Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

April 24, 2009

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

There are probably more Least Bitterns around Arizona (and other places) than people realize. They are the smallest of our heron family and they lead a mostly secret life among the dense vegetation at the edges of ponds where few people get to poke around.

This was a special bird for me and many others at the Gilbert Water Ranch back in January of 2006 when it could often be seen early in the morning near one part of a large pond, and I got to see it on many visits that winter. Taking photos of it was another matter, however. I usually got to see it from a long way away, or when the light was very low.

But on this one morning I found the bittern out on the open, and it even stayed put as I very carefully pushed through some shrubs to get into camera position. At the time I had only the Nikon D70, and with thee 300/2.8 mounted with the TC20E 2x converter I needed ISO 800 to get an exposure of 1/15th second at f/8, with -2/3rd ev compensation dialed in to the exposure. These are pretty marginal settings to be using (ISO 800 brings out noise in the image; 1/15th second is way too slow for 600mm optics and a wild bird), so I wasn’t expecting a lot from this. I did what I could to improve my odds: I was using a very capable Gitzo carbon fiber tripod; I locked down all the movements; I used my hands to help dampen any vibration from the shutter; I took multiple shots.

I’m very happy with these results, but I did need to use NoiseWare with Photoshop to tame the noise in the background of the image.

I know there are people who would prefer a much tighter composition: more bittern and less habitat. But for me a lot of the pleasure in this image comes from the setting as it helps tell the story of these secretive birds’ lives. I like the  interplay of the dark greens and golds in the reflections, and I like the colors and textures of the bent and broken reeds.

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