Bird Photography with Abe Curland, of B&H and Bird Song Images | SLR Lounge Artist Feature
Our “SLR Lounge Artist Feature” articles highlight some of the very best photographers in the world. This article features Abe Curland. Abe is well-known as an Affiliate Marketing Account Manager at B&H. However, Abe is also a world-class bird photographer (Bird Song Images). Read on as Abe talks about his journey into photography, working at B&H, and his best tips for bird photography!
Abe! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. Tell us about your journey into photography.
When I was younger, my father had a darkroom. I loved watching the photographs come to life. He got me a camera, and I started taking my own photographs and developing them. As a teenager in the ’70s, photography took a back seat to my immersion into the music scene and running around to Dead shows. Somehow, I survived those years and got through my college years. … When digital came out, I traded my trusty film camera in for a ‘Canon P&S, 3.2 MP, 4-AA battery digital camera.’ Wow! I was now married, we were having children, and I was taking lots of photographs! That was also the first time I heard of B&H.
Fast forward 5 years, and I was not happy being in business for myself. I applied to B&H and was hired in 2007. I was now surrounded by photography, and I became friendly with some accomplished photographers. …
Eventually, I found myself in Delray Beach, Florida, which has some of the best birding locations, such as Wakadohatchee Wetlands and Green Cay. Armed with a Canon 5D Mark II and a 70-200, I spent some time there. And the rest is history.
Above all, I just so enjoy being out in the early morning, in sync with nature. I love doing landscape photography, but there is something about the birds that just talks to my heart. Furthermore, I think I found that creative bubble that was sitting deep in my soul. The friends I have made through my job have become my mentors, which has changed my life for the better. So, for that, I am truly grateful!
We really want to get into more about your bird photography, but could you also tell us a bit more about your roll at B&H?
Although I have held many positions during my 12+ years at B&H, my current job is working in the affiliate marketing program. Affiliate marketing is about fostering relationships with web-based businesses that will drive business to B&H. As a photographer, B&H wanted me in this department to manage the many photography sites who have partnered with us. My affinity to make friends with everyone made me a perfect fit. I have most enjoyed the experience of becoming part the creative and friendly photography community. The relationships start out as business, but quickly escalate to friendships. It goes way beyond a ‘dollars & cents’ relationship. I get to hang out with some of the most creative people in our industry, which has benefitted both the affiliate and me. So, it took a while, but I truly found my dream job.
Awesome! Okay, back to bird photography. How about a favorite photograph lately?
On a recent visit to Florida, I visited the ‘Space Coast,’ which is in the Cape Canaveral area. There is a well-known area called Viera Wetlands. As we drove around, thunderstorms started to pop up out to our east. The wind was really picking up. There was very little bird activity, but with bird photography you have to be patient.
In time, I came upon a Great Blue Heron nest and a male was just coming in with some nesting materials. The Great Blue Heron ritual is that the female rises to accept the offering from the male. It is a beautiful and touching moment to see. I stopped the car and was able to get the shot from the window of the car. It was pretty windy out, and there was lightning in the area. However, these birds are so predictable, and I knew he would be back soon. Because the wind was blowing from left to right, I knew he would approach the nest from the right side, into the wind.
Well, patience paid off. I waited about 20 minutes, which gave me lots of time to set myself up for the shot. Sure enough, he came back. With the wind sweeping their feathers, I got a great shot of the moment (see photography above). This is truly one of my favorite shots. I printed it and have it as a huge canvas on my wall. I captured this photograph with my favorite set up (for now): a Nikon D500 and a Sigma 150-600mm.
Wow! Certainly, patience seems to be at the heart of bird photography for sure. What are some of your best tips for photographers looking to venture into this genre?
- Learn your birds. Get out there and observe their habits. A bird will do the same thing over and over. Once you understand their habits, you can anticipate the shot.
- Get on sun angle. Ideally, sun at your back. Hopefully, the wind will also be at your back. Of course, that is not in your control. Birds fly into the wind. You want them coming at you, and not away from you. No bird butt!
- Get focal length! A 300mm lens is not going to cut it in most situations. You want to avoid too much cropping. There are great birding set ups for under $4000 that will give you 600-900mm, and you can still hand hold. Using a tripod and gimbal can be very helpful as well, especially when you are new to the craft.
- Practice, practice, practice!
- LOTS of patience! You may need to stay in one spot for a long time. Also, you may have to photograph a bird sequence over and over to get the right shot.
You are around many photographers, from a lot of different genres, all the time. What advice do you have for photographers, in general?
First, learn what makes a photograph good. As well, learn what makes it great.
Second, find a mentor who will constructively critique your work. For example, whenever someone wants to show me their photographs, I always ask, ‘Do you just want me to say they are nice, or do you want me to tell you what I really think?’ I recently asked that of someone who was overly proud of his photographs. He didn’t even understand my question. …
Third, be humble and open to advice. Then, you will become ‘teachable.’ And then you will get better. …
You can see more of Abe’s bird photography on his website, and check him out on Instagram as well! Finally, we’d love for you to check out Abe’s interview over on the B&H Youtube channel; it will give you a bit more insight into Abe and his bird photography.