If you're visiting a South Florida park, you might see Vanessa Miot, eye carefully peering through a DSLR lens at a busy warbler - her favorite bird group to photograph. She's not alone - though her children are under four, they already know their way around binoculars and cameras!
We connected with Miot to learn more about her photography process.
Q. How did you first become interested in birds?
VM. Since I was a child I was interested in birds, my mother said that at seven years old I announced I was going to be an ornithologist. I became an acupuncturist but still managed to pick birding back up. Like many things in childhood, that interest dwindled but resurfaced when I was out with my daughter while visiting a park. A hawk attacked another bird leaving a shower of feathers just above our heads - I needed answers! My curiosity was tickled and a visit to a Tropical Audubon Society a few months later for their Bird Day has put me on the path that I am on today!
Q. How did you first become interested in photography?
VM. I had a knack for iPhone photography. Drawing was never my strong suit, though I'm determined to develop this skill to this day. I took to photography to document my sightings with a DSLR instead. Going through my photographs allows me to get a closer look at the incredible animals that I have the honor of spending time with; I capture a moment in time that I get to revisit time and time again.
Q. What is the biggest challenge you face when photographing birds, and how do you overcome that challenge?
VM. I bird often with my children, so temper tantrums! I make sure they're rested, that they've had their fun, and their tummies are content.
The expense of the equipment is another challenge. I can wait on Santa Claus I guess, but in all honesty, I've published a photo book of some of my work, and those funds are being put towards upgrading my equipment hopefully one day soon.
Q. How do you approach birding with kids?
VM. Birding with kids can be a toss-up! I have a daughter who is almost four, a 16-month-old, and another on the way.
Most of the time I include them when birding - with my youngest I point out the easy-to-spot wading birds, the active Northern Mockingbirds, or the chatty Blue Jays. I say their names, narrate the bird's actions, describe the color and patterns, and count them aloud.
With my eldest, we have a sit spot at home and while the youngest is napping we will go on the patio and talk about what we may possibly see and create a tally sheet. She gets to practice her ID, observation, and counting skills and we get to enjoy birding together. I'm thankful that they're pretty patient kids and most of the time they allow me the time to pause and take photographs when we're out at the park. My eldest now requests to visit certain parks not by their names but by the stories about the birds and animals we've seen. But like any toddler, they have their days and I'll have to wait until I'm on a solo trip to really take my time.
Additionally, I often go playground birding. We frequent playgrounds that have welcoming habitats for feathered visitors so while the kids play I can at least peak around and see what birds are there.
I find parks with paved trails so that I easily push my double stroller. Whenever the kids need a break from walking they can sit. I give them snacks to keep them happy (and in one place) while I'm photographing.
Finally, when my husband is with me and we visit parks with unpaved trails we use a carrier to strap the youngest on so we can trek on.
Q. What is your favorite bird/bird group to photograph?
VM. Warblers - I'm clearly a glutton for punishment. I don't have expensive equipment with a far reach, but I like the challenge of gettingthe best frame I possibly can with what I have.
Q. For people who might want to try bird photography, where should they begin?
VM. As a novice myself I would say start with what you have, may it be a camera you have around the house or a bundle for a few hundred dollars on Amazon. Take pictures as much as possible, get familiar with local locations, and practice photographing different types of birds, at different times of the day.
Use the internet - YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, hashtags on Instagram and Twitter, even the website of the manufacturer of the camera will have all sorts of information and tips on how to get the most out of your camera.
Find your people - When out birding you often bump into other birders who share tips not only on where to go but on camera gear. And again the internet is a great place to meet new people that you did even know are in your backyard and are excited to connect with other birders.