Author in action at Lake Wollumboola, NSW - Carrying a 7D & EF 400 5.6L - Photo by Mike Toms

I was a moderator over at Feathers & Photos which is a forum dedicated to Bird Photography in Australia. They are fortunate to have a very friendly member base with various levels of experience. There are some extremely talented photographers who post regularly and critique images which is the best way to improve your shots. Please feel free to browse the forum and please feel free to join.

Moderator Chris Martinez interviews  members to find out more about them. I recently participated in meet a member and thought I would share it here.

What is the first thing you think of in the morning?

I am a morning person so I get up around 5.20am. If it’s a work day I am usually thinking how many more days until I can get out into the field. I usually have my ipad next to the bed so I will usually quickly scan the forum and FB to see what’s new. Then off to work I go 🙂

If it’s a birding morning my main thought is “I hope there are no clouds and please give me some nice light.” I will usually attempt to get to my location as the sun is coming up to make the most of the nice light.

When did you discover birds?

To be honest I never had a real interest in birds growing up in New Zealand. If you asked me to name the birds in NZ I would have probably said, Fantail, Seagull, Pukeko, Kiwi and Morepork. 

On arrival to Australia in 2003 I admired the uniqueness of Pelicans and the beauty of Galahs but really had no desire to find out more.
I took my first bird photo on the 11th of November 2011 which was an Australian Magpie on a fencepost. I had just purchased a second hand 70-200L and was using my wife’s 40D. I went for a walk down the road and the Magpie was the first thing that landed in front of me. I took its picture and looked at the LCD and thought “Hey that’s pretty cool.’ From that moment on something twigged in my brain and I have been hooked ever since.

I have been actively studying and watching birds ever since and I have now seen over 250 species and my Shoalhaven list is closing in on 200.

Australian Magpie
The image that started my addication, an Australian Magpie on a fence post. Taken with a 40D and 70-200L

What was the very first camera that you used and what is your current kit for photographing birds?

I used my wife’s 40D and a 70-200L to begin with but quickly found that 200mm was far too short for birds. I made the error of buying a 2x converter which with my poor technique at the time resulted in very poor shots. Very disillusioned I made the call to buy the sharpest lens available at a reasonable price and purchased the Canon 400 5.6L. (Read my review here.)
This was the best decision I made and it was almost night and day the difference between the two set ups. Most of my shots were sharp and I was getting good detail.
Midway through 2012 I updated my camera to a 7D for the better AF and FPS. So I currently use the Canon 7D and 400 5.6 and I am very happy with the shots I get from this relatively inexpensive set up. I do yearn for better ISO performance and focal length but I have other priorities that demand my finances i.e. a mortgage 🙂
I also use a BENRO c373T tripod and a cheap Wimberley head. When photographing shorebirds I use a homemade skimmer. I occasionally hand hold but only when I have good light or I am trying to get lower to shoot ducks.

Photographing Shorebirds at Lake Wollumboola, NSW
Photographing Shorebirds at Lake Wollumboola, NSW using my 7D and 400 5.6 on a home made ground pod.

Do you spend much time photographing anything other than birds?

At this stage birds is about all I photograph. I have taken a few family shots and shots of my pets but birds is my passion.

What is it about birds that makes you want to invest so much time and energy pursuing them?

A great question, I don’t think it’s any one thing in particular but a combination of factors. I really enjoy the pursuit and hunt of locating a bird then trying to get a nice photo of it. When you get a shot it is very rewarding. I also enjoy the experience of being outdoors and exploring this wonderful country.
I have also been extremely fortunate to find several other people who have this addiction and it is fun to share these experiences with someone else.

How many hours each week do you spend in the field?

I try to get out at least once a week, twice if the stars align. I am very fortunate to work 4×10 hour days giving me three days off a week. I usually go birding on my day off during the week. I have been fortunate that my good birding friends Heyn De Kock and Matthew Jones often get a day off during the week and we try and go birding together.

Do you spend much time studying your quarry in its habitat or do you simply get out there and start shooting?

I have slowly built up some local knowledge on several locations around the Shoalhaven. I have a fair idea which locations suit morning or afternoon and which locations should have certain species. I try to shoot in the best light but I am equally happy just exploring areas and watching birds when the weather goes bad.

What are you trying to portray with your photographs?

I have been happy trying to continually improve the images of species I have photographed. I My first goal is to get a good field ID shot. Once I have a good shot I will continue to try and improve upon those images and ideally I would attempt to capture some type of behaviour or action.
I hope to continue to improve my photography and am constantly impressed with the behaviour type shots that several members post on the forum.

Do you have any interest in birds that doesn’t involve photographing them?

I have taken a passive interest in the plight of several of Australia’s endemic species. Over the summer I reported as many banded birds as I could and was interested to see where the birds had originated from.
I also reported some Little Tern nests I located within the Shoalhaven and attempted to interact with dog walkers in the dog free zones.
I have just recently purchased a house on an acre of land and plan to plant an extensive native garden to support the many birds in my area.

Who are you greatest influences in the bird/nature photography world?

There are too many names to mention but I have been very fortunate to spend time with a number of talented bird photographers. Each one has been very kind and shared their tips and techniques with me. I have then been able to apply those tips to my own photography.

I have to say the quality of shots on our forum is inspiring and makes me want to continually improve and strive for such good shots.

If you could go anywhere in the world to photograph birds where would you go?

I currently have a soft spot for waders and would love to go to Siberia/Alaska and photograph shorebirds showing off their breeding plumage in the tundra.

And a few images of me in action.

Update 2018 – My Gear

This post was written in 2012 and I have been very fortunate to acquire new gear that I now use. I have listed the affiliate links below to the gear I currently use. Thanks to everyone who uses the links.





Bag, Tripod & Gimbal




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