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Atmospheres and Birds of the Ponds of La Dombes in the Department of Ain in France

La Dombes is a huge wetland located in the department of Ain in France. Although it is home to forests and villages, it is especially known for its vast number of over one thousand ponds, which welcome nearly two-hundred and eighty species of migratory birds in the winter and summer each year. Being wildlife photographers, we appreciate La Dombes because it represents a unique area in the world where it is often possible to create artistic photographs in accordance with our artistic vision.

White Spoonbill in backlight over a pond of the Dombes.
White Spoonbill in backlight over a pond of the Dombes.

Location and Light is of Utmost Importance

La Dombes offers us the two most essential elements that we constantly seek in our wildlife photographs: the location and the light. In our photographic vision, these are always the two essential elements that we privilege.

We appreciate the sober, ethereal locations showcasing soft color gradients, which allow us to create dreamlike atmospheres in our photos. The reed beds and the vegetation of the ponds of the Dombes offer us high-quality environments.

We used to say that the setting of a photograph is like the velvet-lined box containing a priceless gem – the subject of the photo. In this case, the plants and pond atmosphere are the decorative box, and the animal in the photograph is the priceless gem.

Of course, not all ponds are suitable for wildlife photography in every scenario. Before selecting a certain pool to travel to, we complete extensive research. The area of La Dombes is our favorite choice as it contains over one thousand ponds.

Once we have chosen our location, we attach a significant importance to the light and atmosphere. La Dombes is a huge wetland that is heavily forested and very flat. The lights are gentle, even in the day, softening the portrayal of our scenes.

Once we have chosen the setting and the light, we only must wait for the arrival of a bird.

While waiting for the subject of the photograph to arrive, we act as if we are creating a scene for a movie or theatrical stage play. Because we cannot craft a stage set, as it is impossible to move a tree or a reed bed, we must select the best possible scenery limited to our present location.

The floating blind (Floating Blind): The Essential Accessory

To photograph the birds within the ethereal atmospheres of La Dombes, the best accessory for us is the floating blind (floating blind). Our floating blinds are made by a specialized company. They consist of an inflatable ring on which we set a tent.

The floating blind makes it possible to photograph animals on the ponds at eye level. From this lowered viewpoint, a very different effect is rendered by a shot taken from the water’s edge. This avoids the downward perspective that reduces contrasts and volume.

A floating blind is both maneuverable and lightweight, allowing us to choose the best point of view for a scene. We can then choose the best lights which will highlight the feathers and colors of the birds captured in the photographs.

The floating blind allows us to get closer to fearful birds that normally flee at the sight of humans. When we are in our tent, we can safely approach and observe the animals. Once they get used to our presence we can shoot the photos.

Using floating blinds, we have been able to photograph courtship displays and heron hunts, as well as mating, feeding, and fighting behaviors. The special moments can easily be captured in a photograph if a photographer understands the habits of the animals and their environment.

Patience and Perseverance: Two Essential Qualities for Wildlife Photography

We usually say that the two main qualities of an outstanding wildlife photographer are patience and perseverance. In European animal photography and in styles requiring the use of a hide, patience is essential. Once we have found the perfect scenery and light, we must wait for a bird to come to the right place. The luck factor is important in wildlife photography. We waited for hours without anything happening. Sometimes, after an hour or two of patience, magic occurs.

Using floating blinds, we have been able to photograph courtship displays However, nothing is ever won, and sometimes patience is not enough. Often, we must come back to the same place at a pond on several various occasions to finally create the perfect photograph. The Purple Heron is one example. The hunts of this wader are extraordinary. Although he shows great patience and bites a fish when you least expect it, sometimes he is left empty-handed and flies to another place. To photograph ducks, the problem is similar. Ducks are birds that are hunted and thus have a fearful instinctive nature. To photograph the two common pochards for our photo gallery, we waited three days in the middle of the pond so that they would become used to our presence.

Using floating blinds, we have been able to photograph courtship displays We think that even with the best photo gear, the best floating blind, and a good knowledge of the animals and their natural environment, a photographer will have little chance of creating a beautiful photo of an animal if he is not patient and does not persevere.

La Dombes: An Area that Deserves Time and Patience

La Dombes is a very difficult area for wildlife photography. Indeed, we must invest much time into our search for good ponds, as not all are suitable for certain birds. We must study the winds and the bottom of the ponds to see if there are any grass. For example, ducks are divers who feed on grasses. Herons prefer the edges of reedbeds for walking and fishing.

We spent years trying to understand this very special biotope. All the years spent walking in ponds or trails were just the beginning of our grand adventure.

La Dombes: Paradise for Wildlife Photographers

We are convinced that La Dombes is a real paradise for wildlife photographers who want to make creative and intimate photos. It takes a long time to fully understand and apprehend a wet natural environment which is hostile to any photographic equipment. Every year, we return to La Dombes during the months of May and June to capture the expressions and attitudes of wonderful birds that fascinate us greatly.

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