Shorebird Blur

Ron Niebrugge Alaska, Chugach, Photos, Travel 20 Comments

A flock of shorebirds, Copper River Delta, Alaska.

A flock of shorebirds, Copper River Delta, Alaska.

It is fun to return to an area like I did Cordova recently to see what kind of new images I can come up with – I like the challenge.  It seems I’m more likely to experiment and try different compositions, techniques etc. on subsequent visits to a location in an attempt to top what I did before.  Admittedly, different isn’t better, but the same is never better – let me elaborate.  

There really isn’t any point of returning to repeat the same images from the year before – the same image is never going to be a better image, but I find it can be easy to fall into that trap of repeating previous efforts, particularly if they were successful.  Now a different image from one I captured before isn’t necessarily going to be better either, in fact it usually isn’t, but at least there is a chance.

So in Cordova I tried using a wide-angle lens on a tripod fired remotely.  Without me actually standing by my camera, I envisioned the flocks of birds wading and flying by my camera at very close range.  The birds did their part, but I didn’t care for the results so I won’t be posting any here.  I still think the concept has merit and I plan on refining my approach in the future.

I also tried some long exposures while panning flying flocks and wading groups.  A still image is so inadequate at capturing the mesmerizing flight of these huge flocks – I thought dragging the shutter a bit might help illustrate the motion.  The above image was captured at a 30th of a second and appeared to be one of my more successful attempts.  When I used longer shutter speeds, you no longer could tell what you were looking at, although it made for some cool abstracts – maybe a future black and white.  With shorter shutter speeds, the motion lacked the soft blurred flow, it just appeared like a mistake.

So does this “work”?  I know what Janine thinks – she is never a fan of “those blurred shots”, but what do you think?  I rarely crop an image, but also considered cropping the band of ocean off the top, would that help?  Thanks!

Comments 20

  1. For a blurred image I like this ok. But, yes, I would crop the ocean off the top 🙂

  2. Ron – I am fond of blurs. I think this one works quite well. Normally, I would crop a skinny strip of something such as the ocean out. But, in this case, I think it works!

  3. I quess Iam like Janine, I am not a big fan of blurred images, but they do show the movement going on. I like to crop some in images but I don’t always do it. In this photo I don’t think cropping would make a lot of difference.

  4. Great shot Ron,
    I like it a lot the way it is. Just enough sharpness to know what is happening, with a beautiful painterly blur. If I were to crop it at all it would be half of the blue off the top.
    My reason would not be to get rid of the blue, but to change the balance of the picture upward. The foreground blur has a bit of blue to it that balances well with the top.

    Great shot Ron. Might also be intersting in black and white.

    Great stuff as always.

  5. Post

    Wow, thanks for all the great feedback so far!

    Calvin, for some reason I thought you were going to be over there for the shorebirds. Good to hear from you.


  6. hey Ron,

    I wouldn’t crop it – great photo.

    I think I see a 2 year old female buff-breasted sandpiper in there.



  7. Hey Ron-
    I really like this. Usually I’m not a big fan of the blur shots – but this is done expertly. It shows the frenetic activity of a mass of shorebirds in flight, great motion, but still very identifiable as a mass of birds. Really cool. I don’t think I’d crop the top off, I honestly don’t know why I like it there – I just do. Sorry I can’t be more specific.

  8. I wouldn’t change a thing with this photo. I’m also a firm believer in adding variation to your portfolio. With that in mind you’re not creating such images for the larger population, you’re creating an image that is targeting someone looking for something different. To one degree or another that is almost always going to be a minority of your viewing audience. Such images grow on people. I’ve seen similar images to this and when executed well the blurring can be incredibly attractive. I would definitely classify this as well executed. Beautiful work Ron.

  9. It absolutely works. To me it captures a poetry of motion. Yes, I’m known for liking and using blur in my images, but still… There is a world of emotion that can’t be interrupted through literal translations of a given scene. This would be one of those occasions & one of those images. Wonderful!

  10. Post

    Wow, what a bunch of great, insightful comments – I really appreciate it!

    Good eye on the bird Carl! 🙂

  11. It is perfect the way it is, no cropping. The blur is great, just enough to tell that it is a bunch of birds, yet showing motion.

  12. I am not a photographer. I am a lover of your work! I spent a lot of time just enjoying this shot. I do not care for blurred pictures. This one is awesome!

  13. I like the colour effect without cropping the ocean. But I also see a different picture if it was to be cropped! It would look like one of those “Magic Eye” pictures with the 3D image that forms when the eyes focus in the distance!

    So one photo without cropping beautifully shows movement of the birds with hint of ocean; and one photo with the blue cropped expresses the design that is found in nature and a bit of mystery!

    I really appreciate your beautiful photography, Ron, and your blog.

    Warm wishes from Australia.

  14. All the bird work is great, but this piece stands out to me. It is one of the finest motion images I’ve seen. What an amazing large print this must make.

  15. I looked at this image for a long time before I read any of the text and my first reaction was to write to you and just say “Wow!” I think this is an extraordinary image (and yes, you chose just the right shutter speed for all the reasons that you stated) and I was swept away by it. It reminds me of an image that I saw in Audubon many, many years ago (perhaps on the cover, I’m not sure). But that image must have really impressed me to stay in my mind for 20 or 30 years–yes? I think this one will, too.

    What really makes this photo work, for me, at least, is the fact that there are, in that sea of swirling birds, a few sharp birds (just to the right and above center, for example) and those birds really help anchor that very diffuse abstraction. The problem with a lot of wildlife photos is that while they’re perfect and sharp, they don’t necessarily capture the feeling of what it was like to be there–the sound, the motion, the frenzy. This photo does that. I also like that there seems to be a central path through the image (the center third, horizontally) that is sharper than the top and bottom, so you get the sense that this perhaps a rotation, a whirlpool of activity.

    I also like and would absolutely keep the blue/ocean at the top of the frame. I think that it lends a sense of depth and distance that is much needed in this kind of abstraction. It’s also, interestingly, a beautiful color match to the sort of tawny beige of the birds. (I’ve just been reading Josef Albers’ book on color and this reminds me of some of his examples–a great book if you happen to see it: “Interaction of Color: Expanded and Revised.)

    So, not to start a family argument 🙂 but I like the blurred ones–not always, but I love this one. I would get bored with too many of them (in a book, for instance) but the one thing most wildlife photos don’t do these days is capture the soulfulness of animals, the poetry of their motion. This shot does. So: Wow!

    You know that you’re going to have to write your own book on travel or wildlife photography pretty soon 🙂


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