Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Strike A Pose

For many years, I have chased wading birds along the western shoreline of Biscayne Bay. In my attempts to capture them, I look for certain elements before I begin shooting. First, morning sunlight on the mangrove shoreline is the natural light I rely upon. The warm light on the green leaves and brown roots is exquisite and provides a beautiful environment for a bird. Often, I cannot get close enough to a bird to fill the frame, so the surroundings are what I look for in an image.

 Second, I hope for calm waters so that the reflections from the mangroves can leave a smooth impressionist painting on the surface.

Third, the water levels must be just right, sometimes high enough to provide undisturbed pools of water that surround the bird, allowing the mangrove reflections to take over.

And yet other times, the water is so low that the entire shoreline is a carpet of seagrass which can add color and texture to the composition.

And fourth, I want to capture the action of the bird, especially the egret or heron that strikes the water with exactness and amazing speed. Once I have found a particular bird to capture (based on above criteria), I stick with it as long as possible, attempting to capture it in the best light. The sun is typically over my left or right shoulder, never directly behind me. I want a little side light to highlight the details of the beautiful feathers of the bird.

Once the bird is in good light, I track it, keeping my focus on its eye as much as possible. I use a focal length that places the bird's entire body in the frame with more room in front of the bird than behind it and the head near the center. This works well with autofocus that is most sensitive in the center point.

When the bird is busy catching prey, I can keep my boat in one place as long as it does not react to my presence. Most of the time, the water is shallow enough that I can hold the boat in place with both feet in the water. Some birds, such as the reddish egret, cover a wider territory and this requires that I move my boat in order to stay with the bird. Once I am in position, I anticipate the bird's movement by a change in its posture. I try to relax and be as steady as possible, keeping my finger on the shutter release and moving only to maintain continuous focus on the bird's head. Some birds, such as the little blue heron will get its beak close to the water and move its neck back and forth a few times before striking. Then it lifts its head quickly before a downward strike.  As soon as I sense it is about to strike, I begin clicking away.

At home, I go through all the images, which can be hundreds (5-10 frames just from one strike) and remove those that are not adequately sharp or if the bird was turned away from the camera. I choose those that offer the most drama in terms of water splashes and/or the bird's prey in its beak. The surroundings will also factor into my decision to keep an image.

The best attribute for capturing wading birds in action is patience. It doesn't matter what kind of camera you own, it's about taking your time and observing the surroundings. With all these elements in mind, Biscayne Bay or other beautiful mangrove shorelines can provide endless opportunities to capture the awesome egret or heron that will strike a pose for you.

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