Flight School: Photographing Birds in Flight Workshop

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Photographer's Fight School at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

Photographer's Fight School at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

Recap by Jennifer Dudek

If you are looking to improve your birds in flight photography skills, look no further than the workshop taught by Sharon Schafer at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (“ASDM”) located in Tucson, Arizona. Some may be familiar with the extremely talented painter, photographer, and biologist Sharon Schafer through her photography workshop offered at Clark County Wetlands Park in the spring, but you haven’t truly maximized the birds in flight photography techniques taught by Sharon unless you are standing in the middle of the open desert and have raptors fly in front of you, above you, behind you and beside you. Four members of the RRAS and three others (hopefully future RRAS members) from Las Vegas drove down to Tucson on a Thursday for a three-day workshop, November 17-19.

From 9am – 3pm each day we had classroom instruction, but within that time frame, two times daily, the ASDM has a Raptor Free Flight exhibition that is open to those on the museum grounds that we also attended as part of the class. Each session has different raptors in flight. During our time spent there, the 10am session consisted of a Chihuahuan Raven, Great Horned Owl, Ferruginous Hawk, and Crested Caracara, and the 2pm session consisted of a Peregrine Falcon, Barn Owl and Harris Hawk. Following each session, we returned to the class to review our images and had the ability to discuss what worked and what didn’t work so we could make adjustments for the next time.

The workshop taught by Sharon can help all levels of photographers. The basics of Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO are covered to help shoot in manual mode, but the instruction also reaches beyond the basis in a way that doesn’t leave the novice photographer panicked with information overload and yet the intermediate photographer leaves with a better understanding of something they may have learned or heard of in the past.

Of the seven of us from Nevada, no one had previously been to the ASDM and it was an overall consensus that this place deserved a second visit (and probably more, truth be told). The grounds are beautiful. We didn’t even have time to visit all the exhibits they have available. We did go to the Hummingbird Aviary, this space is almost magical with all the hummingbirds buzzing by, perching on branches or feeding from the many feed stations. Surprisingly tripods were allowed, but that may vary depending on the crowds.

Most of us stayed at the La Quinta Inn and Suites in Marana, which is also considered Tucson. This location was recommended by Sharon as a means to avoid Tucson traffic. From our location, the museum was about 30 minutes away, but a good portion of it is a beautiful drive through the Saguaro National Park. A dining highlight of the trip was at Guadalajara Grill. They make fresh salsa table side to order, mild, medium or hot.

Don’t let the six and half hour drive south from Las Vegas discourage you from going to the museum, and make sure you allow time to explore other birding hotspots in Tucson and the surrounding areas.

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