For Spectacular Shorebird Shots, Go Low

Dropping to shorebird height is key to capturing intimate, sharp photos. These tips and products will help you get down.

Humans are much taller than shorebirds. That’s so obvious an observation that it may seem silly to point out, but when it comes to shooting these varied, captivating birds, dropping down to their level can take your photography to new heights.

Hugging the ground has many advantages, says wildlife photographer and Audubon contributing editor Melissa Groo. Dropping down will help you fade into the background, making you less menacing to wild birds; they’ll acclimate to your presence, go about their business, and possibly wander closer to your camera. “It’s a much less threatening profile,” Groo says. From a technical standpoint, getting low and using a very shallow depth of field with low aperture creates a fuzzy background, making the focal point—the bird—pop. What’s more, being at eye level makes for more intimate shots. “It brings you into the world of the animal,” Groo says.

It also brings you into direct contact with sand and muck. Protect your equipment—and your back—with these tips and products.

Ground Pod 
Attach your SLR to the Nature Scapes SKM-II Skimmer Ground Pod II ($80) to slide along any terrain. Lightweight but durable, the ground pod won’t get caught with its spherical design and quickly washes off any mud, dirt, or sand you get it into, while keeping your camera safe from the elements. Some photographers opt for a DIY option, retrofitting a frying pan for a total cost of around $10.

Right-angle Viewfinder
Shooting on the ground is a sure way to get a wry neck. Avoid the agony with a right-angle viewfinder. The L-shaped attachment allows you to hover above the camera, looking down into the extended window without craning your head. Each camera manufacturer has its own model, like the Cannon Angle Finder C ($199).

Ward off muck by setting up atop a silicone-treated tarp, like Equinox’s Globe Skimmer Ultralite Ground Cloth ($43). Once you find your ideal spot, spread the water-repelling tarp on the ground and then arrange your equipment.

Even the smoothest beaches can have jagged shells or sticks. Extend your endurance, and reduce ached and pains later, don painters kneepads, like those available at Home Depot (from $5) or your local hardware store.

Dust Remover
On a trip to the beach, sand inevitably gets everywhere—even on your frighteningly expensive and sensitive camera and lens. Keep a new paintbrush at hand to brush away the grains; at about a buck apiece at your local hardware store, it pays to keep a couple on hand. If you need more power than a paintbrush provides, Giottos Rocket Blaster Dust Removal Tool ($9) blows sand out of the tiniest crevices in your equipment.

Beach Buggy
Hauling gear over tough terrain is a breeze with the Eckla Beach Rolly Cart ($120). The easily maneuverable yet sturdy wagon can handle a full load of camera gear, accessories, and sustenance. And it doubles as a chair when it’s time to take a break.