2 Ways to Photograph the Bluethroat
IIf wildlife photography is your passion and if you are interested in photographing an extraordinary animal species, then the bluethroat is definitely a bird you should be interested in.
In addition to its singular behavior, you will be captivated by its melodious song and its aestheticism.
In this article, I share with you some tips on how to properly photograph the bluethroat in its natural environment.
table of Contents
- The Story Behind This Article
- A Migratory Passerine Dwelling in the Wetlands
- The Bluethroat Is a Protected Species in France
- Why: Photographing the Bluethroat
- How to Photograph the Bluethroat
- The Illustrative Approach to Photographing the Bluethroat
- The Artistic Approach to Photographing the Bluethroat
The Story Behind This Article
My passion for the bluethroat dates back to 2012. At that time, I had become interested in the Aquatic Warbler, another endangered migratory passerine leaving the wetlands.
My project was commissioned by the General Council of Charente-Maritime in France to showcase the greatest number of animal wonders in the natural areas of the region. My photographs had to be illustrative. They had to show the birds living in their habitat.
My excursions in the reedbeds of the Charente-Maritime estuary allowed me to observe several bluethroats. I was fascinated again and again with their melodious song and lively behavior.
When my project ended, the mating season was over. The males had regained their normal colors. I did not have the time to complete another art project. However, I promised myself that I would complete a real art project to illuminate this wild bird in a different light.
Several years passed before I could return to the wetlands of the Charente-Maritime to create different pictures according to an authentically artistic approach.
In the rest of this article, I will explain my approach. However, I thought it would be interesting to show you the different photographs from both the illustrative approach and the artistic approach.
A Migratory Passerine Dwelling in the Wetlands
The bluethroat is a passerine. A passerine is a small, short-necked, often singing, and nesting bird. Passerines are part of a large order of birds. Bluethroats are 4 to 5 inches long (13 to 14 centimeters long) and weigh 0.5 to 0.9 once (14 to 23 grams).
The passerine is also a migratory bird. Bluethroats travel from their winter home area to their breeding home round trip each year. In winter, it migrates to Spain, in the savanna of Africa. During the breeding season, it broods in the wetlands of northern Europe.
The bluethroat is a wetland bird. It lives mainly on the edges of a marsh or pond.
These pictures of bluethroats were taken in Charente-Maritime in the reedbeds and wetlands of the coast of the Gironde estuary and near the Seudre river.
For a photographer, this habitat can be a problem because mosquitoes are very numerous in humid areas. Personally, I use a mosquito net to protect my face.
The Bluethroat Is a Protected Species in France
In France, the bluethroat species has been completely protected since 1981. It is forbidden to capture it, remove it or disturb it intentionally or to alter its environment.
When you photograph it, you must be careful. The females build their nest at ground level in wet areas. I advise you to locate this place with a pair of binoculars. Do not venture into the area where the birds are present.
To take your pictures, stay on the periphery. As I will explain in a next paragraph, you will need a long focal length.
Why: Photographing the Bluethroat
For a wildlife photographer, the bluethroat is an aesthetic bird. The male has a large blue bib with a hint of white or red depending on the subspecies. He is the principal subject of the photographers. The female also has a plastron, but it is white-greyish, without a reflective, mirror effect. It is much less interesting because it does not sing. She also lacks the colors of her partner.
While wandering in the wetlands, you have probably seen bluethroats without paying attention. Usually, the bluethroat is a passerine bird that goes unnoticed. But the male has a rather extraordinary behavior.
It always arrives a few days earlier on the breeding grounds. He then takes possession of a territory which can reach several hundreds of square meters. It will strongly defend its territory against its competitors. It is during this period that it will perch on the high branches of small shrubs to sing. These melodious songs can last all day. Sometimes, they are also accompanied by a nuptial parade to charm the females.
The song of the male bluethroat is varied with a repertoire of sounds that are very pleasant to listen to. Metallic sounds flow one after another, followed by repeated musical phrases. He often interposes in his vocalization’s imitations of songs of other birds.
It is when he sings that the male is the most beautiful. It is at this moment that you will capture the best photos. When the female has laid her eggs in a nest that is close to the ground, the singing stops. When the chicks are born, the two adults will take care of the clutch. The parents fly constantly in search of insects, spiders, larvae, or berries, as the chicks are very hungry.
If you missed the first clutch in late April or early May, do not worry. A second brood will take place in late May or early June. The singing will then resume. You will again have great opportunities to create beautiful pictures.
How to Photograph the Bluethroat
To photograph bluethroats, you need to ask nearby inhabitants, as they will be more aware of where the nesting area might be located.
