How I Got the Shot: The Cockeyed Nuthatch and His Stardom

When I first got started in photography I photographed primarily nature (part of this was due to my location and the fact that I didn’t have a driver’s license at the time). I still love photographing nature but don’t get the opportunity to as much as I’d like. When I was a student at the Hallmark Institute of Photography my primary focus shifted from nature to portraiture. I now primarily focus on portrait and wedding photography.

Out of all the images I have photographed in my career the above image of this upside down nuthatch has been the most published. This image has been published in The World of Photography Volume 1 (2010), Audubon Magazine January/February 2011, Nature’s Best Photography Spring/Summer 2011, and Photographer’s Forum Best of Photography 2012. The reason for the images popularity is because the nuthatch is upside down. This image wasn’t flipped in post. Nuthatches naturally feed upside down like this.

Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote about the nuthatch for the Nature’s Best Photography Students blog back in 2011.  

“I personally love both bird and wildlife photography. It provides a greater challenge and satisfaction than shooting a non moving subject such as a landscape or macro. Last summer I sat in front of my mom’s bird feeders for hours waiting for the ideal shot. Many of these common birds will lose their bashfulness if you sit near them long enough. After about an hour I had gotten several pleasing images of woodpeckers and the especially sociable chickadees, but I had yet to get a gratifying image of the white breasted nuthatch. These little creatures were far more skittish than their playful peers. Every time I lifted my Nikon D200 with Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300 to my eye all the nuthatches would flutter away in a chaotic frenzy. After about another thirty minutes the beautiful nuthatch returned. I slowly lifted my Nikon to my eye and rattled off a few shots. I happily obtained the nuthatch performing an action unique to its species. Most people think that I rotated this image, but this bird is actually hanging upside down from while it feeds.

Because I caught this bird performing a unique action it has become one of my favorite and most published shots. I shot this image at f/8 which is one of this lens’ sharpest apertures, but it still created a silky smooth bokeh due to the close proximity of the subject. Bokeh is a Japanese term meaning the out of focus part of an image. Wider apertures – like f/2.8, f/4, or f/5.6 – will create creamier or smoother bokeh. Simplicity is the key to creating stunning wildlife images. Too much clutter or lack of a strong subject area and diminish an images appeal. Also remember to focus on the subject’s eyes. When I was new to photography there were several bird images I’d taken which would have been great shots, but the eyes were out of focus and the wings were. A strong sharp subject with a non-distracting background will result in a great wildlife image.”

The original post I wrote for Nature’s Best Photography Students back in 2011 can be found here. I wrote several other articles for this blog but had to quit in 2012 because I experienced problems with the website.

Shot using a Nikon D200 with a Nikon 70-300mm AF-S VR f/4.5-5.6 lens handheld. ISO 500 300mm f/8 1/320 of a second shutter speed.

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