Anatomy of a photo #27: Great blue heron, boats and mist Part I

Great Blue Heron on a boat. I'm using a long lens to be closer to the heron, but also to compress the composition

As I drive my local roads I am usually on the look out for interesting animals in interesting places, that are fairly accessible- i.e. safe place to park, I can get good views and angles without spooking the subject away, the light is coming from the direction I want, etc. I generally try to park a little up or down the road, as I find stopping right next to a wild animal will often be enough to spook it.

When I saw this Great Blue Heron I actually drove past it, even though there was good parking right there on the side of the road next to it. I knew there was good parking on the opposite side of the road (the side away from the heron and some what screened from view from it), so I drove down the road until I could turn around.

I parked and crossed the road where I couldn’t see the heron (which meant it couldn’t see me either), before walking very slowly into view. Once I knew it could see me, my movements were exaggeratedly slow. I moved similarly to how the herons themselves move when stalking prey, slowly lifting a leg and advancing it ahead of me, pausing before the next slow step. Great Blues are notoriously spooky when they are not actively hunting, so I wanted to take my time.

I was a fair distance down the road from where it approached the heron at its nearest point, so I had some time to think about different compositions. I saw several different boats that I could place in the background at different stages of the journey, but there is always something fun about the lines of a sailboat. From the distance I was at, and the spacing of the heron, the more distant boat, and the misted out far shore, a vertical (portrait) orientation of the photograph seemed the most pleasing for the lens I wanted to use- my 300mm with a 1.4x magnifier. This lens would give me the most detail on the bird, while not trying to bring in too much outside landscape detail. It would let me keep the composition fairly simple.

I walked until the heron was on the far right of the view, and the sail boat on the left. I didn’t want either of them centered in the image. I wanted it to flow. I kept them down low for a similar reason, but also because I wanted the entire mast of the sailboat to be in the image, with some space above it.

The lighting was a little tricky, as the sun hadn’t risen high enough to hit the heron yet, so I exposed for the more distant scene, turning the bird into what is more or less a silhouette, which is usually pretty fun and dramatic.

I had the aperture stopped down about halfway. This put the more distant sailboat into enough focus that you can tell what it is, but keeps it blurred enough that the sharp focus on the heron’s silhouette is what really grabs the audience.

The next blog post will be about pictures I took as I continued walking down the road and taking pictures of this same heron.

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
This entry was posted in birds, How To, nature photography, photography, portraits, road side, SLR, wildlife photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s