Interview with Alan Murphy, a NatureScapes Birds Forum Moderator

by | March 1, 2012

© Alan MurphyBirds Forum moderator Alan Murphy is no stranger to the bird photography scene. Over his many years of observing and photographing songbirds, Alan, who has been with NatureScapes.Net from the beginning, has perfected the art of photographing birds using a number of creative techniques. He is often regarded as the expert in perched bird setups and shares his secrets through his popular instructional workshops and top selling bird photography eBook, Guide to Songbird Set-up Photography. In this interview, Alan tells how he first got into photographing birds and shares a number of tips.

Where is your favorite place to take pictures and why?

My favorite place to take pictures of birds has to be the Upper Texas Coast during the peak of Spring migration. For the past 15 years I have been leasing a small woodlot on the coast which is a magnet for songbirds after they make their long 36 hour flight across the gulf of Mexico. Once they arrive at the coast, they look for a place to rest, feed and drink, and my woodlot can be filled with up to 50 species on any given day. I have a blind setup in front of a water drip and have become addicted to anticipating the next species that will makes it way down to my water and get in front of my lens.

Are there any other subjects aside from birds that you like to photograph?

I focus so much of my time and energy, learning, scouting, teaching and sharing my love for birds, that I rarely take images of anything else. I would love to do landscape photography, but I fear that I would become obsessed with it, and I don’t need or have time for another obsession. I am guilty of taking way too many photos of my kids though.

You’ve led nature photography workshops for a couple of years now. What is your favorite part of leading workshops and what do you find the most difficult?

This is my fifth year leading bird photography workshops. My favorite part is sharing my knowledge and seeing a participant get really excited when they apply that knowledge and they exceed their own expectations. I also love what I learn myself from participants. I have become so much better at post processing because of shared knowledge.

What I find the most difficult is the people that are “EGRs” Extra Grace Required.

Is there something you always ask yourself or think just before you push the shutter button?

Only when I see some amazing behavior in the viewfinder or an amazing species do I say to myself “Please be sharp.”

Can you describe that “moment” when you knew that photography was something you just had to do?

Many years ago when I was taking bad images with bad equipment, just so I could use the images to ID birds, I found that I could apply my art training, love and knowledge for birds, and the challenge of the technical equipment into a lifelong passion. To be able to get that intimate with birds, create an artistic rendition of the vision in my mind and come home with a tangible result was the biggest rush. I knew I was hooked after the first photo I took.

You photograph a lot of birds and moderate the bird forum on NSN. What made you gravitate toward avian photography?

Growing up in Ireland, then England, I always lived near woods and farmlands. I would explore these areas when I was a kid and had a great curiosity to know the names of the birds I was seeing. I was 6. My parents bought be some binoculars and a bird book and it became a hobby that stuck with me my whole life.

What is your most memorable photographic experience?

That’s a tough one to pick. I think I will pick one of my most recent ones from last year. While in Barrow, Alaska, I was laying on an ice shelf with two good friends photographing Pacific Loons. The Loons came right up to us and would call. We had the sweetest light over our shoulders and the time was 2AM in the morning.

Which one item of equipment would you say is the most important to you?

I would have to say my iPhone and speaker system. Having the technology to be able to playback bird calls and attract them into shooting range is one of the biggest contributors to getting good bird images. Having wonderful expensive cameras and lenses are of no use if you can’t get your subjects where you want them.

How do you decide on locations and subjects?

When I’m shooting for myself, I decide where to go based on the species that I have never photographed before. I have over 500 North American species photographed, so I have a list of species that I need in order to get to 600. My trips are based around the locations of those species.

When I choose a location for my workshops, I pick places that are best for me to be able to teach how I do my setups. For that I need locations that have a constant source of bird activity coming to feeders, water, etc. South Texas and South East Arizona have been great for that. This year for the first time, I am doing workshops at my location on the Texas coast for Spring migrant songbirds where there are lots of birds and constant activity.

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