Behind the scenes: Kea portrait - Alexander Becker

Behind the scenes: Kea portrait

Published: 01/01/2020

I was recently in New Zealand for three weeks and had some awesome opportunities with the country's very unique endemics. One of these was with a couple of Kea -- the world's only alpine parrot! From Christchurch, we drove up to Arthur's Pass where the forecast was for rain. As it turned out, it rained a lot.

I've mentioned before how I really like photographing in the rain and the importance of good rain gear, so I won't harp on it again, although the "Behind the scenes" photo will definitely allude to that! 

Another topic I've harped on recently is going tight for portraits when the background or setting is less than ideal or you aren't able to isolate the full bird. Kea were actually a very good example of this. While I did photograph the bird in its habitat, as below, this was not so much the norm. These birds are highly intelligent and very curious and will often land on cars or other man made perches. They're especially known to pick at the rubber on car wipers!

While we did get the nice sighting on the photogenic rock, we also saw some of them in a gravel parking lot in the rain -- not exactly ideal photography conditions! 

However, this is a perfect opportunity to go for tighter portraits! Laying down, I was able to pick a background other than gravel -- a nice and pleasing light green color from distant trees. Given the curious nature of the Kea, it was only a matter of time until the bird decided to check me out. A couple of times while I was laying down, the two Kea actually came within minimum focusing distance of my lens and I had to wiggle back! You can see my set up below via an iPhone picture -- check out the rain!

Going tight with a good background can take an overall "poor" setting like above and turn it into, in my opinion, a very strong image! Here we have a complementary background, good details on the face and beak, and the rain is adding interest.

All in all, I think this portrait definitely beats a wider view of the bird on gravel. And while it was taken with a 500mm lens, not exactly a super light or common piece of kit, this same image could have been taken with a 300mm lens at a similar aperture given the (far) distance to the background and the close proximity to the Kea. 

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