three sizes. For large birds and indeed for all in such places where weight and size of
apparatus is not a serious disadvantage the half-plate size is the best, as a good sized image of
the bird can be obtained without placing the camera too near to the nest, and the size of the
plate allows the inclusion of a reasonable amount of surroundings. The 5x4 camera being
considerably smaller and lighter, is more portable for less accessible localities, and the quarter-
plate is an excellent size for nests. Although in photographing nests, movement owing to wind
occasionally makes a short exposure necessary, as a rule it is possible by waiting for a lull
when the herbage is still, to give one or two seconds. This with a rapid plate enables the use
of a comparatively small lens aperture, small enough to bring all the most conspicuous parts
of the surroundings into sharp focus, so that the resulting negative will enlarge satisfactorily
to any required size.
For birds, however, the quarter-plate is not large enough to give the best results, and should
the beginner wish to confine himself to one camera, the 5x4 size with an 8" lens will be found
the most generally useful. I use a 10" lens on my own 5x4 camera and find it very valuable.
It should be borne in mind, however, that the depth of focus in the subject photographed
decreases with an increase of the focal length of the lens. In other words, if two lenses,
one 8" the other 10", and both of an aperture of /6, are focused on the same subject, although
the 10" will give a larger image, yet a greater depth of the subject will be in sharp focus
with the 8" lens. Therefore, if the outfit is to be limited to one lens, 8" will be found the best
for general work. As 8" lenses are made to cover sharply a plate 6 x 4f , it follows that when
used on a plate 5x4 the covering power of the lens is not taxed to its limits, so that even a
moderately good lens is sure to cover the smaller plate. Whatever make of lens is selected, the
full aperture should be not less than /6, as although the conditions will generally allow of a
smaller aperture being employed and when working at a nest on the ground /ll or /16, or even
smaller may be necessary to secure a desirable depth of focus yet there are occasions when a
bad light, a restless bird, or the depicting of attitudes involving movement, demand a very short
exposure : it is then that the value of the large aperture is appreciated.
As a general rule the larger the aperture the more expensive the lens. But it should be
VOL. IV. 4 H
606 BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY
remembered that although an aperture of /6, or even/4'5 if it can be afforded, may be more or
less of a luxurious reserve, yet when it is wanted, it is wanted very badly.
Most, but not all, modern anastigmat lenses are convertible, i.e. the front or back combina-
tions can be used separately. Either combination used by itself has a considerably longer focus
than the complete lens. The ratio varies in different makes; but as an average one combina-
tion of an 8" lens may be 12" and the other 14". so that in one lens there may be a choice of
three focal lengths. The value of this is obvious, as although a single combination is not so
rapid as the complete lens owing to the fact that not only is the / value of the lens reduced by
the increase of focal length, but with most convertible lenses to obtain a sharp focus with a
single combination a moderately small stop must be used ; yet when for some reason the
camera has to be placed farther than usual from a nest, the size of image need not be reduced
if light and other conditions allow of sufficient exposure being given to suit the requirements of
the single combination.
The two photographs (Figs. 3 and 4, Plate LXXIX.) show clearly the gain in size of image
by the use of a single combination of the lens. While the result is similar to that attained by
the use of a telephoto lens, the working differs in this important particular a telephoto lens
magnifies, and therefore requires but a short camera extension, while the long focus lens,
especially when used on a near object, requires a very long extension. Hence the importance
of choosing a camera with the longest extension possible. I frequently require the full 23"
extension of my 5x4 camera.
SHUTTERS. For short exposures from -fa of a second down, a focal-plane shutter is best,
while it is the only form with which the extremely brief exposures necessary for flying birds
can be obtained. In addition, it is more efficient at a given exposure than a shutter working
on or near the lens.
For prolonged exposures I have so far found none better than the Thornton-Pickard
" Silent-Studio Shutter." This shutter should be fitted behind the lens. It has double roller-
blinds lapping in the middle, which open on squeezing a rubber ball and close on its release.
