Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Why video done badly is better than still photos done badly

Lately I have been taking videos of birds on my phone. They don't work so well, but nevertheless I've been persisting. Photos taken on phone cameras are utterly useless for most bird photography, the world being very big and birds being very small and inclined to remain very far away, but the video mode allows an attempt at capturing sound and, equally importantly for Id purposes, jizz. When you're birding in Central London distance becomes less of an issue as, like the people, the birds have had to learn to accept a bit less personal space and in most cases are quite bold. Same applies when you're trying to hold the phone still over the eyepiece of a spotting scope in strong winds on a seawall; distance is reduced, clarity is the real problem. Video reduces the dependence on a sharp image. As promised a week or two ago, here's a video taken from the same session as that still of the all white gull:

Just as washed out and just as useless as a piece of art, but it's much easier to make the call that this is probably just a normal Black Headed Gull having seen it standing there being unexciting and not very different structurally.

Again with the below, the video itself is rubbish. The bird is a blurry brown splodge at the bottom of the screen, and you only know it's there because it hops up and down a couple of times in a way that leaves don't tend to, but listen to that alarm call and look at the way it flits about like a mad thing. You know it's a Wren:

Incidentally, and to prevent flaming in the comments, it was alarm calling at a cat sleeping on the pavement long before I got there, and the tree overhangs the path so nothing in its right mind nests there.

And occasionally, just occasionally, the video comes out looking quite respectable. In a still on this camera the Egyptian Goslings below would be just so many distant unexceptional balls of grainy blur, but throw in moving pictures and some essence of the fluffy balls of cuteness that they actually were is retained. Besides of which, seeing Egyptian Geese on the Thames is quite fun, not something I do every day and worthy of record.

So grainy, blurry, poorly-recorded videos of the world, I salute you! You are another useful tool in a birder's armoury.

And of course when you get bored of birds, you can use it to record awesome covers of popular songs in your local pub.

No this isn't my band. I only wish we'd come up with this arrangement first.