It occurred to me that as of late, I’ve been doing a bashing of the Mallard and thought it was time to ease up a bit. If you recall there has been some assumptions regarding just how promiscuous this bird is – for reference, check out the muta.. I mean interesting specimens here and here. The little known but powerful Mallard Urban Transgressions and Neglect Tracking Society has contacted me with a cease and desist. Trust me, you do not want to stay on their bad side. As an act of restitution, today’s featured bird is the Mallard. Unless you live under a rock or in The City (sorry, inside college joke) you have seen one of these at your local river, lake, pond or for that matter the roadside ditch. They are indeed the most abundant duck in North America and the male markings make it very easy to spot – note, this is not true of the female mallard which is about as common looking as you can get with the exception of the blue teal patch on their wings. On our way back home from Wisconsin, we stopped in downtown Dells to see what was playing in the river that runs through the middle of it. After walking a ways down the nice path they have for pedestrians I noticed this Mallard catching some Z’s under a bridge. It must be nice to be able to carry your pillow with you wherever you go.
Due to the bridge supports and an outcropping of brush and trees, there was a limited viewing angle (I’m sure that was his intention when selecting this spot). For about 20 minutes I wrestled with foot compositioning in a futile attempt to clear the shot of branches but still capture all the rock pedestal. At one point in this effort, I banged the bridge beam with my knee and my yelp woke it up. He gave a quick look around before eventually settling back into his slumber.
Eventually some of the rock had to be sacrificed to get most of the other distractions out (looks like my cropping effort on the right side was just a wee bit short but guessing it would matte out in a print anyway. After all that work none of the shots would make my gallery list, but I’m finally starting to concentrate more on the in camera composition which results in an easier time in post processing.
I will say the subject in the above picture isn’t that exciting, but I really like the texture that came out in the water. It kind of looks like molten glass.
Hit the jump to see some additional shots of the Mallard along with a composition discussion.
Earlie in the week we stopped by Mirror Lake to see what they had to offer in the birding category. Sure enough, there were Mallards there frolicking in the water. Once again, these are not my best work (admittedly these were heavily processed) but mainly putting these out here as a personal study on head composition. Most of you have caught on by now, but my wildlife photography style, if you want to call it that, is “Interaction”. Sitting in blinds for hours at a time and being absolute stealth doesn’t interest me as much as being in the outdoors and feeling like I’m a part of that context — granted thanks to biiig glass I can simulate that without actually causing too much stress on the wildlife. I am not dismissing the effort it takes to get into initial position without disturbing the animals and the need to apply constraint when trying to get a better composition. But once in place, my ultimate goal is to make it feel like I’m just another participant in that small ecosystem. This results (in my humble opinion) in a more captivating print since it pulls the viewer into the scene and lets them experience it from an animal’s perspective. That’s pretty fluffy, but again, if you haven’t already noticed that you should take another gander at most of the shots posted on the blog or up on Smugmug (link here) and it should become painfully clear. So what’s the key for me.. the head position and those wonderful eyes. Any wildlife photography will tell you the eyes are one of the most compelling aspects of a wildlife print and to always make sure those are tack sharp. The next thing they’ll tell you is to work the light source angle and strive to get some glint in the eye. If you consider yourself a wildlife photographer and not already doing those two things – grab your camera right now and go out and practice that – it is probably one of the easiest ways to improve your product. The third area is the driver for my style and that is head position. Take for example the following shots (again, view from a composition perspective rather than overall sharpness)
They eye is there – check, the sun is nicely reflecting – check and lastly notice how the head is turned slightly to the viewer. I think the fact the eye is in the direct line of sight to where I am positioned (where he knows it or not depending what kind of reach the glass has) and the head is tilted in almost awareness gives it a nice feel (well, unless you have Anatadaephobia in which case my photography is probably not for you). Now let’s take that a step further. Here is a similar shot – you can see the eye, there is a slight glint but the head is turned even more.
So, do you like the hi I know you are there view two shots back or the hi I know you are there and you seem interesting enough to check out in the above shot? It is a little bit of a toss up with me at the moment, but the stocks are trending to the latter one. From a birder perspective, the second also gives a better feel for the symmetry and size of the bill which can be helpful at times when trying to narrow down the species – clearly this is not a Northern Shoveler (link here) due to the slender nature of the bill.
Closing out this topic I might as well give an example of my favorite animal pose – shots where the subject’s head is positioned across its own body. This is my go to shot when photographing large animals. As soon as that head looks back across the shoulder blades, my finger is generally doing the dance on the shutter button. Granted it is not universally appreciated but my main interest in doing that (besides I just plain like it) is it enables me to get more than just a head and neck shot when shooting with The Beast – trophy heads on a wall are not my thing and a chopped neck shop tends to look like that (see the White Goose shot in the previous post – third shot here). Now, when it comes to birds The Beast can generally pull the entire body in so it isn’t a big issue, but it still gives an interesting perspective as hopefully you can tell below.
That’s all for the Mallard – which generally gets neglected due to over abundance out on shoots. Just wanted to give it a little attention and figured it would also provide some insights into how go about my hobby. Now with a little luck the M.U.T.a.N.T.S. organization will get the hell of my back.