With it, it is possible to give exposures from | of a second to any required length. The " bulb "
action of a between-lens shutter will, of course, do the same, but the opening of these shutters
is accompanied with a click that is apt to startle the bird.
To sum up, the outfit recommended above should comprise the following :
Tripod. Strong, telescopic if possible ; with a range of elevation from 6 feet down to
Camera. 5 x 4, triple-extension, racking both ways ; reversing and swing back.
Lens. Convertible; focal length 8"; aperture not less than/6.
Shutters. Focal-plane (the quietest procurable) fitted on back of camera ; Silent-Studio
or similar make behind lens.
Plate-holders. Plenty of any kind that will carry the plate securely and are simple to
Small pocket-mirror ; string; pins.
Although in most bird-work the camera must be used on a stand, yet there are occasions
when a hand -camera is not only useful but necessary. The best form is the Reflex, as with it
the image can be seen on the focusing screen and the focus adjusted up to the moment of
exposure. It is especially suitable for photographing flying birds. There are many good
Reflex cameras on the market, but one, called " The Birdland Camera," is made specially for
bird-photography. It is very strong- has extra long extension, and can be used equally well
as a hand or stand camera. It is fitted with an admirable focal-plane shutter probably the
quietest made. The lens usually supplied is a Goerz anastigmat, and although any other lens
BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY 007
could bo substituted, it is doubtful if one better for the purpose could be chosen. This camem
would be, of course, more costly than the 5x4 outfit described above, but, if this is no objec-
tion, it is the ideal camera for the worker who wishes to confine himself to one camera, as with
it he would be prepared for any eventuality in bird-photography. It was made originally
by Sanders & Crowhurst, 71 Shaftesbury Avenue, and can now be supplied by H. A. Sanders,
24D-26 Charing Cross Road, London, W.
II. SHUTTER-SPEEDS FOR MOVING BIRDS
So much depends on the conditions of each case, that no hard-and-fast rule is possible for
the exposure when photographing moving birds.
It may, however, be taken as a definite rule that the nearer the bird or other moving object
photographed, the shorter must be the exposure to avoid blurring. The exposure must be
shorter for birds moving across the field of the lens than when moving towards or away.
It is generally possible to choose a time for making an exposure when there is less obvious
movement, and it should be remembered that more natural results are obtained by so doing.
Of course, such choice is out of the question if the object is to secure photographs showing, for
instance, the full range of wing action in flight ; but if a natural artistic representation is
required, then attitudes clearly perceived by the eye give the best results. Photographs taken
during rapid movements are useful for showing phases that the eye does not ordinarily take in,
but are not the best for purely pictorial purposes.
In the following table the exposures must be taken as approximate :
For ground-birds walking to their nests, and for birds feeding young or moving quietly
among branches, ^ r to -^ of a second.
For the same, if the birds are nervous, and apt to start at the sound of the shutter, ^fa
to ?far of a second.
For birds alighting on nest, such as terns, which elevate the wings for a brief period as they
touch the ground, -^ to TT^ of a second.
For birds flying slowly, or at a distance, or approaching or leaving the camera, j^ v to -j-foc
of a second.
For birds at a short distance, or flying quickly across the field of the lens, -5^ to -gfa or
TuW of a second.
III. PHOTOGRAPHING NESTS
Apart from the frequently awkward positions of birds' nests, there is no special difficulty in
photographing them. It is, however, quite possible for a photograph, good in other respects, to
give an entirely unnatural impression of a nest.
The most frequent fault is to give too large an image of the nest itself and too little of its
surroundings. Bereft of colour, and the nature not only of the environment but of the situa-
tion, there is often little or nothing to distinguish the nest of one species from that of another.
In fact, with many birds identification depends more on the character of the nest and its situa-
tion than on the eggs. Every endeavour should therefore be made to include in the picture as
much as possible of the surrounding herbage, without unduly dwarfing the nest, and to give
some indication of the nature of the situation.
