Photography at Smith Oaks Rookery on High Island TX


I’d heard all of the stories about the Audubon Society and how they treated photographers so poorly on High Island that many refused to go back. I have to say that was not my experience at all. They were very accommodating and down right helpful on my trip. A few of the volunteers even asked for advice on how to setup the blinds that are now available for birders and photographers alike. If you had a bad experience in the past give them another chance, the photography was good! Now if they could just fix the mosquito problem… Their website is excellent and helpful. You can visit them…HERE. I went with the intent of photographing migrating warblers, alas it seems I was about a week early, so I was “forced” to photograph the birds at the Smith Oaks Rookery. I say forced because the birds there were mostly Great Egrets and I have a portfolio full of egrets and well, just didn’t think I wanted more. Yes, I am bird photography snob. However, the one thing that happens when you are in a situation like this is that you are able to experiment with different ideas for images. There are a zillion (Ok, not really) birds and they do the same thing over and over again. If you “miss” the shot, you can probably get it again the next time around. My biggest piece of advice, play with shots and get creative…get out of the box! For some reason the spoobills were always trying to land on this twig. I finally got one with the right “expression”. By that I mean, there was eye contact and the bill and more importantly the eyes were not intersected by the twigs. [singlepic id=1169 w=580 h=500 float=center] Because this is a rookery, birds were always coming and going. I was watching for a group of spoonbills, so that I could get a flock flying in to the rookery. You want all sorts of images for your portfolio, so that your images tell the story of the rookery. Grab, singles, pairs, behavior shots etc and not just tight portraits. [singlepic id=1170 w=580 h=500 float=center] This rookery is situated such that the sun is behind the rookery in the morning. This is a golden (sorry!) opportunity for silhouette shots. Play with these in post process to really make them pop. [singlepic id=1171 w=580 h=500 float=center] When you are at a rookery it is always a good idea to spend some time just watching, yes you may miss a shot, but it will pay off with some gems. I noticed as these cormorants aggressively defended “their” perch. I waited for birds to make an approach and fired in rapid bursts to catch the action. I ignored everything else so as not to be distracted, this was the shot that I wanted! [singlepic id=1172 w=580 h=500 float=center] I’ve seen egrets fight in the air over prime nesting space. I was always watching for the action to start. Once they get in the air these fights can last a minute or so giving you time to get in on the action. [singlepic id=1162 w=580 h=500 float=center] The other artsy sort of thing that I like when the opportunity arises is the pan blur. The idea is to use a somewhat slow shutter speed and then pan at the same speed that the your subject is moving. The tricky part is to get at least the eye in focus. As you can see it looks like the cormorant is flying super fast, wait it was! Well it makes the background blurred in motion with the bird. Fun effect, when you get one. BTW, 1 in 25 would be considered very good for this technique! [singlepic id=1180 w=580 h=500 float=center] I hope these tips help you make some fun images during your next visit to a rookery. It can be a very rewarding photography session as long as you think about what you want and take a few minutes to watch and learn the rythm of the place… Questions? Comments? Concerns? Let me know, leave a comment. I answer them all.        

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  1. Neotropic Cormorants Smith Oaks High Island TX | PAW

    […] You can see all of my cormorant images and order prints…HERE. I wrote a blog post about my trip to High Island and the Smith Oaks Rookery…HERE. […]

  2. Roseate Spoonbill Photography Smith Oaks rookery High Island | PAW

    […] read about all of my photography at the Houston Audubon Society’s Bird Refuge on High Island…HERE. In case you were […]

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