Image of the Week

Northern Pintail

Image of the Week

Bird Photography – Northern Pintail

Image Considerations

This northern pintail image was taken at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I try to go there at least a couple times a year. It is the winter home to literally millions of waterfowl, so if you enjoy bird photography, there are not many better places to visit.

Once you get familiar with a location like this, you get to know some special spots where birds will be consistently. This log is one of my special locations that I spend time at. Every time I have gone, there is at least one bird posing on the log. Although the images on this log have always been worth the effort, I have not felt they reached the potential of the location.

In this case, everything finally came together while I was there. One bird posing nearly perfectly. The air was almost perfectly still, so there was little to no ripple on the water. The background was a wonderful combination of colors and tones. There was just enough cloud cover to defuse the mid-day sun.

All of these things came into play to turn this natural setting into an outdoor studio.

Image Lighting

The refuge is fairly large and can be crowded on the auto tour. Depending on the level of activity of people and animals, it can take me 2-4 hours to drive the loop while taking photos. This can make for widely varying light conditions through the day.

This was taken just after mid-day with a light cloud cover. The clouds helped to filter the light. This particular spot has no trees or other cover that creates shadows to try and avoid. Also thanks to the clouds and minimal breeze, there were no ripples or light reflections on the water.

Camera and Settings

I shot this with my Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 100-400 lens with Canon 1.4x extender. This gives me a range of 560mm. Even though I was in my car when capturing this image, I still used my RSS monopod. I find that even when sitting, I can use it to absorb the weight of the camera for a more stable shooting environment. In these situations, I may be watching my subject for 20 minutes or more, so this type of support allows me to keep focused on the subject longer.

With the 1.4x extender, the minimum f-stop for this lens becomes f/8. With the light conditions, I wanted the aperture wide open for light. Given the northern pintails proximity to the background reeds, DOF was not really a consideration.

  • 560mm focal length
  • f/8 aperture
  • 1/800th exposure
  • +0.3 exposure bias
  • 800 ISO

Editing Inspiration

Given the natural beauty of the northern pintail and overall scene, I had no desire for a more artistic edit. Staying true to the natural look was the goal, while working to emphasize the environment and giving focus to the northern pintail.

This image became part of a mentorship group I have been involved with for several years. As part of this, I received multiple iterations of feedback starting with my initial edit. Various people in our group gave me valuable feedback on what they saw, and suggestions on possible ways to enhance the image. With each editing iteration, the image evolved into something better than the previous version.

These feedback loops could go on for quite some time if you let them and if others are willing to keep going. After three iterations, I felt like the image was what it was meant to be.

If you ever have the opportunity to participate in a small group mentorship, I would HIGHLY encourage it. I know it has done amazing things for not only my skills, but also my confidence level with my work.

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