During an early morning visit to Hendrie Valley last fall I was fortunate to come across an egret preening in some softer light. Lighting like this is helpful when photographing white birds in terms of capturing more feather details. This article discusses some of the decisions that I made when capturing these photographs, and also when I was working on them in post.
All of the images in this article were captured handheld using an E-M1X, M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom lens with an M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter, using a focal length of 560 mm (efov 1120 mm).
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
The photograph above is a full frame capture without any cropping done to the image. I initially tried a vertical composition in order to capture some of the egret’s reflection across the bottom of the frame. As you can see I used ‘rule of thirds’ composition technique with the egret’s legs and head positioned about 1/3 in from the left and right sides. It’s outstretched wing is roughly 1/3 down from the top of the composition.
Whenever I photograph static birds I capture short image bursts to get a selection of photographs with subtle differences in body position. Having a selection of images helps to reduce the risk of capturing an image when a bird’s reticulating membrane may be covering its eye, or other distracting issues are present. In the image above we can see that the egret pulled its left wing in slightly which was more conducive to a vertical composition. Unfortunately its eye is not visible which would be a deal breaker for most photographers.
The egret moved the position of its head which made its eye fully visible, and also created some nice contrast of its bill against the white feather details on the underside of its wing. I used the lasso tool in PhotoShop to remove some small twigs on the left-hand edge of the photograph. To help focus eye flow on the egret’s head and wing I cropped the top of the photograph slightly.
After capturing a small assortment of vertical compositions I switched to a landscape orientation. My goal was to commit more pixels to the feather details on the underside of the egret’s outstretched wing. As with the previous image, I used the lasso tool to remove some twigs from the composition. In this case they were along the bottom edge, as well as a triangular twig reflection on the left hand side. I was then able to use the thicker branch on the left hand side to help direct eye flow towards the egret’s right wing.
In the photograph above the egret’s head is focused down towards the bottom right hand corner of the frame. Leaving the reflecting twigs in the composition made sense to me in this instance as they provided a target for the egret’s gaze. Choosing to remove elements in a photograph comes down the personal taste of a photographer and how they want to interpret their image.
The next two images show two consecutive images that are almost identical. The first one contains a small amount of wing and body reflection at the bottom of the composition.
If a photographer finds some elements to be distracting in an image, using the lasso tool in PhotoShop (I’m sure other software would have similar functions) enables a photographer to get in very tight to remove the distractions. When we compare the image above to the one that follows we can see the differences between the two photographs.
Creating the photographs in this article under softer, diffused light helped to avoid blowing out details on the egret’s white feathers. I used one of my custom pre-sets in DxO PhotoLab 4, then added a touch of micro-contrast to help enhance feather details.
I always use the DxO Smart Lighting Spot Weighted tool with all of my photographs. In the case of the photographs in this article, I placed a good sized box over the egret’s body and wing and used a ‘slight’ strength setting. This helped to balance out the exposure on the egret and uncover slightly more feather details.
I exported a DNG file into PhotoShop CS6 and made some minor adjustments in that program. The most important ones were to darken the highlights and the black in the image. Then, I used the white slider to brighten up the bird’s body and wing. I took the white level to just below where a highlight clipping warning would appear.
The photograph above was my favourite egret preening image captured during that visit. By utilizing pulse shooting I was able to capture an image with the egret’s bill open while it was in the act of preening. I find small details like this can help add interest to a photograph.
I left all of the twigs in the composition visible as they helped to add some contrast and formed a base for the photograph. To my eye, they also help to create some triangular shaping to help direct a viewer’s eye upward towards the head and outstretched wing of the bird. Since these photographs were captured earlier in the morning I didn’t mind the slight bluish cast on egret’s body and feathers.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are noted. This is the 1,123 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.
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