Jack Backs comes from a background of 35 years as a Nikon enthusiast with equipment acquired as a young Chemical Engineer before attending the Southern Illinois School of Dentistry and starting a family. He found that his film equipment satisfied his needs, “…I never felt I needed anything else at that time. Thanks to Nikon’s durability I was able to use this equipment for 20 years.” Jack transitioned to digital photography when “Nikon introduced the D100 in early 2002 and I quickly switched to DSLR and never looked back.”
“My children’s sports activities became my first real area of photographic interest. One of the more satisfying aspects was sharing images with the other parents. A number of parents would tell me their desktop background was one of my images of their child. Always satisfying.”
“Unfortunately, oops, I mean fortunately, your children grow up and leave the nest. What to concentrate on photographically now? Let’s see, why not the most difficult, uncooperative, skittish subjects on the face of the planet. Birds!
I probably started out photographing birds like most people. Starting with birds on feeders, moving to birds around feeders on more natural perches; then it’s off to the woods. At first you’re happy just to get an image of a bird you don’t have. Then it’s a matter of getting closer and closer for better feather detail. The last step is concentrating on the backdrop. I think this is what separates really good images from great images.”
“I live in suburban O’Fallon Missouri. August Busch Memorial Wildlife Area is a 3000-acre conservation area only a 10-minute drive from my home. It is a great combination of forests, meadows, lakes and swamps that has habitat for literally every bird that naturally resides in Missouri. I have become intimately knowledgeable where various species reside, such as Pileated Woodpeckers, Prothonotary Warblers, and Yellow Warblers. About the only other area I frequent is Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge. This area is on the Mississippi flyway and I go there in the spring and fall for the waterfowl migration.”
“My advice is to find one natural area and spend a significant amount time there. Birds are creatures of habit. Finding where birds feed or even nest is the key to getting close. I probably spend half my time in the woods scouting for these locations. For ducks and other particularly skittish birds I will sit in a one-man chair blind, I don’t prefer this so I normally just dress in full camo and move rather deliberately. I sometimes stand in one spot for half an hour or even more. Photographing birds requires a good deal of patience.
It always amazes me how one can blaze away with a DSLR and the sound rarely spooks a bird, but make one sudden movement and they are off in a flash. My last bit of advice on getting close to birds is to find a conservation area or seldom traveled country road and take images from your car window… A lot of birds are accustomed to traffic and will be much more tolerant than if you were on foot.”
“I always shoot in manual mode. It seems that I’m always trying to image a white bird on a dark background or a dark bird on a white background. Any type of auto exposure will yield poor results in these situations. My method is to first set the aperture, usually near wide open, then determine an ISO setting that will allow an acceptably fast range of shutter speeds depending on whether I may need to under expose or over expose. I look at the exposure meter in the viewfinder and can very quickly change the shutter speed with the thumb dial in order to under expose or over expose depending on conditions. I certainly make no claims this is the definitive manner for bird photography. I did try auto ISO mode, but in order under/over expose you need to remove your index from the shutter button to find the exposure compensation button and then rotate the thumb dial. Some people may be more coordinated than I am, but I find just spinning the thumb dial to change the shutter speed a lot quicker and more intuitive.”
“The Nikonians is such great community. As with many people when you have a somewhat obscure question, you type it into google. I found that on any question I had about my Nikon equipment, all the best answers were from the Nikonians forums. I was all in after that. This is the definite Nikon website. There is a multitude of extremely knowledgeable Nikon owners more than willing to help any question you may have. It’s also a great place to share images and get constructive evaluations by knowledgeable members.”
Jack provided such an interesting narrative that further comment within the interview seemed unnecessary. It was great to review his unique perspectives and hear the strategies he uses to capture his images. Stunning images captured with such precision and craftsmanship!
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