Photographing Shorebirds at Eye Level

Getting Down & Dirty To Create A Sense Of Intimacy

Marbled Godwit StareMarbled Godwit Stare – Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/750, ISO 160, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

When I lived in Florida I spent a lot of time at Fort De Soto County Park in Pinellas County photographing shorebirds because they were used to people being on the beach and thus were a bit less skittish, because I loved the combination of the Gulf Coast habitat combined with the mangrove edged lagoons and spartina marshes and because they were my “spark birds” that drew me into bird photography which soon became an all-consuming passion for me.

Fluffed up adult American OystercatcherFluffed up adult American Oystercatcher – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 160, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

I learned very quickly that the most appealing shorebird images to my eye were the ones where I got down as low as possible which put me at eye level or lower than my subjects. I got down low in the water and low in the sand by flopping down on my belly, laying in the shallow water, kneeling down as low as I could often times with my lens hood barely above the water in the lagoons, the Gulf of Mexico or the sandy beach to photograph the multitude of shorebirds I found at the park.

Piping Plover with a sandy beakPiping Plover with a sandy beak – Nikon D200, f5.6, 1/750, ISO 250, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

By making myself  appear “small” and less threatening and being very still I found that it wouldn’t be long before the shorebirds would approach me which allowed me to create intimate and appealing photos of my subjects. I felt that I was a part of their world and that I could share that feeling with anyone who viewed my photos.

Some times the birds would approach me so closely that I couldn’t focus on them at all. Every lens has a minimum focusing distance but the birds don’t know that.

Black-bellied Plover in fogBlack-bellied Plover in fog – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 640, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

I carried shorter lenses to the beach at the park than I use now here in Utah and part of my reasoning for that is that I didn’t want to carry a heavy lens, skimmer or tripod and be weighted down, I wanted more freedom of movement. I also wanted the ability to take the shots without having to take the time to set up a tripod, attach the camera & lens and that worked well for me. I could lay or kneel down quickly and be taking photos almost immediately.

Gulf Shore Ruddy TurnstoneGulf Shore Ruddy Turnstone – Nikon D200, f9, 1/640, ISO 160, Nikkor 70-300mm VR at 270mm, natural light

I got dirty quite often and would return to my Jeep covered in sand, mud or bird excrement but that didn’t matter much to me since I could shower off before heading home. What did matter to me was getting photos of the shorebirds at their eye level.

Long-billed Curlew with bill in the waterLong-billed Curlew with bill in the water – Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 250, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 340mm, natural light

I also enjoyed some of the neat, stretched out reflections I would see on the water when I was photographing the shorebirds at such a low angle.

Greater Yellowlegs with one eye on meGreater Yellowlegs with one eye on me – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/250, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

Also, because I almost became part of the habitat by making myself appear as small as possible and moved very slowly the shorebirds I photographed were very relaxed and seemed comfortable with my presence, quite often they would doze right in front of me.

Taking photographs of shorebirds at eye level was very fulfilling for me and the images that resulted from my down & dirty technique have always made me feel an intimate connection to the birds.

Life is good.



  1. Julie Baudier April 9, 2018 at 7:07 am

    Wonderful captures.

  2. Elephants Child April 6, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    Stunning images.
    My supple as a brick statue means I get down much easier than I get up again. I need to work on that though.

  3. Marty K April 6, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    These are phenomenal shots, Mia! “Intimate” is the perfect descriptor.

  4. Greg Gillson April 6, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    I might be able to get down with the shorebirds, but it’s getting back up that’s the problem.

  5. Patty Chadwick April 6, 2018 at 10:58 am

    You are something else!!! Your photos are amazing!!! You’ll turn yourself into a pretzel to get the shot!!!

  6. jo smith April 6, 2018 at 8:12 am

    Beautiful images, I would be so afraid of damaging my camera with all the sand, water and salt.

  7. Sneed Collard April 6, 2018 at 7:42 am

    These are terrific, Mia. Makes me want to get sandy!

  8. Liz Cormack April 6, 2018 at 7:37 am

    Oh, my, down & dirty with wonderful results.

  9. Bob mcpherson April 6, 2018 at 7:13 am

    Wonderful photos.Mia
    Worth the dirt.

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