In order to show to advantage the form of the nest and something of its contents, the
camera must be placed somewhat higher than the nest, and some device for tilting the camera
preferably a tilting-table on the tripod head must be adopted. In nowise, however, must
the camera be so high and at so acute an angle as to give an unnatural perspective. The eggs
608 BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY
should show if possible, but there is no need in fact it is undesirable to show the whole con-
tents of the nest.
There is nothing more unnatural than a photograph of a nest taken with the lens pointing
down directly into it. Many photographs showing this fault have been taken of nests
built on the ground, chiefly because of the ease with which the tripod can be erected over,
or nearly over, the nest, and the camera swung over to the extreme limit of the tilting-
table (see Figs. 1 and 2, Plate LXXIX.). Experience will teach the best height above and
distance from the nest for the camera, in order to produce a natural representation. It will
depend on the focal length of the lens compared with the size of the plate, and also largely on
the conditions of each nest. If, before taking a photograph, the subject is carefully studied on
the focusing screen from various points, the disappointment of unnatural effects will be saved.
Nests among herbage, in bushes or hedges, can seldom be photographed successfully
without a certain amount of clearing away of branches, etc., from one side of the nest.
A nest in a bush that is clearly visible to the eye, may be entirely obscured in a photograph
by intervening branches. The eye looks past and ignores these obstacles, the lens cannot do so,
but rather makes more of them as being the nearest objects. Clear away just as much as and
no more than will ensure a picture of the nest as the eye sees it. In the necessary clearance,
and in the time spent over the work, every consideration should be shown for the safety of the
nest. Branches should be bent carefully aside, not cut away; and here care is necessary that
the interference should not show in the photograph. Always restore the natural cover to a nest
before leaving, and obliterate tracks that may lead a possible destroyer to the nest.
Methods of raising the camera in order to deal with nests at a height from the ground,
lengthening the legs of the tripod for working in deep water, or for fixing the camera for nests
in trees, may be left to the ingenuity of the worker. I may say, however, that I have always pre-
ferred the tripod to any device such as a screw or other method of attaching the camera to a
branch for photographing nests in trees, because of the greater freedom it gives in the choice of
position. The legs can be fastened to convenient branches with linen bandages rather than
straps or string, as there is less tendency to slip and with the help of a tilting-table there is
such a range of movement that it is nearly always possible to obtain a good view-point, whereas
in fastening the camera directly to a branch, success depends on the presence of a branch in
a particular spot.
IV. PHOTOGRAPHING BIRDS
In photographing birds two distinct methods are available stalking and working in a tent.
The relative merits of each have been frequently discussed, but quite unnecessarily, as one is
as indispensable as the other, unless we confine ourselves to depicting a certain phase of bird-life.
For the majority of birds on and near their nests, a tent or other method of concealment is
necessary. There are, however, many sea-birds, more especially those species that nest in large
colonies, that can be stalked and photographed without concealment of any kind. Such birds
nest, as a rule, more openly and are less timid in the breeding season than solitary species.
But apart from sea-birds at or near their nests, there is a wide and useful field for the stalker in
the depicting of birds in groups or singly, not necessarily in the nesting season. In the absence
of nests one is uncertain as to where to pitch a tent with a probability of birds coming within
range. A skilful stalker may succeed in approaching birds and in obtaining photographs
showing courtship display, feeding habits, and other interesting phases which do not come
within the scope of a worker in a tent. Some workers have attained a great measure of success
in this method with a stand camera and a focusing cloth. Personally I prefer the Reflex type
of camera, as being less cumbrous and more quickly brought into action. Whichever type of
camera is used, a good lens, working sharply at a large aperture, is desirable. It should be of
ILLUSTRATIONS OP METHODS OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Photo by W. Farrcn
1. Lapwing's neat wrongly photographed from above.
(See p. 8O8)
Photo by W. Farren
2. Same taken from correct position.
(See p. 008)
Photo by \V. Farren
3. Leaser- white throat taken from nearest point possible with
double combination 10' Dallmeyer Stigmatic lens.
