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Blog takeover with wildlife photographer Danny Rood

Hi Danny, tell us a little bit about yourself. Also, if you were a bird, which bird would you be?


Kia ora, e te whanau! Ko Danny Rood toku ingoa. I’m a 31 year old full-time photographer and videographer based in Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. I’m a geologist by training (albeit a pretty average one) after finishing my Bachelor of Science in 2009. I then started a Masters but academic life certainly wasn’t for me, so bailed on that after one year. From there, I went on to work in various energy and environmental related positions, before rolling the dice a year ago to give full-time photography a whirl. Photography and nature allow me to explore the abundance of beauty here in Aotearoa. I’m fiercely passionate about our environment, our native birds, as well as mental health, and living intentionally. 

If I were a bird, I’d probably be one of our wild parrots. Perhaps a kakariki combined with a kea? I can be a bit of a colourful nuisance at times, so that fits well.


How did you get into photography - trained or self-taught?


Self-taught. Art was my favourite subject at school, so that helped me understand framing and depth perception. I was in a bit of a rut toward the end of 2014, and turned to photography to help pull me out of it. It seemed to work ok.


What sparked your interest in capturing our native birds?


I grew up in a suburb called Silverstream, in the Hutt Valley. We had plenty of trees out there and that attracted an abundance of birds, like tūī, kereru, korimako and rosella. Most nights you’d go to sleep listening to a ruru making that oh so recognisable “more-pork” call. Mum and dad are big outdoor nuffies, so them teaching me who’s who in the avian zoo, and the fact these treasures were literally on my doorstep got me hooked.  Earlier this week I was out in Silverstream visiting my parents and a karearea (NZ falcon) flew right past the driveway and directly over me! It’s a random haven of manu.  


How do you plan and prepare for a shoot?


Six years of snapping is preparation in itself. But the best way to prepare is look at the weather forecast, cos you want to be warm and comfortable, especially in Wellington because we have this thing here called wind. If I want to pop up to Zealandia, I probably won’t go if it’s a bright sunny day as the contrast is too harsh for bird photography. Speckled light and birds are a difficult combination to work with. If I know what kind of bird I’m trying to photograph, I’ll go somewhere where I know they tend to hang about. At this time of year, tūī love harakeke plants. So, I’ll go where they are in bloom, knowing I’m in with a good chance of snapping a tūī or two. Oh, and I’ll take plenty of charged batteries! 


What kind of equipment do you work with?


I am currently running with a Canon R6 body and a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for my bird photography. It shoots at some insane FPS rate and the 2.8 lens lets in lots of light, which is helpful when you’re under canopy or in the bush. However, the most important bit of equipment is the nut behind the shutter button. 


Share with us a typical day in the field


After checking the weather forecast several times, I’ve made sure the batteries a charged, and I have SD cards in my camera, I’ll head out to where I need to. Each step along the forest path builds anticipation about what might be lurking on the next branch above. I’m constantly scanning down low, at eye-level, and above for birds that might be seen in those respective places. Despite being kind of tall, I don’t make a lot of noise when I walk, so that helps me hear disturbances or a flap of wings amongst the branches. When I do spot a bird, it pays to be patient, ideally get to eye-level with the bird whilst working with what light is available. It’s a rinse and repeat effort from there and getting away from people seems to increase the possibility of spotting birds, too. After that, it’s a walk back to the starting point, I head home to put the kettle on and start the editing process. That’s another story in itself. 


What are the challenges faced by a wildlife photographer?


Luck! So much of it boils down to this. People say “I’d rather be lucky than good” but you can be both. If you’re in the right place, at the right time with the right gear, then anything can happen. The weather is another big one. I always hear one of my geology lecturers in my head saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad attire” which is true to some extent. But too much wind and freezing cold is just annoying after a while. On the other hand, in terms of bird photography, I don’t like bright sunny days much at all. You need some cloud cover to reduce the harsh contrast, so working with brightness is another challenge to manage.

Challenges can be fun, though. I’ve set myself a challenge of photographing every bird that features on our currency. Ideally they should be in the wild, but I’ve got the $1 coin, and the $5, $10, $20 and $50 notes covered. I’ve seen a few Mohua (Yellowhead - $100 bill) down on Ulva Island, but they were too quick for me. I’m yet to spot the kotuku (White heron - $2 coin), though. They’re my white whale, except, ya know, a bird.


What is your most memorable moment shooting one of our native birds and do you have any specific strategies for photographing them?


Hmmmm! There’s a few, but I’ll go with spotting a kārearea in a central Wellington park a week after we got out of the autumn Covid lockdown. I’ve spotted a few before, but usually didn’t have my camera on me. This time it all worked out like a dream, and it turned into a bit of a portrait session. He got bored after a while to chase seagulls.


In terms of strategies, patience is a must. I was never been the most patient person, but meditation has taught me to slow down, so I’m getting there. Combined with that, knowing the limitations of your gear and a good fast shutter speed (about 1/400 of a second, or faster if the bird is in flight) certainly helps.


What can you take away from your experience photographing native birds?


They are beautiful, inquisitive and curious taonga. We need to do all we can to not only protect them, but allow them to thrive. 


Describe your experience photographing the Kea and why you think they deserve to win BOTY? 


The curious, cheeky and charming kea is a treat to photograph. I first took photos of them in Arthurs’ Pass, and have had some success down and around Fiordland too. Sometimes they’re in flight, or perched on a rock, or sitting on the roof of the car. I’ve even photographed one trying to untie my shoelaces! 

A bird that is colourful, clever and lets you know what it thinks are all admirable attributes. Meeting people with such characteristics gives me a buzz. The fact a bird can do it too makes them all the more special. Bring it home, you colourful thing!

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