As I look through images, deciding what to use in my Anatomy of a Photo series, I notice more and more that many of my favorite wildlife images were taken either in deep shadow, or on foggy and cloudy days. The reason is simple- that natural lighting shows detail and definition. Nothing is lost to blocked up shadows or burned out highlights. It is not necessary to perform intensive HDR processes… the palatte is ready, it only requires capturing.
I photographed this Great Egret (Ardea alba) one day on a high tide, while kayaking the shores of Tomales Bay in northern California. It was feeding in a salt water marsh, that I normally would not have been able to paddle into, except that it was the spring tide, and the tidal slough I slipped into seemed more accessible than I had ever imagined.
The Egret stood there on the edge of the slough, wading through pickle weed and salt grass, as it hunted for tidbits discomfited or confused by having their habitat flooded. So focused was it on its hunt, that I am not entirely sure that it noticed me as I drifted by in my kayak, only a few feet away.
On sunny days, the white feathers of Great Egrets make them especially hard to photograph. If you expose for the Egret and its feathers, the surrounding world is underexposed…dark, muddy colors. If however you expose for the water, vegetation, fields, or trees that surround it, you loose all detail of the bird, because its features are all overexposed and burned away.
Enter the grey and foggy day… the contrast is not as great, and you can actually capture an Egret like this one with its natural habitat.
On gray days you do have to compensate for the lower light. This photograph was shot from my kayak handheld. To keep camera shake down with the long lens I was using (420mm) I had to bump the ISO up to 800, so that I could maintain a shutter speed of 1/640th of a second. (I like to shoot herons, egrets, and shorebirds at high shutter speeds, because when they move, they move very quickly). The aperture was f/8.0