The Great Blue Heron – Intimate Encounters

Experience nature photography like you have never experienced before: What you need to know, have, and do, to achieve treasured photographs!

Bird photography is challenging. And for good reason. Unless you are dealing with tame birds used to human presence, getting close to wild birds within proper photographing range will be a challenge. Today, we are elaborating on my 3-step program for better nature photography. Onto the program and we will guarantee the results.

We will start with step 1 of the program: ‘What you need to know’. It’s probably a good idea to do your homework before going in the wild after a particular bird. Books and articles on the web are a great resource to better understand your preferred subject matter. Your photography will most likely benefit from the detailed knowledge of the bird’s habitat and its behaviour. For our story we will feature photographs of large and small wading birds.

What you need to know:
• Decide on your bird species – e.g. herons
• Learn about their habitat – marshes, swamps, lake edges, rivers
• Learn about bird behaviour at different times of the year (and day) – the herons featured in my photographs were hunting during middle of the day

Great Blue Heron lingering for a portrait. Shot from an artificial blind, marsh habitat, approximately from a 15m distance, middle of the day, full frame. Waiting time to get this shot: 1.5 hours. Camera Gear: Canon 1Ds Mark II, 500mm F4 IS, 2x extender, Gitzo Carbon Fiber tripod, Wimberley Head, Flash, Flash Extender

It is a known fact that size matters – when it comes to telephoto lenses. Longer glass (focal length) enables you to get closer to your subject without disturbing it, thus, getting intimate portraits of wild birds. Faster glass (lets in more light) enables you to shoot in lower light conditions and sustain faster shutter speeds. ‘What you need to have’ describes the step 2 of the program.

What you need to have:
• Lens with focal length of 500mm or more (400mm may work too if you manage to get within the immediate proximity of your bird)
• An image stabilized lens and a minimum f-stop of 4.0
• An SLR camera – in case of bird photography, more specialized is the camera for shooting fast subjects better your chance of good photographs
• An artificial blind – it is the least disturbance for the habitat and the bird will linger longer for your photo session
• Stable, but light tripod with a strong head. See my choice of camera gear under each photograph
• Flash and extender
• Light folding fishing chair

Adult Male Green Heron lingering for a portrait in anticipation of a hunt in the hair-weed algae below. See a link to more green heron photographs and the story behind the hunt at the end of this story. Photographed from an artificial blind, marsh habitat, approximately from a 4m distance, middle of the day, full frame. Waiting time to get this shot: 3 hours. Camera Gear: Canon 1Ds Mark II, 500mm F4 IS, 2x extender, handheld, Flash, Flash Extender.

To get to the last step of the program – ‘What you need to do’, start driving to the closest wetland habitat. Once there, continue driving around and make notes of the bird encounters, their location and the time of the day. You can build a log with your observations and, over time and multiple photo sessions in the same area, identify patterns of repetitive bird behaviour.

What you need to do:
• Find the location to install your blind – hopefully in a location with a great concentration of wading birds
• Get into position without being seen
• Be patient and be quiet
• Compose and take the shots

The Great Blue Heron flying into the tunnel. Photographed from the car used as a blind, close to marsh habitat, approximately from a 10 m distance, middle of a rainy day, full frame. No waiting time to get this shot, spotted the bird from the car, as the heron was most likely trying to get cover from the rain. Stopped, turned off the engine, positioned the camera and started shooting. After a few frames, the heron decided it was too much of a disturbance and flew in the ‘tunnel’ – in reality a bridge structure. Camera Gear: Canon 1Ds Mark II, 500mm F4 IS, 1.4 extender, handheld, Flash, Flash Extender

You can also read the: What do pulling weights and bird photography have in common? for a perplexing story of a small wading bird – the Green Heron.

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