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Bird Photography

For all those who take photos from the heart

Tara Tanaka has lots of experience observing birds through digiscoping and finds many of her subjects in both her home state of Florida and on her travels. She has already received the “Digiscoper of the Year 2011” and the “Digiscoper of the Year 2012” awards for her pictures, which have almost a fairy-tale-like quality and always convey great emotion. Her love of videoscoping is fairly new. This involves shooting videos with digiscoping equipment, and Tara has a few handy tips to offer.

© Tara Tanaka - Sandhill

Tara Tanaka lives in Florida and is one of the most distinguished digiscopers of our time. Her quite personal and emotional style of photography has already won her countless awards. She uses an STX 30-70x95 spotting scope with a TLS APO adapter from SWAROVSKI OPTIK to shoot videos.

During migration in the spring I had eight male Indigo Bunting arrive in our yard at the same time. This handsome fellow landed so close to me that I didn’t think that the scope would be able to focus on him, but he was just far enough away and I was barely able to get all of him in the frame.

A pair of Sandhill Cranes spent the winter across town from our home. In this photo the female was not just dancing for her mate—but performing a beautiful ballet. 

Practice makes you fast

It’s exactly times like this that highlight how important it is to practice digiscoping. Practicing often so that you can line up the scope where you want it, focus quickly, and adjust your settings without having to look at the camera will make a big difference in the shots you get, and the ones that get away.

Manual focusing helps with the transition to videoscoping

I love spending time with the birds in our backyard cypress swamp, however, I also enjoy being able to travel to observe and digiscope other bird species. During my latest trips I have used the STX 30-70x95 spotting scope from SWAROVSKI OPTIK and a Panasonic GH3. I have also been using this equipment recently to shoot more and more videos. 

If you are familiar with using a manual focus, you will find the transition to videoscoping relatively easy. If you are used to following a bird while keeping it in focus with the scope, those are the exact skills you need for videoscoping moving birds.

© Tara Tanaka - Trogon

Be ready for the unexpected

One of my favorite videos is one that I shot close to St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge when I was waiting for a Snowy Egret to arrive and I discovered a Snipe searching for food. When I glanced up from the camera, I saw that a Killdeer had landed even closer. I panned to the Killdeer, turning the focusing knob counter-clockwise as I panned the scope and fine-tuning it once I had the bird in the viewfinder, being careful not to focus closer than the bird. 

The Killdeer and his reflection filled the frame, and keeping the bird in focus, and the camera framed so that both the bird and the reflection were both included, AND following him as he moved was as much as my brain could process. Glancing up again I saw a Greater Yellowlegs farther away. I looked to see where I needed to go, and panned to the Yellowlegs. I focused on him as quickly as possible, and again followed, focused and tried to keep both the bird and reflection in the viewfinder.

Videoscoping tips

There are two things I have learnt from my videoscoping efforts. 

Firstly, when you’re following a fast-moving bird, it helps to not let him get too close to the leading side of the frame. If he moves quickly he doesn’t get ahead of your camera before you can catch up. 

Secondly, it’s easy to get “tunnel-vision” when you’re looking through the viewfinder, but lifting your eyes and taking a quick look around now and then often reveals something more spectacular than what’s already in your viewfinder.

Recommended products
ATX / STX / BTX spotting scope set
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