Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens, tripod, ISO 200, 1/2500th second at f/5.6, -1 stop exposure compensation
The horribly hot weather continues in Phoenix so I’m posting from my backlog instead of from recent field trips. This Snowy Egret was a very cooperative subject at the Gilbert Water Ranch on March 20 of this year.
There are plenty of egrets at the Water Ranch most of the time, and early in the morning and sometimes late in the afternoon a visitor might find scores of them feeding in a single shallow pool. Great Egrets dominate such gatherings, but there are usually some smaller Snowies taking part in the action. They make for an interesting scene, but I’ve never figured out a good way to capture a large group in a single image.
More often I will see one or two Snowy Egrets feeding in one of the smaller, more photogenic, ponds, and I’ll have the opportunity to take a lot of shots as these birds feed or run or just stand around.
What I rarely see at the Water Ranch, though, is an egret in a tree or shrub where I can get a close clean photo. But earlier this year I started noticing this attractive bird spending time in a shrub at pond 5, not far from the main trail. On this visit I decided to see if I could get my clumsy tripod rig into a good position for a photo, so I began a slow approach with the D300, 300/2.8 and 2x mounted on my Gitzo tripod. Getting into position was difficult as the ground slopes down from the trail, with many other shrubs partially blocking access. So it was necessary to lift, push, and tug the tripod through the tangle and hope that the egret didn’t take flight. After each incremental move forward I would see what sort of composition I could get, take a number of shots with variations in composition, position, and exposure, and then make another small move forward.
The real surprise was that the egret didn’t feel threatened by all this and stayed put. I got close enough to take off the trusty 2x and shoot with the 300 alone. And since the bird was so cooperative I figured I might as well reduce the ISO to the minimum setting of 200 as I had plenty of light to keep a high shutter speed while still stopping down two stops on the lens. I was able to dial in the proper exposure (gotta love digital and the histogram available on the camera LCD for this), and then keep close watch on the egret’s head position so the eye caught the light correctly.