Photo by David Pritchard
What Gear Do I Need?
Pack your telephoto zoom when you're heading out as you'll be able to get close to the swans without having to get your feet wet. It's also handy for photographing them as they fly off or for capturing the splash as they come into land.
For particularly bright days you'll find a polariser filter useful as it will reduce the glare and reflections you get from the water.
If you're going out with the family when photography is not necessarily your main focus, pocket a compact for photos of kids feeding the ducks and shots of the swans closer to the bank.
Where Will I Find Them?
If you're in a particularly rural place where not many people venture and a swan sees you it probably means you won't be seeing it for much longer! But if you're at your local park where people often feed them you'll find it much easier to snap a swan's portrait. Nature reserves do have public hides you can sit and wait in but as we've said, if you're in a place where the swans are used to seeing people you can leave your camouflage gear at home. Early mornings and later afternoon until the sun goes down are the best times for catching swans which is good news if you're hoping to catch them in flight as there will be less contrast between the swans and sky which will give you a more balanced exposure.
Photo by David Clapp
Can I Capture A Shot Of Them In-Flight?
Swans are big enough to focus on and slow enough to keep up with as they pass you by so they're perfect subjects for photographers who haven't photographed birds in flight before. A good point to remember is swans turn into the wind when they're about to take off so keep an eye out for that. If the sun's shining in the same direction as the wind's blowing position yourself with the sun behind you for a front lit shot of a swan taking off. If you're parallel to the swan make sure you press the shutter when the wings are fully up or down so you can see the head.
If you spot a flock or single swan in the sky don't frame up with them in the centre as you'll probably miss the shot or if you do manage to capture them, they'll look a little squashed. Instead, move so they're to the edge of the frame giving them space to, essentially, fly into. By doing this you'll also be able to use the centre focusing point. Make sure you're on continuous focus and get the focus locked on the bird straight away, even if this does mean missing some of the action.
If you want to freeze motion try a shutter speed of around 1/500sec but if you prefer to blur the motion of the wings try 1/30sec. Keep an eye on your exposure as a bright sky and a white bird may mean your camera underexposes the shot. Check regularly to see if you need to overexpose by one or two stops.
What Other Shots Can I Try?
If capturing a swan in-flight seems a little daunting there are plenty of other shots to try closer to the ground. Try shooting the reflections of the swans on the pond or focus on just the head, blurring the background so you can really pick out the detail and colours of the beak and face. Get the family involved and shoot some portraits of them feeding or watching the swans or how about a shot of the swans out of the water on the bank? If you do this, be aware of your surroundings as you don't want parked cars and other objects spoiling your shot.
You've read the technique now share your related photos for the chance to win prizes: Photo Month Forum Competition