NOTE TO THE READER: I am going to be making an effort to post on my blog more frequently in the upcoming months. One aspect I thought I would introduce is more of a “how to” component for photographing various types of birds. There will also be more discussions about equipment, some more video and location profiles.
If you have anything that you would like to see me blog about please comment. I would love to hear from you!
Also, if you enjoy these posts please share them on Facebook, Twitter G+, etc. Thanks!
How To Photograph Woodpeckers
Woodpeckers are found throughout the world (except in Australia and Antarctica) and come in a tremendous variety of sizes and colours. They can be found from the deepest realms of the Amazon jungle, to the highest mountains, to our very own backyards. From tiny Piculets that are barely 10 cm (4 inches) long to several larger species that measure well over 50cm (20 inches) the world’s woodpeckers are a diverse group of birds. Some of the tropical species exhibit exciting and vibrant colours but most are more subtle shades of black, white and brown. These carpenters of the bird world are immediately identifiable and make great subjects for all of us bird photographers to strive to photograph.
For the most part, woodpeckers exhibit a similar behaviour where they work their way up a tree in their search for insects. This behaviour combined with their long body shape makes them best suited to vertically composed images with more space above the bird than below. The bird should be positioned away from the vertical center of the image such that there is minimal dead space behind the bird. Depending on the size of the branch / trunk that the bird is on it is great if you can see the entire width of the perch.
When it comes to composing woodpecker images it is also worth considering the relative position of the bird on the branch in relation to the camera. If the bird is too far on the back of the branch a part of the bird may be hidden from view. Too far forward and the shot will be more of the bird’s back than is ideal. Generally speaking the most pleasing woodpecker images are those where the midline of the bird is directly perpendicular to the lens. One thing to look for is whether or not you can see the bird’s feet. In a perfect pose you will be able to see the bird’s feet and perhaps some space between the its tail and the branch.
For many people who feed birds in their yards woodpeckers are a familiar friend. Especially in the winter months Hairy, Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers frequent seed and suet feeders throughoutNorth America. One great technique for photographing these backyard visitors is to set up a woodpecker post with large holes drilled into it. These holes can be filled with suet or peanut butter, which the woodpeckers will quickly discover. It is a good idea to have one post that the woodpeckers can use on a daily basis and a second that is your aesthetically pleasing post. Keep the attractive post in reserve as the interesting bark or moss will quickly deteriorate with all of the attention from the hungry birds. By keeping a post in place the birds will stay conditioned to the site and when you are ready to photograph them you can easily swap in your attractive post.
Using Recorded Calls
At certain times of the year some species will respond to their call. Some species are more aggressive than others, but most woodpeckers will respond. Many species of woodpeckers will respond most aggressively to hearing their drumming. As always with recorded calls it is vital to use both judgement and restraint and to never linger very long with any one bird.
If you are doing a feeder setup or using recorded calls then you have more control over what perch the bird will come to. This is not an opportunity to be squandered and careful thought should be put in to what branch to use. My favourite woodpecker perches are those that are about half as thick as the woodpecker itself and that have character in the bark, mosses or lichen that cover them. Another idea is to try to find a vine that you can wrap around the branch itself. This can make for a brilliant image that incorporates not only the interesting branch itself, but also some leaves and interesting visual lines, but this is of course a personal choice. As I mentioned in the composition section it is great if the entire width of the perch can be included in the frame. It is also worth considering a branch that has some curve or shape to it so that the perch is not just a simple vertical line.
With a few tricks and a well thought out plan woodpeckers are among the easier birds to photograph. While North America has a limited number of species there are over 200 species in the Picidae family around the world: more than enough to keep us bird photographers busy!
Here are a few of my favourite woodpecker / woodcreeper images from my travels throughout the New World.
Let me know what you think!