Get Out of the Car

February 17th, 2010 by Alan Murphy

I've shot a lot of images from my car over the years, but I have to say that I really don't care for it. Yes, it’s nice that you can drive around and sneak up on your subject. Your camera is supported by the car, so you don’t have to carry your gear over your shoulder. You are sitting in a nice leather chair, with maybe a little snack sitting next to the soft drink in the cup holder.

But for me, it totally limits my style of photography. My camera is five feet off the ground and I have limited background options.  I can’t get closer that the car can be parked. This was the situation when I tried to photograph a Long-billed Curlew in a field next to a road. The bird was used to traffic so I felt confident that I could drive up as close as the road would permit. I waited until the evening so the sun would be behind my back (or the back of the car), but when I pulled up, the sun was behind clouds. I fired off a few frames and got the following image.


Nothing too wrong with the image. The bird is nice and sharp. The head angle is good with the bird making eye contact.

I just was not happy with the fact that we are viewing this image from a human perspective. If I was to show an intimate perspective of how all ground birds see each other, then I had to get down to the birds' level. So I had a decision to make. Do I stay in the car and get a bunch of average images, or do I take a risk of scaring the bird off by getting out of the car and try to get down low. My approach to this dilemma is once I get the shots from the car, I then go for the more difficult shot. Most times the bird will flush, but every now and again, it can really work out. Here’s what happened when I tried to do just that.

I opened the car door slowly and made the small leap down into the ditch. So now I’m crouched down in the ditch with no idea if the bird is still there. It was so tempting to pop my head up to see, but this would be the wrong time to do that. If the bird became wary or alert, he would be looking for any movement so I waited a couple of minutes. I finally looked up through some tall grasses and saw the bird still there preening. Yes! I made it this far.

I then slowly pushed my bean bag up onto the field edge and waited another minute before lifting my lens onto the bag. Right at that moment the sun broke out under the low clouds and provided this sweet warm glow to the bird and scene. The bird started calling and would call every 30 seconds. The bird was parallel to the camera plane and the perfect distance form me. Everything seemed to be lining up.

Was this luck? I do know that good planning increases your luck.  Taking a risk and going for the more difficult shot can also increase your luck.

All I can really tell you is, sometimes you just have to get out of the car.




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