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Wildbird Magazine Article

Posted in Uncategorized on February 5th, 2010 by Alan

If you pick up a copy or subscribe to Wildbird magazine, you will find a four page article I did on Woodpecker set-ups for the Jan/Feb 2010 issue.

Only two spots left for my South Texas workshop April 12-15.
This is the only opening I have left for any workshop in the lower 48 states for 2010.
Let me know if you are interested in joining me.

Set-up Heaven

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27th, 2010 by Alan

I just returned from scouting new locations for future workshops and boy, did I find a gem.
The owners of this property have been putting out fruit every morning for years, at about 7 am each morning like clockwork, the birds arrive.
There were over 30 Kiskadees flying in to pick up grapes, along with three Altimira Orioles fighting over orange halfs, and at least half a dozen Golden-fronted Woodpeckers.
About a dozen Orange-crowned Warblers would feed on the suet. Mockingbirds would land and grab berries, then fight for positions on my perches.
On one day, there were four Clay-colored Thrushes coming to feed on the grapes, which is a rare bird indeed.

This is my third time to shoot at this location and every time I have witnessed the same insane action!
In the blind I used my wide angle lens to try to capture the scene, but it was hard to stop shooting the action with my 600 MM.
Here is the image I took. You can see 7 Kiskadees (one behind the stump), 3 Altimira Orioles, 3 Golden-fronted Woodpeckers (one behind the log) and a Mockingbird.
For those who are in doubt, let me assure you that this is not photoshopped.

Almost as soon as I put the berry branches out, the Kiskadees and Mockingbirds were feeding on the fruit.




Here the Kiskadees are fighting over perches.


The Golden-fronted Woodpeckers also took a liking to the berries.


This is a set-up with a verticle perch and some added berries.


Waving goodbye!


Northern Mockingbirds are very particular about the berries they want.


Once the berries were gone, I worked on some flight images as the Kiskadees would fly in for the grapes and banana pieces.



It wasn’t long before the birds would land on any stable perch that I put out there.


The stunning Altimira Oriole gave me some regal poses.


Setting up a perch very colse to my blind and adding a small dab of suet in the leaves, enabled the Orange-crowned Warbler to stop and feed.


The highlight of the day, for me, was a visit by not one, but four Clay-colored Thrushes. My heart pounded when one jumped up on my perch and posed.


So many times I wanted to give someone a high five after getting a shot, but I was alone.
If you want to join me in a workshop at this location and share in some high fives, just contact me.

In Hog Heaven Shooting Raptors

Posted in Uncategorized on January 18th, 2010 by Alan

I spent a nice few days on a friends ranch just south of San Antonio, TX. One of the ranch hands who was a hunter had shot a wild boar/hog and allowed me to have it to use to attrach birds of pray.
The first thing I did was to find a location that had a nice distant background and clear horizon, allowing the sunrise to hit the set up. I dragged some limbs from the nearby woods to set up over the hog.
Once I did that I set up my doghouse blind and left it all there for a day.


It did not take long before I had many Crested Caracaras and Black Vultures feeding on the carcass.


With all the commotion going on with the feeding frenzy, it was the sub-adult Caracara that was the dominant one. He would try to fight off all the other birds coming in to feed.


While there were many birds feeding, some of the birds would stage on the perches I had set up.



I also managed to get a few flight shots.



In a couple of months I’m going back again when all the wild flowers are blooming and the Texas Hill Country is in all it’s glory. I’m sure I will be in Hog heaven again.

Perch Placement Delima

Posted in Uncategorized on January 9th, 2010 by Alan

So now that you are doing set-ups and choosing your own perches, have you given any thought as to what angle you place the perch around your set-up?

Well I have been playing around with this for many years. Here’s what I have settled on doing.

If you place the perch going away from you, the bird will land with his side to you. I call this the field guide pose :-)

This image of a Worm-eating Warbler shows the bird in good position, but I feel that the perch running up through the frame is distracting. I also do not like the perch vegatation extending from the back.
The thing I dislike the most is that unless you are shooting at f16, the near and furthest part of the perch will be out-of-focus.

If we place the perch parallel to the camera plane, the the bird will land facing you or with his back to you.

The perch is now all in focus and no part of the perch is running through the bird. But how can we get the perch to look like this and the bird to look like it does in the image with the perch set away from us?

Well, what I have discovered after many hours doing this is that even though the bird will land with his back to you or facing you full on……

It’s only a matter of seconds before the birds does what I call the “twist”. All small birds move on the perch this way.
If you give them a few seconds, they will either turn back when they want to move along the perch.

