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In The Backyard: Feeder Birds

I wanted to start a new category for my photos, calling it In The Backyard. I’ve been doing a significant amount of landscaping work recently, and as a result, I think the backyard has become more bird-friendly. On top of that, I have been seeing more species of birds and have become generally attuned to photo opportunities — and not just with birds — that can be captured without leaving home. Here’s the first effort for the new category: a study of a Tufted Titmouse, a fairly common bird, but one that I’ve only recently become familiar with.

Up Close & Personal

When I saw this specimen on the ground, I was initially startled; I had seen Tufted Titmice (or is it titmouses?) near the feeder and while they didn’t seem too timid, I didn’t imagine I could get this close without spooking him — unless, I thought, he’s injured. If that’s the case, he won’t be around for long. With the 300 mm, I could fill the frame since I was less than 10 feet from him.

I had to go back inside for a moment and when I re-emerged, he was no longer on the ground, but flitting in and out of the rhododendron bushes. I kept creeping closer and closer and though he did move from place to place, he was never that far away from me.

The Name Fits

With the rhododendron leaves providing the backdrop for this particular portrait, I tried to concentrate on his head — and you clearly see why “tufted” is part of this bird’s name. That tuft almost looks like some kind of punk haircut; it certainly aids in identifying him. I’d like to say I was right on top of him, but this one is a crop — though once again, he let me get pretty close. I think I have separated him out from the background adequately by using a some levels control in post.

The Reason For The Visit

Of course, the reason he’s here in the first place is to get some food, not pose for portraits, so here’s one of him getting ready to snack. I like the way he’s hanging sideways on this supposedly squirrel-proof feeder. I say supposedly because the feeder is labeled that way, but a wily squirrel actually squirmed his way into the space at the base of the feeder, forcing to me to enhance the “proofness” of this feeder with extra caging (actually chicken wire) that you can see in the photo at the base of the feeder.

Character Shot

This shot seemed to capture the essence of the bird for me — not very timid, but always mindful of his cover. I liked the framing, but the color needed a more deft hand in post than I possess, so I turned it over to Brent. He took a number of steps to enhance the original image, including warming up the white balance, burning in the midtones and shadows, adding blacks, and heightening the contrast with curves. I am just beginning to get comfortable with some of the post-production tools, so I will use this image as a learning experience for my own editing in the future. The key, it seems, is to keep all the adjustments after ACR on separate layers and to change the blend mode to Luminosity in order to preserve the colors. Scaling back the Opacity of the adjustment layers provides a softening of the effect and allows for even finer adjustments to the finished image.

All in all, a good start for the In The Backyard category — more to come.

Staff Writer Paul Sevensky is a communications specialist and amateur photographer.  When he isn’t shooting, he covers advertising and PR on his own blog, at www.paulsevensky.com. View all of Paul Sevensky’s posts on The Roving Photographer.

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