When you first start digiscoping just getting the subject in the viewfinder can be a challenge. Once you have mastered the basics of digiscoping – getting the subject’s eye in focus most of the time and adjusting your camera settings appropriately without much thought – it’s time to begin to really “see” what’s in your viewfinder.
THE ART OF DIGISCOPING
LESS IS MORE
There are many conventional rules for photo composition, but in the case of digiscoping, the main goal is to showcase what is most often a single subject to its best advantage. Great photos are not just about what’s in them, but also what is not. “Less is more” applies here, and anything you can do to keep distracting elements out of your photos will put you one step closer to that goal. Distracting backgrounds, tree branches, and parts of other birds are a few of the most common offenders. Countless photos with the potential for greatness are ruined by one small thing, and often the photo could have been saved if only the digiscoper had had the awareness to notice the issue when he or she took the photo. It’s easy to get so focused on your subject that you don’t notice what else is in the frame – good or bad. Often with a small movement, you can reframe the subject and eliminate the distracting element.
LIGHT AS A CREATIVE TOOL
Making optimal use of light is one of the most powerful tools in the digiscoper’s kit. Being aware of the angle of the sun and how beautifully or harshly it’s illuminating your subject are critical to the photo’s quality. I rarely digiscope between the hours of 10am and 4pm, and it would have to be an unusual situation for me to take a photo when I couldn’t feel the sun on my back. Low-angle sunlight coming from behind you will almost always result in better photos than those taken in the shade or in full midday sun.
Sometimes special opportunities will present themselves, such as a perfect reflection of your beautiful preening bird on richly colored water. If you’re so focused on the bird that you don’t see its reflection, you will probably end up with a photo of a bird and some part of his reflection. If your level of awareness has grown to the point that you recognize the potential, you can reframe the shot, possibly rotating the camera ninety degrees on the scope, perhaps capturing the shot of a lifetime.
THE RIGHT SECTION OF THE IMAGE IS VITAL
Another situation that can result in a photo that’s just okay or one that ends up in a magazine is when there is more than one bird in the scene. Whether it’s two birds or a whole flock, move until you find an angle that will allow you to crop the photo without cutting a bird in half. Don’t wait until you see your photo on your computer to think about the cropping possibilities – learn to evaluate them before you press the shutter release.
Digiscoping affords only a very narrow depth of field, which can be a double-edged sword. It’s wonderful for highlighting the point you want to draw attention to, but in the case of more than one bird, it can be hard to decide whose eye to focus on. Usually there will be one bird that your eye is drawn to in the viewfinder, and focusing on that bird’s eye will generally be a good choice.
Balance is as much about feel and intuition as it is about rules. In most cases you will want to leave more room on the side of the photo that your subject is facing. The “rule of thirds” can be a guide, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. If that’s the case, break it and experiment with cropping until the balance looks and feels right. Take a little time experimenting with different crops of your photo. Level your horizon if necessary, and then see if your photo can be improved by some creative cropping.
FINDING YOUR ARTISTIC VOICE
I started digiscoping in order to share the beauty of the birds in our backyard cypress swamp with others. Although sharing nature’s beauty with others is still very important, my main purpose now is to capture photos that allow people to relate to a bird in a way that they could not have previously. One way to do this is to be close enough to your subject to capture details and expressions that would otherwise go unseen. By taking thousands of photos and finding that one image that is perfect in every way, you can help others make a special, sometimes life-enriching connection. I look for the photos that really make me feel especially connected to the subject, and will hopefully have the same effect on others who see it. If you feel a genuine connection with the subject, it will ultimately also show in your photos.
When you spend a lot of time viewing nature at the magnifications afforded by digiscoping, you will witness incredible behaviors and interactions – and it is likely that your connection to nature will be enriched as a result. One of the most valued compliments I ever received was very early in my digiscoping, when a woman told me “You really capture the personality of the bird.” It put into words what I was subconsciously trying to accomplish, and has become the main part of my digiscoping style.
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