Anatomy of a photo #41: The Willet walking away

Willet at Drake's Estero

I took this picture towards the end of a very long day of driving and hiking around Point Reyes National Seashore. I had woken up that morning to hear on the radio that the air quality was exceptionally clear, and knowing that it would be perfect for photography played hooky from my duties of the day. And it was worth it. However, one of my favorite images from that day didn’t have much to do with the air quality, since my subject was fairly close at hand and not far enough off to have its crispness affected by haze in the air. The only way that the air quality may have affected this image is the color of the sunlight hitting the Willet in this image, as it was nearly the end of the day and the sun was approaching the horizon.

I had made it down to one of the local beaches, and it was a low tide. Rocks were exposed, doting the shoreline, and the waves were washing the shore farther out, leaving a wide expanse of wet sand… which can be ideal conditions for reflections, if you crouch down low. On this day there were several shorebirds (no large flocks) running along this stretch of wet sand, trying to catch sand fleas, sand dabs, and whatever other tidbits were exposed by the low tide and the washing of the waves.

I watched them for a while, snapping a shot here and there before I did crouch down for a few shots. Not only does this help to grab reflections like the ones coming off of the Willet’s feet, but it is also a much more pleasing perspective to view the bird from in a photograph. It’s closer to viewing the bird from its own perspective, a more natural view. When photographing wildlife from fairly close by, try to get down to their level. Your photograph will usually be more pleasing.

I violated one of the tenets of modern photography with this picture. The subject is centered (gasps of horror and dismay), or nearly so. I did not employ the rule of thirds, I did not offset the subject to improve the “flow” of the audiences attention. I am ready for the razzing, the keel hauling, the chopping block, or other tortures you may dish out. I am unapologetic and will take your punishments with my head held high. There are times when rules must be dismissed.

While I think the composition may have been somewhat improved had I captured the willet at the top of the image, I enjoy how the beach blurs away into hinted reflection beyond. Also, with some fast moving wildlife such as shorebirds, it is simpler to use the center focusing points. That way you don’t risk losing parts of the subject off the edge of the picture.

1/1000 f8.0 ISO 320

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, nature photography, photography, shorebirds, wildlife photography and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Anatomy of a photo #41: The Willet walking away

  1. Donna says:

    I like your tips, Galen, and the beautiful capture. I did an image very similar to this in a post called Quakers Gone Wild. I would love for you to critique it. I too struggled with having the image centered, having other shots that were not. I conceded and thought the best view was to post the centered image. I think the caption says it all. Hope you get a chance to take a peek. I value your advice.

  2. animalartist says:

    All the rules go out the window with each good shot.

    I’m all for laying face down in wet sand to get the best reflection, and arranging for those beach blurs.

  3. I love everything about this image, the centering is wonderful as you get a true sense of where the bird has come from and where he’s going. It’s so vivid.

  4. Wonderful shot, not only of the willet but the reflections of light on the pebbles in the sand. Point Reyes is one of my favorite haunts for hiking, camping, wandering.

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