The griffon vulture marks the Gorges du Verdon. The viewpoints on Route de Crêtes and Randonnée Rancoumas offer amazing views to tourists, hikers and lovers of nature. Photographing vultures or birds in flight in general is one of the most difficult branches of the photography. They can pass through the air with speeds of 35 kph and will often fly in patterns up and down on the thermic of the wind. As they pass across the viewing points they leave everyone astonished with their imposing span with of 2.8 metres.
The Gorges du Verdon
The vultures dissapeared in the 19th century from the region due to a bad reputation. Thanks to passionate bird professionals, also called ornithologists, they were reintroduced in 1999. Now there are about 300 individuals and 100 couples of griffon vultures that rule an area of 60 000 acres. The vultures make nests in the cliffs of the canyon, they feed themselves mainly of carcasses and are thus the cleaners of the nature around here. In the Gorges du Verdon you will mainly see the Griffon Vulture, but I have also seen a pair of the Egyptian Vulture and I once spotted a black vulture, also called ‘Vautour Moine’ in French.
An important first step is observing. What pattern are they flying, from which side will they arrive? Do they climb up the air quickly? Do they turn around and come back? How are the natural factors at this moment and thus regarding these external factors, in which spot would my ideal photo be?
Then, setting up your camera. Make sure your settings are optimal because with a speed of around 35 kph they pass you before you know. If you are not ready or you did not pay attention to your camera settings it can be that you have lost your chances. I have had days that they kept coming, 10 at a time sometimes, I didn’t even know which one to photograph. But I have also had days that I had to be happy with a few far passes of 2 vultures.
I always shoot in AF-C (Continuous autofocus), high speed shooting (the most frames per second possible), a high aperture (low number, f2.8-4) and then regarding the natural light that I have I set my ISO. So basically my aperture and ISO decide my shutter speed. If my shutter speed too low I increase the ISO. This should get me at a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 with normal daylight/some sun.
Personally I do not like photographing these birds when they are high up in the air. They live in a beautiful canyon which is part of who they are. So I love a backdrop of mountains or even the canyon. That also makes it for me that I do not always focus on having the vulture close. Sometimes the vulture for me is part of a landscape photo of the canyon.
When I know their flying pattern I try to follow it, to anticipate and to shoot any of those big flying chickens that take the chance to pass me.
Good luck! I am excited for all your results!