It takes planning to create good images. That was one of the messages in “It’s All About Light.” What follows is a quick “planning” case study and story.
On the morning of 10/15, the outdoor lighting was extraordinary. It met the quality-of-light test and then some. It was one of those mornings. I decided to visit one of my patches, Lakeside Park in Chesapeake, VA. Experience had taught me that I’d find birds there. Experience had also taught me that birds concentrate in these parks the same way migrating birds concentrate in “migrant traps.” Smart bird watchers visit those sometimes postage stamp-sized places in the spring and fall and come up with incredible finds. Smart bird photographers visit city parks like Lakeside year-round and discover opportunities to both to sharpen their skills and create “keepers.”
The Great Blue Heron
When I arrived at the park, it didn’t take long to find birds. But I zeroed in on one in particular: an immature Great Blue Heron. It had been there for days. The bird was along the water’s edge and statue-still. It was also strikingly sidelit as if a stage light were trained on it. Here it is some days earlier. Notice the gray look and dark crown.
I approached the bird with my Canon EOS-1D X camera and “big white” 500mm f/4 L IS II lens. This is a great combo for getting close-ups of—while remaining distant from—skittish wildlife. A lens shade was attached to protect the front element, help prevent flare, and provide better contrast. Both lens and shade were covered in a Forest Green LensCoat so they didn’t draw attention.
I approached in a way that I knew wouldn’t disturb the bird—I moved slowly, kept low, and seldom looked the bird’s way. Working one’s way closer while not disturbing and upsetting is another important aspect of fieldcraft.
There was a natural blind not far from the heron, and that’s where I headed. That was the plan. The blind consisted of a tall chain-link fence covered with vines, and a number of bushes. Green Herons make good use of the fence during the breeding season. The adult, here, is on the right.
When I reached the blind and the heron was still there, seeming oblivious to my presence, I was relieved. It had begun to move around a bit, often focusing on the water.
I was also ready. I slowly and carefully raised my lens and pressed it against the chain-link to steady it/mitigate camera shake. I took some test shots through a gap in the foliage to make sure my settings were OK (and to make sure the bird couldn’t hear the shutter). I didn’t want to underexpose or overexpose. Then I fired off 40 shots in the space of 5 minutes. I was in burst or continuous shooting mode. I shot in burst to ensure I captured good poses/interesting behavior.
Anyone who has spent time in the field photographing wildlife knows that lighting can change quickly. Nature’s flashes of magic are short-lived; the same holds true for magical light. Shortly after I’d taken the 40 shots, the lighting changed and the spotlight disappeared. But it was still the golden hour (more or less), and the heron was still there.
While I made the mistake of chimping, or examining my LCD screen, the young bird grabbed something in the water. I missed that peak action, but I managed to get this.
The heron had grabbed a small turtle. But it promptly let it go. That reminded me of a young “YCNH” that did the same thing last year with a piece of wood. Young birds do some interesting things.
Here’s a photo of the Great Blue a few days later. This time it had speared a fish. It later swallowed it whole. Notice the upper mandible piercing the fish and the lower mandible supporting it.
And This Just In
We’ve just seen the 2 ways that Great Blues capture their food. They either use their beaks to grab, or they use their beaks to pierce.
If you haven’t done so already, please read David Lindo’s article on patches, those local, often unsung places where wildlife can be found and enjoyed.
I wrote in “It’s All About Light” that there’s nothing more important when shooting birds than the angle and quality of light. But I omitted something. There’s nothing more important than the angle, quality, and direction of light.
I love the low angle of morning and evening light and the qualities of both. As for direction, I usually shoot with the sun behind me. But I also like side lighting. Having said that, all light is good and it’s fun to experiment.
Quip, Question, Quote
“I think it was Louis Pasteur who said, ‘Chance favors the prepared mind.’ In photography, this translates to making your own luck by doing research in advance and knowing your subject.” Ralph Lee Hopkins, Wildlife Photographer (https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/canon/artist/ralph-lee-hopkins)
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We salute our veterans. This year, the parade was in our hearts (credit: Tony Orlando).