Anatomy of a photo #65: Hermit Thrush portrait

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Often times when I head out on kayak photography excursions I will put the kayak in the water while it is still dark, or just getting light. This way I can capture not just the changing light of the day and the sunrise, but also all sorts of wildlife that only shows itself at dawn or dusk. Some of the time I will leave the water and head home by 11 or 12, but other times I will make a full day of it, kayaking from sunrise til sunset.

On these longer days, I will have brought food with me, it could be something simple like a sandwich or a burrito, or often I will bring a camp stove with me, and create a meal while I am out there. Never anything too complicated, but it gives me an excuse to leave the water in the afternoon when the lighting is not so good, find a shady sheltered place, and to relax for a couple of hours, perhaps taking a nap.

That is how I found this hermit thrush one afternoon, when the sun was high overhead, and making it very difficult to take on the water photographs. I had eaten my lunch of freshly cooked cous cous and Indian food, and was stretched out on a grass matt (got to love all that storage space on a kayak, and how easy it is to bring along simple amenities) in the shade, when I noticed this small bird hoping through the nearby detritus that had washed up on shore.

It would hop for a pace or two, pause, and cock its head. Some of the time it felt like it was investigating me, the big new thing sprawled on its beach, but mostly it just seemed to be looking for seeds and tidbits that may have been washed there by the sea, or blown down from the trees above our heads. Being me, I stealthily pulled out my camera which naps next to me, and started to take its portrait.

Between hops, it would cock its head

The deep shadow was both a blessing and a curse. It made me ramp my ISO to dangerous levels, where I was courting with greatly increased noise, but it also gave me very even lighting, which is great for capturing detail and not losing anything to blocked up shadows or blown out highlights. As you can tell, no details are really lost in dark shadows, the bird is there in detail.

Part of why I had to crank the ISO up to 800 is that I wanted a high shutter speed (1/500) for this hermit thrush, because its movements are so quick. At lower shutter speeds more of its movement should have been blurred. Similarly the aperture is relatively wide open to maintain this fairly faster shutter speed. But I like open apertures anyways for the short depth of field that they give.

You’ll notice in most of the compositions that the thrush is on one side of the frame or the other. This gives the image a better flow.

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 Anatomy of a photo, birds, How to, kayak photography, nature photography, photography, SLR, wildlife photography and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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