Wildlife, water and perfect light: this is a combination that's guaranteed to provide good pictures. A recently discovered fishing pond has given me the chance to endulge in some very enjoyable photography of the resident ducks and swans. Nothing too unusual, but the surrounding backgrounds and reflections along with the perfect angle of light make this place a real treat. Getting down to the water surface makes all the difference, and here it's possible to shoot from literally inches above the pond. This gives stunning low level images with beautiful liquid colour and attractive waves ahead of the birds' breast as they push through the water. This viewpoint provides much more attractive portraits, and there's also the potential of capturing action too...
Simply watching the water birds preen and wash is the best way to predict the action. Birds will often cover themselves in water before stretching up and flapping their wings. A fast shutter speed of at least 1/500 second will freeze the action.
Although it might seem fairly simple to photograph mallards, swans and geese - achieving spot on portraits isn't all that easy. The main problem is the movement. The birds are constantly swimming or drifting making them more difficult to photograph. There are a number of different techniques for focusing: the servo mode can work well as a bird swims directly towards you; with the one shot mode try focusing on the bill then firing a series of shots as the bird's head passes through the zone of focus. White or black birds can be trickier. Coots are one example, where the focus may struggle to lock on - in this case you could use manual focus by focussing slightly ahead of the bird and again firing as it moves through the zone. It's worth trying all these techniques... ultimately it depends on the movement, speed and the species in question. The other consideration is the focus point. Use the central focus point and you will miss out on reflections, whilst a higher focus point will allow you to compose with the birds head towards the top of the frame and a full reflection below. Calm conditions can create almost perfect reflections for these images.
I'm a great advocate for concentrating on species close to home. With a perfect location you can return again and again to improve your images, using the varying seasons to create intimate and colourful images. And like all wildlife photography, the more time you put in, the greater your chance of capturing special behaviour to set your images apart from others.