Now you have the best of both worlds. The perch is nice and sharp and all in focus. No part of the perch is extending out of the bird and the bird is parallel to the camera plane showing that field guide pose.
So when I set my perches up around my feeders and drip ponds, I set them parallel to the camera and wait for that “twist”.

All images are the copyright of Alan Murphy Photography.

© 2009 Alan Murphy Photography

Same Rock, Differect Set-up

Posted in Uncategorized on December 13th, 2009 by Alan

Hey my Photographer friends,

I thought I would share with you a set-up I did while I was up in the Pacific North West on Vancouver Island this November.

While shooting in a freinds backyard, he had multiple California Quail coming to seed that was scatterd around on the ground.

My friend had set this mossy rock in place in hopes of getting a Quail on top of it. I wanted to dress the rock up a bit with local vegatation, so I added some ferns and wild grasses. Placing some of the ferns futher back gave the image some dept. I also wanted a different set-up and style for the Male of the species. For that I made sure I added a lot of fall colored leaves on the grass in the background. To compliment that I found some fall colored branches that I placed around the rock. I made a few checks through the viewfinder to make sure everything was in place before I worked on getting the Quail on top of the rock.

I think showing you both images next to each other will give you a sense of how creative you can get with dressing up the same perch, which in this case is a mossy rock.

If you want to know how I got the Quail up on the Rock….then you will have to get my new eBook that just came out :-)

California Quail. Victoria, BC, Nov 2009

Nikon D3, 600MM VR lens, ISO 1250, f4, 1/160, fill @ -2.3, dark skies and rain.



Guide to Songbird Set-up Photography Now Available

Posted in Uncategorized on December 5th, 2009 by Alan

I just got back from Canada, Ireland and England to find snow in Houston.

I also got home to a huge shipment of my new eBook CD’s. I will begin shipping them to my vendors on Monday.

If you were one who ordered through my website, your’s will go directly to you on Monday Dec 7.CDPackaging2

For those who still wish to purchase the CD you can do so through this link.


So Many Hawks !

Posted in Uncategorized on October 29th, 2009 by Alan



I shot this at Smith Point, TX last week. The widest angle lens I had was a 200 MM, so I could only get a small vignette of what the sky actually looked like.

This is a kettle of Broad-winged Hawks. The hawk counters counted 10,000 hawks in the sky at one time. This image shows just a small section of the group that was above me. It’s an insane experience to watch that many hawks lifting on the thermals and not bump into each othere.

Smith Point is a peninsula of land jutting into Galveston Bay. As the hawks migrate south to their wintering grounds, they follow the coastline and end up funneling down the peninsula and end at the point. Most hawks will not migrate over water so they gather at the point of this land and gain elevation before moving back up the peninsula to continue on.

If you happen to be there in peak migration and right after a northern front, the skies will be full of birds.



I also managed to get a few images of the Broad-winged Hawks as they came closer to me. A great day at the Point.


My New Book

Posted in Uncategorized on October 15th, 2009 by Alan

I am pround to announce that my new book that is sold on CD will be available Dec 2009.

This is a book that shares all my tips and tricks of bird photography that I have learned over the past 15 years.
Alan Murphy's Guide to Songbird Set-up Photography

These include:  

  • How to attract a variety of songbirds to your set-ups and get them to land exactly where you want them to!
  • How to photograph hummingbirds in flight without a flash
  • How to get hummingbirds to land on your perch
  • How to create great set-ups for woodpeckers
  • How to keep plants, leaves, and flowers alive and looking fresh
  • How to get small songbirds to land on delicate perches
  • How to get birds to land on cactus set-ups
  • Which type of bird feeder is best by far and how to use them in your set-ups
  • The secrets of using suet with your set-ups
  • How to work with fruit and berries
  • How to build and work with water-drip ponds
  • How to choose perches including the do-s and don’t-s.  
  • How to place, position, and secure perches at your set-up
  • How to get ground birds like quail, roadrunners and meadowlarks up on your stump set-ups
  • How to turn nest boxes into natural looking tree cavities
  • How to create set-ups for birds that frequent open fields and grasslands.
  • How to attract elusive kingfishers to your set-up
  • How to get low and in the water to create intimate images of  ducks, geese, rails, grebes, and other waterbirds while remaining safe and dry
  • How to set up for and create images of songbirds in flight

Pre-publication orders of the book are being currently accepted. 

