I Have Returned. Hey, Where is Everybody?

So this is that morning thing everyone talks about. After waiting in the cold and dark, I realized that all the local birds were smarter than me, and had wisely hit the snooze alarm a couple of times, so I contented myself with a landscape image.

Got up at 3:30 AM so I could get my son to the airport by 5:30 AM for his 7:30 AM flight. Got to Bolsa Chica wetlands right around 6:00 AM, having apparently found THE thirty minutes when the 405 freeway is not bummer-to-bummer. It was dark. I was alone. Why did the photographers with the giant lenses and tripods arrive so much later? Because they know what they are doing.

I walked and shot for about three hours, and here are some of the lessons from my return visit:

If you arrive at a location and get completely set up long before sunrise, congratulations. You now get to wait in the cold and dark until there is enough light to take a picture. Or to see a subject. Or find out what you just stepped in.

It’s surprising how quickly the day goes from not enough light to too much light (especially with a lot of egrets around). By 8:00 AM the contrast was brutal.

All my images of this life and death moment lack drama. Why? These shots were taken shortly after sunrise, in a shadowy area, so I had to use slow shutter speeds and wide apertures. The action shots of the egret shaking the fish were therefore blurry.

Anyone can get a picture of a big bird posing. A patient, determined photographer can get a picture of a bird doing something. A lucky photographer can get a picture of a bird doing something really unnatural, like endorsing Texas textbook standards.

A good opportunity for which I was not ready. I hate out of focus images, but I cannot resist a graceful bird looking goofy.

I also learned that just because I prefer to photograph Great Blue Herons does not mean they will arrive for the shoot. I’m told it’s the same thing with nude women. I’m going to leave the studio door slightly ajar just in case.

The biggest lesson from today’s shoot came not at the wetlands, but here at the computer.  I realized I had about 150 boring pictures and six that I kinda, sorta like. I probably have twenty decent images of the egret with the fish, yet none were really compelling.  I just picked one because it was nice to have a picture of an egret doing something other than posing. If vision is my greatest photographic weakness, editing is surely my second greatest area for improvement. (I’ve gone too long without sleep. I wanted to write something about raising my standards, but I could only think of Pat Paulson’s campaign slogan: “I’ve upped my standards; now up yours!”)

Too often, I think, "It's only a gull," or "it's only a crow," when I should be looking at the light.

I did enjoy the morning light, and the landscape shot reminds me that one of the easiest ways to make beautiful photos is to go to beautiful places and look for beautiful light.

For those who care about such things, all images were shot with a Nikon D300 and 70-200 F2.8 lens. Another great lesson of the day was that I could walk around with that rig (and the vertical battery grip) very comfortably for hours because I am now using the BlackRapid RS-4 camera strap. It’s the most comfortable camera carry system I’ve ever owned.

On my way back to the car, this egret offered me some consolation shots. I gratefully accepted.


Filed under Camera Settings, Lighting, Nature Photography, Post Processing

4 responses to “I Have Returned. Hey, Where is Everybody?

  1. myrna

    hey … good stuff … the egret is rather “artsy”

    uh oh!


  2. gailn

    I want to call the last shot “self-contemplation”.

  3. Tina Horton

    I liked the pictures and the commentary. What is the timeframe on that open studio door? 🙂

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