Natal francolin or Natal Spurfowl

One thing you don’t normally associate with bird photography is a wide angle lens. So it was fun trying an experiment during a recent visit to South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

We were staying at Talamati Bush Camp and, as in many other camps in Kruger, the birds are fairly tame and come scratching around the bungalows, looking for food scraps.

There was a family of Natal Spurfowl (Pternistis natalensis) — previously called Natal Francolin (Francolinus natalensis) — doing just that around our accommodation, so I decided to try something different, rather than sitting on the verandah photographing them from above with a long lens, as is the most convenient way.

I put my Canon 450D plus EF-S 18-55mm IS kit lens flat on the ground and attached a remote cable switch (RS-60 E3) that allowed me to sit in comfort on the edge of the verandah while still being able to release the shutter.

It was a fairly dull, overcast day, so I set ISO to 400, selected aperture priority with aperture of f/8 and zoomed the lens to its widest focal length, 18mm. I relied on the lens to autofocus on my subjects, as autofocus continues to operate when using the remote cable.

Armed with a handful of bread crumbs, I was ready to go. The francolin (sorry, spurfowl) soon came scuttling across once I’d thrown a few crumbs their way and then it was simply a case of taking pot luck and pressing the remote shutter release whenever I guessed one or more were in the frame.

These situations are a timely reminder of how easy digital cameras have made photographers’ lives … shoot off a few frames and check the results … mmm, not bad, make a few mental adjustments as to subject position in relation to the camera and toss out more crumbs.

I didn’t spend too much time on the experiment, but was pleasantly surprised at the number of shots in focus and also the interesting compositions resulting from the wide angle and low viewpoint.

Next time I’ll try choosing the background more carefully and use this to enhance the image, through color, shapes, and putting the subject in the context of the surroundings.

Taking into account the magnification or crop factor of the Canon EOS 450D, the equivalent focal length of the lens at 18mm was 28.8mm, or about standard wide angle. I’d like to try with something wider. As I’m unlikely to own a full-frame digital SLR any time soon, the best bet will probably be the EF-S 10-22mm f3.5-4.5 USM (16-35.2mm equivalent).

One gets too accustomed to using longer lenses when concentrating on wildlife and this little experiment has certainly whet my appetite to start playing more with wide angle shots.

Exposure details for above shot of Natal Spurfowl: 1/30th at f/8, using aperture priority and evaluative metering, shot in RAW, color temperature adjusted to 5000K.

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