A couple of weeks ago, I went for a walk in South Weald Park and shot some pictures of the ducks and geese there. One of the conclusions I drew was, that maybe I should do like the local anglers, and bring a chair to be comfortable, when deciding to stay put in the same place for a period of time. So last week I went out and bought two folding chairs (I haven’t gotten used to shopping for one), made myself a thermos of coffee and went back to the park.

Canada goose landing on the lake


There was a nice sunny spot by the lake, so I made that “my spot” for a few hours. It felt almost like camping – backpack with camera gear, tripod, chair, coffee, all that was missing was a tent to get a kip (I’ve seen some anglers do that, clever so-and-so’s). Having unpacked, mounted lense and tele converter and got everything setup, it was quite clear that this approach really only works for staying in one or a few places. It would be too much hassle to pack up, move around, unpack, repack, and so on, many times.

I was specifically trying to get a shot of the birds splashing in the water as they were landing or taking off. But when a gaggle of geese came by with their goslings, I went into overdrive with the camera, as always when there are cute, fury baby-animals around. Fortunately for me, one of the goslings decided to dive, right when I was tracking them and already had focus lock. Cuteness and splash splash in one frame, what more could I wish for?

Canada gosling making a nice splash as it dives

Canada gosling making a nice splash as it dives

My favourite shot from the day, the one at the top of the page, was pure luck. I had been focused (if you’ll pardon the pun) on a group of mallards across the lake, using a narrow aperture of f/13 to try to get the entire group in focus, when this Canada goose came flying in low over the water. Without thinking, I swung the tripod head around and tried to pan with the goose as I held the trigger down, taking advantage of the camera’s 5 frames per second burst rate. Had I taken the time to think, I would probably have opened up the aperture a stop or two in order to get a shorter shutter time so that I could get the goose sharper – and I would probably have wasted precious time doing that adjustment, and possibly have missed the shot completely.  I’m glad I didn’t think about it, because then the water wouldn’t have been rendered as blurred streaks, and there wouldn’t have been the same feeling of movement in the picture.  On the other hand, the goose’s head, which I now had to borrow from another picture, would probably have been sharper.

Sometimes the timing is all about luck. On the next shot, taken a fifth of a second later, the duck is already swimming. I haven't been able to identify this duck - any idea about the breed?

I like to muse about lessons learnt from my days out. I guess the main one is that it was very, very relaxing to sit in the sun and wait for the birds to come to me, rather than walk around trying to catch up with them as they move around the lake. There might have been fewer photo opportunities this way, but it felt very soothing and relaxing, in a zen and the-journey-is-more-important-than-the-destination kind of way.

There were plenty of shots where I missed the action by a split second, and plenty of shots where I didn’t give the camera sufficient time to get a focus lock. I’m sure that’s “just” a matter of practise, practise and more practise. It’s fun, and the benefit of shooting birds in the park rather than wild birds is that they aren’t afraid of people. So I foresee additional trips to the park in the near future!

Mallard taking off. I think there's better opportunities for splash-splash from take-offs than there are from landings.

As usual, there’s a separate page with bigger and additional pictures here.