhead with the sun backlighting – but tracking moving targets and keeping them in my frame with a monster 200-400mm zoom lens is a real task. I’m following my protocol: shoot, shoot, shoot. No chimping* lest I miss the shoot I’m hoping to get. Maybe I got one. Maybe I didn’t. No time to look now. I’ll look later when I have time to edit.

Pair Of Flamingos After
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Flock of flamingos in the marsh – Info: Nikon D810, Nikkor 200-400 f/4 zoom, 1/640 sec, f/4

But I don’t want to spend all of my early morning light on the flamingos so we walk into the park to catch some of the white storks and grey herons. This is the bird’s park, not ours, so I sit and watch and wait for some action: a bird taking off here, a mom landing to feed her chicks there, a flock taking off. Patience. And the patience pays off with some very wonderful photos of this incredibly photogenic part of the Camargue. Birds, landscapes, I even find horses roaming in these wetlands.

Pair Of Flamingos After
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White stork feeding her young – Info: Nikon D810, Nikkor 200-400 f/4 zoom, 1/5000 sec, f/4

Capturing birds in motion, in flight or otherwise, is a much greater challenge than photographing the horses of the Camargue. These direct descendants of dinosaurs are flying. They’re smaller, faster and considerably less obedient than horses. They can’t be wrangled by gardians and therein lays the challenge. Fast shutter speeds are critical here, not just for the movement but also for the extreme focal length of the lens (200-400mm) because telephoto lenses magnify your body movement, right down to your heartbeat!

Pair Of Flamingos After
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Flock of flamingos taking flight – Info: Nikon D810, Nikkor 200-400 f/4 zoom, 1/3200 sec, f/4

What a contrast between my experience with the wild horses compared with the birds. Being in the Camargue has been the bucket trip I didn’t have on my bucket list. I’ve fallen in love with this place and soon, very soon, I’ll be announcing a Lightroom Guy workshop incorporated with Serge and Create Away. Get ready for the excitement of shooting (okay, photographing!) the wild horses, bulls, birds and landscapes of the Camargue while mastering Adobe Lightroom!

*chimping - A photographer preoccupied with looking at the previous shot on their LCD rather than actively photographing a scene unfolding in front of them.

For more information on chimping see Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimping

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