Rainbow Lorikeet Grooming

The Rainbow Lorikeet is one of my favorite birds. They’re not as dramatic or as fierce as the Raptors, but they are bright and cheerful. Having them around makes you feel good. In their habitat at the Riverbanks Zoo, these Aussie natives are totally fearless. If you have a nectar cup they will land in your hair or even on your hand to get a sip of that sweet juice. Photographically, they present the same challenges as do many other small birds. They rarely sit still for more than a few seconds, so if you try to move in close they are gone before you frame the shot. The machine gun approach doesn’t work that well either. All you wind up with is a bunch of poorly composed and blurry shots. You just have to filter through 500 or 600 frames to get the 3 or 4 keepers. Easier to sort through 50 or 100 more carefully composed shots.

I can never get auto focus to work for me in this situation either. The auto focus is quick and accurate enough, but as I frame the shot, the critical focus rarely is where I want it. In the habitat these birds like, there is often a lot of foliage behind the subject. That means employing a wide aperture to avoid winding up with a busy high contrast background. The shooting technique that works for me is to shoot around f/4 with lens stabilization and manual focus enabled, and one hand on the focus ring.  I frame the shot and make sure those focus peaking dots are lighting up the area I need to be in focus.  Click click, and done.

It’s a good technique for street photography as well. But with street photography, I don’t often use a heavy 70-200mm lens, often with a teleconverter attached to make it even bigger. The birds don’t pay much attention to your gear, where on the street that rig would change everyone’s behavior. Not necessarily in a good way either.

Come to think of it, there is one feature that would be useful that I haven’t seen on any camera yet. That would be a trigger like a military rifle, which in some versions have a 3 round burst mode. That would be cool, just 3 quick frames without changing exposure or focus. Most cameras these days have a high speed mode, but on my Sony’s, it’s not always easy to shoot a specific number of frames.

I can’t wait for the weather to warm up a bit so I can enjoy the challenge of shooting these cheerful little birds again.  These guys make amazing photo subjects.  It’s worth the extra effort to do it right.

Quote of the Day
The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.

Dorothea Lange


Photo opportunities at the Riverbanks Zoo

Some facts about the Australian Rainbow Lorikeet