This fall I’ve really put a lot of time and effort into ramping up my duck photography skills. In previous years, once the warblers and songbirds had migrated through, I had a lull in my birding until the winter. This year I discovered that observing and photographing ducks is a rewarding and wonderful experience that I highly recommend to all birders and nature photographers.
Here are some useful tips I’ve learned along the way:
Duck Photography Tip #1: Stabilize Your Camera
Get a monopod or a tripod as it makes a world of difference. Ducks are fast moving and often further away than you would like, so being able to stabilize your camera leads to crisper shots. Also, there can be a lot of standing around on the shore waiting for ducks to move so it’s nice to have your camera already up and in the “ready” position.
This leads to my next tip…
Duck Photography Tip #2: Get Low
An ideal position for photographing ducks is sitting on the shoreline, at the same level as the ducks are. This allows you get good “eye-contact” in your photographs, rather than taking pictures looking down on your subjects.
Make sure you use a monopod or a tripod that allows you to get low.
Duck Photography Tip #3: Lighting is Everything
The majority of the time you will want the sun at your back and the ducks in front of you being nicely lit up by the sunlight. This means you’re going to have to walk around the pond/lake/river until you’re in the optimal lighting conditions for the position of the ducks.
Duck Photography Tip #4: Shoot Fast
Keep your shutter speed high, even if it means turning the ISO up. Since ducks are always moving, it’s more important than ever to freeze the motion. I aim to keep my speed at 1/1000 or higher.
Duck Photography Tip #5: Don’t be Afraid to Bushwhack
Ducks can be frustrating to photograph as they can be incredibly skittish (makes sense considering they are hunted). I’ve taken to bushwhacking my way closer to ducks and it’s worked out fairly well for me. The idea is to quietly approach a group of ducks from the shoreline and not scare or stress them.
There are some risks to this approach including getting lost, getting scratches from overgrown vegetation and getting muddy feet. These have all happened to me – you’ve been warned!
Duck Photography Tip #6: Get the Flap Shot
You’ve likely noticed that ducks often raise their bodies up out of the water and flap their wings for a few seconds. Capturing this moment is what I call the money shot! It can be annoyingly frustrating, but it’s a fun duck behaviour to try to capture.
Duck Photography Tip #7: Do Your Research
Half of the trick of photographing ducks is finding a good spot to see them! You want somewhere where the lighting is good, where the ducks are used to people (not always possible) and with pretty scenery for a backdrop.
I’ve been mixing up different locations this fall to discover where the bests spots are. As usual eBird can be helpful, but just because a particular species of duck is being seen somewhere doesn’t mean it’s a good location for photographs. I’ll look online (Facebook/Flickr/Instagram) and see where other duck wildlife photographers in my area are photographing and I’ll visit those locations.
Duck Photography Tip #8: Wear Waterproof Footwear
Photographing ducks, especially close to the shoreline, can be (will be) muddy and wet. You want some waterproof shoes that can also stand up to tip #5, bushwhacking. I use a pair of Columbia waterproof trail shoes and they are awesome! You can pick up a pair on amazon.ca or amazon.com.
If you want to take things to the next level and venture into the water then hip or chest waders will be key. I’m not at this level yet, maybe next year 🙂
Want more tips? I found this great article by the Canadian Bird Photographer with some other useful suggestions.
What tips do you have for photographing ducks that I haven’t mentioned? Drop me a comment below ↓