Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

November 10, 2009

Mockingbird Variations


Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

Photographers seek out early morning light for many reasons: most photographers and viewers light the “warm” look of light when the sun is low on the horizon; the light is of lower contrast early in the morning than when the sun gets higher (of major importance here in the desert where the light can be very harsh from the excessive contrast); birds and other nature subjects are often most active just after dawn.

I had started my walkabout at the Gilbert Water Ranch just after dawn, and I didn’t get very far along the first trail when I came upon one of the resident Northern Mockingbirds. These birds apparently maintain a territory year round as I find them in essentially the same spots at the Water Ranch whenever I visit.

This mockingbird found a nice branch where the early morning light lit him up almost like a spotlight, and it almost glowed to my eyes. I spread the legs of my tripod, composed and focused, and took a number of shots while the bird and the light cooperated.


Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

I started with horizontal compositions, then as I moved a bit closer (avoiding standing in the prickly vegetation along the trail) I rotated the camera for some verticals as well.


Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

The three images I’ve included with this post were taken over a three minute interval, from 7:18 am to 7:21 am. The light really didn’t change over that short period, but I did vary my camera settings a bit. I used the spot meter on the mockingbird’s breast with -1/3rd stop compensation dialed in. ISO was 400 for all shots. Shutter speed was either 1/250th or 1/350th second, while aperture was either f/8 or f/9.

I’ve posted these three images with my favorite on top and my least favorite at the bottom – exactly opposite from the order in which I processed them. They show some variation in color cast and lightness: the result of processing each individually until an image “looks right” to my eye. Such subjectivity is both a blessing and a curse of digital photography: a blessing to those who see photography more as an Art and want to interpret whatever they see; a curse to those whose primary goal is faithful reproduction of what is seen in the natural world.

I try to make my images as close to what I saw as possible, and if that isn’t possible then as close to “natural looking” as I can. The first means getting exposure and white balance correct at the time of exposure; the second means relying on years of field experience looking at birds.

I keep the white balance in my cameras set on Automatic, letting the camera figure out the color temperature of the light I’m working under rather than guessing at it in the field or later in raw conversion. For the bottom two images here I left the white balance alone in raw conversion and when I move the image into photoshop to finish it up. But when I got to the top image I decided the mockingbird looked a bit too yellow, so I added a Color Balance adjustment layer in photoshop and added blue to the midtones with the slider. But I didn’t want to completely neutralize the warm look of morning so I was careful how much blue I added.

I like the top image best because: the position of the bird adds interest as it mimics the leaves and twigs around it; the space seems better balanced; the yellow of the light is under control.

I like the space around the mockingbird in the horizontal composition. I’m also intrigued by how the foreshortened look of the bill from the slightly turned head makes this bird look almost like a Townsend’s Solitaire.

Please let me know if you have a preference in any of these shots and why.





1 Comment »

  1. Rich,

    I think all of the images are marvelous, the early morning light did make the mockingbird seem to glow and the setting is very appealing.

    If I had to pick a favorite it would be the first image because of the pose with the head slightly tilted downward, as if the mocking bird were curious about the man behind the lens. I love the laciness of the foliage, the blue sky in the background and the way the light is hitting the bird’s chest and eye.

    As usual; all of the timages have your thumbprint on them and the techs looks wonderful.

    Comment by Mia — November 10, 2009 @ 6:47 pm

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