Photo by W. Farren
4. As 3, but taken with the back combination of the
same lens. (See p. 6O6)
BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY G09
fairly long focus, and although telophoto lenses of high power are not very suitable owing to
the prolonged exposure necessary, there are at the present day several good ones of moderate
power that should be invaluable to the stalker. They are light and compact, and can be used
on a Reflex camera.
Let us now turn to methods of photographing birds from a fixed hiding-place. In the first
place there must be some degree of certainty of the bird or birds coming to a particular spot on
which the camera is trained. Food, either natural or placed for the purpose, will attract many
species especially in the winter, when the various species of tits and other birds are easily
photographed from a tent or other hiding-place. The Messrs. Kearton have obtained some
particularly interesting pictures of birds at a favourite drinking and bathing place. It is a
method deserving of far more attention than it has received.
The most effective attraction, however, and the one offering the most certain and perhaps
interesting results, is the bird's own nest, either when it contains eggs or young. For
all Passerine birds, and others of which the young are helpless and remain in the nest for some
time, the best results are obtained after hatching. For others, such as the Waders, whose young
leave the nest almost as soon as they are hatched, operations must be conducted before hatching
takes place, preferably when incubation is well advanced.
Birds which have young to feed soon become accustomed to the presence of a small tent
six to ten feet from their nests, and as most species visit the nest with food fairly frequently,
the photographer may in two or three hours expend many plates in depicting the birds during
the interesting process of feeding the young, cleaning the nest, etc. In addition to the camera
work, observations can be made, and at such close quarters as almost to eliminate chances
The tent may be of almost any form ; it should not be larger than is necessary to completely
conceal the worker and his apparatus, but there must be room enough to ensure that in
manipulating the camera the sides of the tent are not disturbed, as birds are more easily alarmed
by a slight movement than by sound. The cover should not be conspicuously coloured or new
looking. A dull brownish green is a good serviceable colour, which when weather-worn and
faded in patches will conform well with almost any surroundings.
The tree-trunk tent described by Kearton in Wild Life at Home, How to Study and
Photograph It, is very useful in a garden or other place near home where portability is no great
object, but it is too large and cumbersome to carry about on extended expeditions. In addition
to this, I doubt whether birds are deceived by an imitation of a tree-trunk or other natural
object. They at first regard with suspicion any object added to the immediate environment of
their nests, but, so long as it is not startlingly conspicuous, very soon assure themselves of its
harmlessness, whatever its form may be.
It is not a difficult matter to devise a light portable framework, with a cover of thin but
dense material, capable of being erected in a few minutes. I have one made of an old sketching
umbrella, which originally opened out to a diameter of about six feet. As this was considerably
larger than necessary, I removed one half of the cane and wire ribs, so that when open the plan
was a half-circle of a radius of three feet. I then cut a foot off each outer rib and a few inches
off those coming next, converting it into a rough oblong four feet by three. The upright
support is four feet long, furnished with a brass socket at the end. This is convenient, as by
providing two or three extensions of the upright of various lengths, each shod with an iron
spike to go into the ground, I can erect the tent at different heights according to
An ordinary large sized umbrella would make a good tent frame, but that the stick coming
in the centre would be in the way. With half an umbrella as described above, the supporting
stick comes against one wall of the tent. Moreover, the oblong shape is rather more economical
of space than a circle, as a small end can face the nest, and there is ample room for the worker
to sit or stand behind the camera.
I have another form of frame that makes a circular tent. It has three uprights, each
consisting of two parts three feet six inches long. The one a brass tube (A, Fig. 1), the other
an iron rod (B, Fig. 1) fitting into it. A thumb-screw (C, Fig. 1) fixes them so that the height
of the tent may be anything from three feet six inches to nearly seven feet, according to
how much of the iron rod projects from the brass tube. One end of the rod is pointed to go
into the ground. Projecting from the top end of each upright is a piece of iron rod (D, Fig. 1)
screwed to take a butterfly-nut (E, Fig. 1). The three uprights are connected on top by
three lengths of flat spring steel about three feet long. These have at each end a fixed brass
loop or ring (F, Fig. 1). Two of these looped ends, one above the other, fit on to the screwed
end-piece on each upright. Loosely put together the frame forms a triangle (A, Fig. 2), but
when the flat steel connecting pieces are sprung outwards in their centres and the butterfly-
nuts screwed down holding them firmly as sprung, the whole forms a circle (B, Fig. 2). I
describe these two portable tents as guides, but individual ingenuity will suggest many ways
of constructing frameworks.
BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY 611
It is advisable, even with the least timid of birds, to place the tent at first three or
four yards from the nest, and move it nearer for working purposes which will probably be six
or eight feet, according to the focal length of the lens after a day or two when the birds have
become accustomed to its presence. Most Passerine birds thrushes, finches, warblers, etc.
with young to feed will come freely to the nest, in the absence of any further preparation. It
is, however, a good plan, whatever bird it may be, and, in my opinion, almost vital for success
if it is a very timid species, to partially or wholly cover the tent with branches. (See Plate
LXXVIII. Fig. 2.)
My usual method when dealing with a timid bird, such as one of the Wader family, is first
to stick up some small branches ten or twelve feet from the nest, choosing a position that will
ensure a satisfactory lighting on the bird. After an interval of one or two days, I move the
branches nearer and add to them, arranging them so that they form a mass about the size that
the whole structure will be when the tent is erected. Then allowing another short interval of a
day or more to elapse I put up the tent, surrounding it with the branches, which I fasten
securely with string to prevent them or the tent-cover from blowing about and frightening the
I prefer doing this if possible the night before I intend working in the tent ; in fact, the
longer the final structure is in place before the work of observation and photography begins the
greater will be the likelihood of success.
At one time I did not use a tent for these timid ground-nesting birds, but made a complete
bower of branches and litter. But a tremendous amount of building material is necessary to
make the walls sufficiently dense to prevent a bird seeing movement inside. On the other
hand, a tent gives absolute obscurity. Nor can the inside of a bower, however neatly con-
structed, form so clear a chamber for working in as a tent.
Birds are quick to detect the least alteration in the structure, and I have known the addition
of the lens showing through the side to keep a nervous bird away for hours. A gamekeeper
friend hit on the ingenious device of fixing a bottle in the branches, so that the round glass
bottom appeared in the place where it would be replaced by the lens.
Many otherwise good photographs of birds are rendered inartistic by careless focusing.
It is not sufficient to focus on the nest and leave the surroundings to chance. As the depth of
the subject that can be brought into sharp focus is limited, make sure that the surroundings in
front, and in the plane of the nest, and as much as possible immediately behind, are sharp.
The more distant parts may be out of focus, and frequently aid the artistic effect by giving a
soft background to the bird. But all surroundings that are nearer or as near as the bird should
be sharp. As the work proceeds and the birds are found to favour certain perching-places, it may
be necessary to refocus for these spots. With nests on the ground it is a good plan to mark the
width of the area covered by the lens with small sticks stuck in the ground but not so that
they come into the picture. They will serve as a guide as to when the bird is in the focused
Photographs can be secured without a tent, by concealing the camera near a nest, and
operating the shutter from a distant hiding-place by means of string, pneumatic, or electric
release. The method has its advantages in such cases where for some reason a tent cannot be
used, but the difficulty of seeing when the bird is in the focused area, and the necessity of
revealing oneself after each exposure to change plates, and so cause fresh alarm to the bird, are
serious limitations, and the method can only be regarded by the serious worker as a reserve.
I always carry a folding stool in my kit. Even when working at a nest in such a position
as to need the tent erected at full height, when it will be most convenient to work standing
behind the camera, it is a relief to sit and rest occasionally. When working at ground-nesting
birds the stool is indispensable. One can sit for hours without the need of any but slight
612 BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY
movement, whereas the personal discomfort of kneeling or sitting on the ground is apt to
produce cramped limbs, with a pressing need for movement at critical times.