Creatively Photographing Birds in La Dombes
You are probably looking for new techniques or places to take photos that are different from the ones you see in magazines or social networks.
You likely also want to create photos that look like you.
Using development techniques and specialized software, you can express yourself fully. But often, they are not enough to achieve your goals.
The field remains the best way to capture interesting and meaningful photos.
For me, the birds of La Dombes are one of the most beautiful themes of creative wildlife photography.
In this article, I share with you my experience in this field through some creative bird photos.
Spring 2022. I arrived in La Dombes at the beginning of May to prepare for several weeks of wildlife photography courses using floating blinds.
To prepare these courses in La Dombes, I arrived a few days before to locate the ponds. I made an inventory of the species of birds populating each one. I evaluated the water levels. My goal was to analyze and understand each pond in order to better guide the future trainees who are passionate about wildlife photography and wetland birds.
These few days are always an intense period of creativity for me. This year of 2022 was special. It was the 10e year that I began photographing in La Dombes. Since then, I have taken thousands of pictures and I have explored several areas of the territory.
Each visit, I try to reinvent myself by finding a new way to photograph this region that I appreciate so much. I do not want to make descriptive or illustrative photographs of birds. I want to create figurative photos that tell a story.
For this year 2022, I decided to create black and white photos. I chose as a theme "The Mystery". Indeed, La Dombes has remained a wild region, difficult to live in because of the swamps. It is sparsely populated.
If one day, if you have the chance to cross La Dombes, you will drive through small villages whose inhabitants depend mainly on fish farming. From the narrow roads, you will see farms lost in the middle of nowhere. You will certainly wonder how people can live so far from a city and the modern world. For me, La Dombes is a timeless territory. Nothing seems to have changed over the years. The inhabitants are very suspicious of outsiders. They do not trust easily.
It is as if they were hiding a treasure whose location they do not want to reveal. Everything is mysterious in La Dombes. After all these years, I have come to understand that this treasure is simply the place itself. Those who live in the region do not want to talk about it to avoid a flood of new inhabitants who would come to spoil the woods, the meadows, and the ponds which form a true paradise. The people of La Dombes want to protect and preserve their sacred corner of the world.
Thus, I decided to focus on the solitude that is very present in La Dombes. I wanted to make photos showing only one bird per picture. I decided to use black and white to accentuate this feeling of distrust and solitude.
During this year's visit, my first days of reconnaissance took place on very cool mornings. The night temperatures were between 9 and 10 degrees. It was the beginning of May, which is the best period to photograph the atmosphere of La Dombes. The ponds are full. The birds do not have chicks yet. They take their time to parade and hunt.
The early morning in La Dombes is always an exceptional moment. It is very dark. The sun is not yet up. I always manage to be in the water one hour before sunrise.
Every morning follows the same ritual. I arrive in my car, trying to make as little noise as possible. I turned off my engine. I get out of the car without slamming the doors. I stand in front of the pond. I listened for a few minutes. I breathe deeply. I relax my shoulders. I clear my head. I listen. The passerines begin to chirp in the trees and reed beds. I try to integrate myself into the natural space around me. I look at the pond. I observe the morning activity. I inhale and exhale, smiling at the whimsical white wisps each breath makes. My goal is to forget all my professional worries. I solely concentrate on creating my photos. I usually take 10 minutes to feel totally relaxed.
Then, I quietly put on my waders. I slide my floating mount onto the water, avoiding any sudden movements. Once my pendulum ball is installed in the mount, I position my camera correctly to get the perfect balance.
Before I close my floating blind completely, I take one last look at the whole pond. I always think of something positive. This is an essential condition for me to take good pictures. I believe that thinking positively will bring about the positive present in the world around you.
It is time to start walking around, gently pushing the blind. I always give myself 45 minutes to wander around the pond. This way I choose the best place in relation to the sun.
This gives me time to position myself to capture these evanescent moments as the temperature begins to rise. The mists appear from nowhere. A mysterious atmosphere emerges. I always have the impression of being alone in the world. Each time I say to myself that this morning is the beginning of a new life. It is the first day of the rest of my life.
The little mornings of La Dombes are privileged moments which move all those which have the chance to know them. It is during these extraordinary moments that one measures in the chance to be in a pond to contemplate nature in its raw and untouched state. For a wildlife photographer, it is the holy grail of experiences.
Generally speaking, when I shoot from a floating or fixed blind, the first step is to choose the setting. I think about what I want to convey and show. This is the most important moment for me. I also check that I am consistent with my photographic distance. It is this distance that characterizes my photos. I use a fixed focal length of 500 mm. It is with this focal length that I am most comfortable. The floating mount has the advantage of choosing this distance correctly.
Once I find the best vantage point, I look for the light. I like front or 90-degree lights. I do not like lights that are in my back. The contrasts are never particularly good.
Once I have chosen my set and my light, I wait for a bird to appear. Obviously, I do not choose my set by chance. I know that the probability of a bird appearing is high. With experience, I have come to understand how wetland birds behave.
I do not systematically proceed in this way when I take pictures from floating displays. It sometimes happens that when I wander on a pond that I observe some activity. It can be a heron that is about to start a hunt or a duck that is doing its morning wash.
In this case, I look to see if the setting is interesting. If it is not, I don't move. I stay focused on my first method. If the scene is interesting, I start moving towards the animal. I go slowly. Literally, my body glides inch by inch across the water. I avoid making ripples. Animals can tell the difference between natural ripples and those caused by a floating blind.
While moving forward, I position myself so that the scenery is as beautiful as possible. I also position myself so that the light gives me the most striking effect possible.
When I arrive at my photographic distance, I know exactly how I am going to make my picture and what I am going to suggest.
The warm lights of early mornings usually last for an hour. They allow me to create pictures with mysterious and introspective atmospheres.
Some trainees sometimes tell me that once this hour is over, the experience itself may be over, as it seems impossible to make the same quality of beautiful pictures. I invariably tell them that after that hour, the atmosphere is different. If they always had to shoot during this hour, as incredible as it is, they would be bored. As the sun rises over the horizon, the light increases. It is possible to photograph with faster speeds, to freeze other behaviors and other attitudes. You just have to know how to look, to be patient. For example, backlighting photos are easier 2 hours after sunrise. There is detail, unlike those made at sunrise.
Finally, La Dombes and its wetlands are a real paradise for wildlife photographers who want to be creative and produce different works.
The use of a floating blind allows you to position yourself anywhere you want in relation to a wild animal without scaring it away. Be sure to maintain a safe zone that does not frighten birds or mammals.
The floating blind not only allows me to place myself on a scene and choose the perfect light, but it also allows me to choose my photographic distance. It
is the one where I feel most comfortable taking my pictures.
In the two following photo galleries, I wanted to share with you a black and white approach and a color approach. All these photos were taken on the ponds of La Dombes during the late spring of 2022. Most of them were taken around mid-May.
I wanted to capture the extraordinary with the ordinary. For example, I chose to photograph gray herons in an unusual way. They are such a common wader that no one wants to photograph them anymore. The same idea animated me when I photographed cattle herons.
These photos were not created with a naturalistic approach, but with an artistic purpose. They are figurative and yet very evocative of emotions and feelings.
They may leave you speechless because they are not what you expect from a wetland photo. They are different, creative, and look like me. My goal was achieved during this trip to La Dombes.