Personally, I have always photographed this species in Charente-Maritime in the wetland of Moëze, in Nieulle sur Seudre or in Mornac sur Seudre. You will find on the internet precise information on its migration corridor and nesting areas.
In Charente-Maritime, the first bluethroats arrive in mid-March. The songs take place until the beginning of May, when the first brooding arrives.
Many photographers say that the bluethroat is easy to photograph. Indeed, its characteristic song is easily spotted. Moreover, a bird always circulates in the same general area.
Personally, I think he is difficult to photograph. Even if he is always high up when he sings, it is still difficult to take a good picture. Indeed, the scene must be chosen with care: the background must be clear or homogeneous. The branches where the bluethroat will land must not be broken or damaged.
The main difficulty in photographing the bluethroat is the choice of its environment.
When you photograph birds, you must try to achieve Bokeh. This technique consists in blurring the maximum of the scene to keep only the subject in focus, thus highlighting it. But a beautiful blur of the lens must be accompanied by a beautiful gradation of tones. If you are lucky enough to have a blurred plain green background or a yellow background made up of a broom, you should take advantage of it.
The other difficulty is the position in relation to the sun. Animal photography is based on a great principle: having the light shine in the subject's eye. The bluethroat is no exception to the rule. To get a good picture, the light in one of the bird's eyes must be visible. So you need to find a good position to have the sun on your back or on your side.
The choice of the environment will emphasize the subject and the choice of the light will capture the brightness in the bird’s eye. These are the two main difficulties which you will face to make a good photograph.
Another trick I use is to use the morning time to my full advantage. On the one hand the light is often better in the morning, providing better texture to the plumage. It is also at this time of the day that the contrasts are the best. Finally, I also noticed that the activity of passerines was the most intense. They are always looking for food after a night spent hidden from predators.
Concerning the focal lengths to use, you must have a long focal length. A minimum of 500mm is required. Personally, I always add a focal length multiplier: either 1.4 or better 1.7. This allows me to have focal lengths equivalent to 700 or 850 mm.
To take the best pictures of bluethroats, I advise you to use a fixed blind. First of all, you should scout with binoculars to find out where the male's territory is. Even if he occupies an area of 100 to 200 square meters, the male sings almost always in the same place. You will have to be patient.
I recommend using a net to break away from your human form while waiting. Although bluethroats are not hunted, they are very cautious. If you are upright and visible to them, they will flee from you. They will not approach.
Personally, I use a tripod and a green colored net under which I hide. As for the deer, I also hide my face with a hood and my hands with khaki gloves. The wild animals identify the human beings with their three white spots. The wait can last an hour sometimes. The bird must become used to the presence of a new form in its immediate environment. Once it gets used to your presence and tolerates you, it will return to its normal routine.
But that is not all. In the next part of the article, I propose two ways to photograph the bluethroat.
The Illustrative Approach to Photographing the Bluethroat
The first approach to photographing bluethroats is the illustrative approach. This is the classic photo which is characterized for the following points:
- The mirror throat must be perfectly clear. Take good care of the eyes and the shine in the eye.
- The overall contrast of the photo must be managed. The goal is to highlight the bird. The background and the foreground must be chosen with complementary colors.
- The exposure of the photo must be correct. You should not have any overexposed or underexposed areas.
- The colors must be harmonious.
If possible, I recommend invoking a creative touch such as a moment in which a behavior or a song is captured.
The purpose of an illustrative photo is to show the bird in its habitat and to highlight all of its morphological characteristics.
Here are some illustrative pictures of bluethroats.
The Artistic Approach to Photographing the Bluethroat
The second approach I propose is artistic. It allows you to show states of mind, emotions, and to transmit messages.
Although the birds remain identifiable, I do not focus on their morphological characteristics as much.
The artistic approach is above all an interpretation. These photos are the result of my imagination.
I chose this specific color because blue is my favorite.
When I started this artistic wildlife photography project, I had set the following conditions:
- I wanted to evoke the lightness of birds.
- I wanted to exemplify freedom.
- I believed that quietness should be at the center of the ambiences.
- My photos had to be ethereal. The bluethroats are light, fleeting, impalpable, airy.
- I only wanted one bird per picture because I wanted to evoke a sense of longing and loneliness.
- I wanted photos that invite the viewer to dream and to escape.
To meet these criteria, I spent a lot of time looking for the best sets. For me, it is an essential and preponderant element.
These photos were taken during 8 photographic sessions in the field. I took about 350 pictures. There are only 7 left that I present to you.
I hope that this article will help you to get to know the Bluethroat better. It is a migratory passerine of the wetlands that offers extraordinary photographic possibilities.
You will enjoy studying its behavior and habits. You will not be disappointed with your pictures. I recommend that you to prepare your project well and to be very patient. The animal world is totally worth it.