Color Play

Below is a recent Song Sparrow photo and one of my favorites. I wrote in “Talkin’ Bird Photography” that “photography is the pursuit of photos that work.” This one does.

The photo was an afterthought. I was shooting in the same area where I’d photographed the immature Red-shouldered, and had wrapped up for the morning. Then I spotted the sparrow. I hesitated because it was in shadow and surrounded by brush. But, knowing I had a full-frame DSLR that could handle low light, I stopped, held it up, and fired off six shots. This was the best one (and a keeper). I’ve never shared EXIF (image file) data before, but here, I thought it might be helpful. Canon EOS-1D X EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4x III lens 700mm f/6.3 1/1250s 1000 ISO +0.3 EV

Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow

I posted the photo on FM Forums and described it this way: “This is a recent photo of a Song Sparrow perched on an abandoned and overgrown observation deck. I continue to be amazed by the low-light and high-ISO capabilities of the 1D X (now old tech).” The 1D X is the Canon EOS-1D X DSLR. It was released in March 2012 and was considered Canon’s flagship at the time. It’s the camera I most often use.

Color Play

Here’s one of the comments I received (and confirmation): “David, this is a great capture and one where the busy environmental component works beautifully with great color play.” When I asked him to expand on that he told me that “the pale greens and reddish-brown tones complement rather than compete, that they keep the image quiet, and that they don’t draw attention away from the sparrow.” He also told me that the composition was pleasant and natural.

He liked the image because what could have been a busy one was “quiet” and “pleasant.” The background colors—the greens and reddish-browns—not only complemented each other, but they complemented the bird’s colors, making it an easy focal point. That made me think of our discussion of the color wheel in “Photography Takeaways.”

I then thought of another photo that I took in the same area, a photo of a female/immature Purple Finch. (What an irruption year this has been!) The composition and color scheme are similar. The blue and gray tones in the background compliment this bird’s colors, too, and with the same effect. The color wheel at work again.

Purple Finch
Purple Finch

Further Thoughts

It’s interesting to me that a photo that was an afterthought (the sparrow photo) could become a favorite and draw compliments. There are a few lessons there. I think of my unfinished list of photo tips. The second to the last one was “Don’t turn off your camera until you get back to the car. You’ll miss golden opportunities.” The last one was “Always bring the camera.” I also think of this: Even though you hesitate (even though you question the lighting and/or the background), take the picture. It might be a dud, but it might hang in a gallery. Either way, you will have learned something.

Here’s another tip: Carry a color wheel. And consider approaching your craft the way a painter approaches his or hers. FYI, I bought my 5 1/8″ color wheel (pictured) from The Color Wheel Company in Philomath, OR.

A color wheel
Pocket Color Wheel

More Photography Takeaways

Let’s switch gears. Here are the takeaways we covered in the last blog (about bird photography):

  • Tread lightly.
  • Obtain a long lens.
  • Take note of lighting and background.
  • Seek out backgrounds that compliment.
  • Tell stories.
  • Shoot at eye level whenever possible.
    Yellow-breasted Chat
    Yellow-breasted Chat

And here are takeaways from “The Scuffletown Creek Hunters, Cont’d.” This is the abridged version.

  • Plan—or at least take stock—before you shoot.
  • If your subject isn’t facing you, don’t worry (as long as the subject is compelling).
  • Once in a while, train your lens on something other than wildlife.
  • If birds are already around, it’ll only be a matter of time before others show up (and more photo opportunities present themselves). 
  • Photographers learn a lot from studying their photos. That’s one of the many advantages of carrying a camera.

Regarding that last point, after I downloaded the image below, I learned what a Lowrance Fish Finder is and something about the tech that fishermen use when they search for fish. I captured this kayaker on the Elizabeth River in Chesapeake, VA and only a stone’s throw from where I captured the birds. (You might ask your preschooler to count the rods—or those timbers behind them.)

A fisherman
A fisherman

And This Just In

Here’s a short piece about the use of color in bird photography. I love the way it begins: “When starting out in photography, we give a great deal of importance to improving skills like composition, getting the exposure correct, and visual story telling. And as we progress, we come across other advanced skills that can help us in improving our skills better. Color theory, for example, is a concept that’s good for photographers to understand really well.”

Quip, Question, Quote

Laura Erickson, the “Dr. Ruth of Ornithology,” begins her 1/31/21 blog post with an essay by naturalist, Bob Hinkle. Bob had attended a lecture and heard the speaker say this: “The essence of the future of wild lands and wild birds and animals comes down to one fundamental question. What were you doing when you were seven?” Ponder that for its significance. I’ll let you read the rest.

Swamp Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow, aka “Swampie”


10 thoughts on “Color Play

  1. Lovely, Dave. The sparrows are very fetching with their soft green background.
    Thank you for the helpful photography tips too. It is always so pleasing when all the design elements together. Sometimes that is not always possible as you know. My husband is colour blind but still somehow seems to have an eye for it.


      1. Very interesting. Loved your opening line and the magpie-lark on a log shot (interesting composition). Boy, I wonder how you keep up with all those comments. But it’s good you get them, (which means you’ve attracted many readers)!


      2. Thank you, Dave. For my bird shots in my monthly wrap up posts, I like to include something in the photo that references the season so there are fewer close ups and more background, but I work the bird in somehow. Hence, a little different from your technique.
        I think the photo you are referring to is the photo of the noisy miner on the log where the background is very dark. My husband stuffed up his camera settings. His ISO was set too low for the light conditions but he didn’t realise because he doesn’t have an EVF. We might repeat that mistake because it produces an interesting effect.
        It is getting more difficult to keep up with the comments. I don’t have that many readers but they are a noisy lot. Either that or they like my jokes. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Andrea, and loved the way you put that. You mentioned ‘pose.’ It’s interesting how much a subject’s pose matters.
      That may be something else photographers don’t pay a lot of attention to. All the best. BTW, I think you’re my top commenter!

      Liked by 1 person

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