The professionally designed, packaged, and burned CD will be available some time in December, 2009.  It is selling for $50 plus shipping and handling to US addresses.  Shipping to Canada is about $6.00.  It is about $8.00 for all foreign orders.  Pre-publication price:  $50.00

Click here for more details:http://www.alanmurphyphotography.com/ebook.htm

Get Out of the Car

Posted in Uncategorized on October 2nd, 2009 by Alan

I have shot a lot of images taken from my car over the years, but I have to say that I really hate it. Yes, it’s nice that you can drive around and sneak up on your subject. The camera is supported by the car so you don’t have to carry your gear over your shoulder and your sitting in a nice leather chair. Some of us even have music playing and maybe a little snack sitting next to the soft drink in the cup holder. But for me, it totally limits my style of photography. I hate the fact that the camera is five feet off the ground when your photographing birds below you. I hate that I have limited background options as the car can only move into so many positions. I also hate that most of the time I can’t get closer that the car can be parked. This was the situation when I tried to photograph a Long-billed Curlew in a field next to a road. The bird was used to traffic so I felt confident that I could drive up as close as the road would permit. I waited untill the evening so the sun would be behind my back (or the back of the car), but when I pulled up, the sun was behind clouds. I fired off a few frames and got the following image.


Nothing too wrong with the image. The bird is nice and sharp. The head angle is good with the bird making eye contact.

I just was not happy with the fact that we are viewing this image from a human perspective. This is not how Curlew’s see each other (from a five foot high perspective) but this is how humans see the bird. If I was to show an intimate perspective of how all ground birds see each other, then I had to get down to the birds level. So I had a decision to make. Do I stay in the car and get a bunch of average images but say to myself ” at least their nice field guide shots”, or do I take a risk of scaring the bird off by getting out of the car and try to get down low. My approach to this is, once I get the shots from the car, I then go for the low percentage shot. Most times the bird will flush, but every now and again, it can really work out. Here’s what happened when I tried to do just that.

There was a ditch between my car and the field the bird was in. All I had to do was get myself and my lens into that dicth without the bird seeing me. I had the camera resting on a bean bag so I just waited for the bird to feed or preen before lifting the lens off the window. I then opened the car door slowly but was still concealed behind the door. I shrunk down with my camera, lens and bean bag and peered out to see if the bird had noticed me. The bird was still preening so I waited untill the moment when I thought he was completely engrossed in his preening and somewhat facing away from me before I made the small leap down into the ditch. So now I’m crouched down in the ditch with no idea if the bird is still there. It was so tempting to pop my head up to see, but this would be the wrong time to do that. If the bird became wary or aleart, he would be looking for any movement so I waited a couple of minutes. I finally looked up through some tall grasses and saw the bird still there preening. Yes! I made it this far.

I then slowly pushed my bean bag up onto the field edge and waited another minute before lifting my lens onto the bag. Once everything was in place I looked through the grasses again to see if the bird had noticed me. He was just standing there looking relaxed. I managed to get the lens focused on him and take a few frames. I felt at that point that I had accomplished my goal. If nothing else, I got the images I had envisioned. But then the big payoff happened. Right at that moment the sun broke out under the low clouds and provided this sweet warm glow to the bird and scene. I fired off a few more frames. Now the bird was feeding and would take a couple of steps and feed. I was estatic that I was getting these low angle shots in beautiful light. But then another payoff happened. The bird started calling and would call every 30 seconds. It got so predictable that I could almost count when he was going to do it and be ready with the 10 frames per second to captuire the call. So now I have these low angle, calling shots in sweet light. I was so excited that I couldn’t even feel all the mosquitos that were biting my back and arms. 

I shortley realized why the bird was calling. He was getting ready to take off. Then the final payoff happened. Before he took off, he raised his wings in display a few times and called. This was all happening as the light was getting sweeter and sweeter. The bird was parallel to the camera plane and the perfect distance form me. Everything seemd to be lining up. Was this luck? I do know that good planning increases your luck.  Taking a risk and going for the low percentage shot can also increase your luck.

All I can really tell you is, sometimes you just have to get out of the car.


Water Drip

Posted in Uncategorized on September 26th, 2009 by Alan

This is my set-up that I have been using during the Spring and Fall migration on the Upper Texas Coast.
I have an elavated pond made out of a bucket with a 2 foot X 2 foot piece of plywood on top.
I place a few rocks around the edges of the plywood and lay a piece of pond liner on top.
The final touch is running a small drip hose to it so there is always fresh running water.


As the birds make their way down to the water, they pause on my perches that I have set up.