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So which photo do you like best? The sitting duck or the flying duck?

Back in April I was out on a lake with DV Wildlife Tours, and we saw some Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks in early morning warm light. The conditions were almost perfect. Sun at our back, wind at our back… so everything we saw had gorgeous early morning light on it. And when they did fly, they almost always took off and flew our direction.

I managed to grab a few photos of the ducks. One while it was perched on a tree, and another after it took flight. They each have something I like, but I’m interested to hear what you think and which one you like better in the comments.

f/4 | 1/3200th | ISO 1000
f/4 | 1/3200th | ISO 1000

The perched photo has some good eye contact. A nice background for the most part, though I did do some work in Photoshop to clean some distractions up a bit (I’ll post the “Before” photo at the bottom). It’s a little shadowy and my angle relative to the sun wasn’t perfect in this one. It’s dark in parts but the light was still so soft that the shadows aren’t harsh, and I’m okay with it.

The in-flight shot really shows off the wingspan and texture, and has a gorgeous blurry background. And still has that really nice warm light on the duck. And while the eye is there, I feel like it lacks the contact that the other photo has. But, I’m always a sucker for a good bird in flight too, and these guys fly pretty fast and are fairly small so they’re not easy to catch, and also to keep large enough in the frame to get a good sharable photo. (Thank you Sony a1!)

Settings

The settings are pretty typical. I used the Sony Alpha 1. On this particular day I had lent my Sony 200-600mm to my friend Susan who was with us, so I had to use the 600mm f/4. And I know you’re probably thinking “Poor Matt… you had to settle for your 600mm”. But believe it or not, I missed a lot of photos or clipped wings because sometimes we were just too close. I honestly would have preferred to use the 200-600mm, so I had some flexibility. And with Topaz DeNoise, I don’t worry much about ISO anymore, especially when it’s not really low light.

I was on Continuous focus mode with a Wide AF Area and evaluative metering (which I never change). The camera locked on the eye while the Duck was perched. But as usual, I’m not steady enough (especially as tightly cropped as I was) to allow the camera to track the eye in flight, so it locked on the head for the in-flight shot. 

The photo was processed in Lightroom Classic (didn’t take much since the light was so good). I used Topaz DeNoise for some minor noise reduction since the ISO was only at 1000. And DeNoise also sharpened it up a little too, so I usually skip a sharpening step if I’ve already done noise reduction. Finally, I used Photoshop’s Healing Brush and Content Aware Fill to clean up the background.

The Before Photo

Here’s the photo before I did any distraction removal in Photoshop. You can see I got rid of a bunch of branches on the left, and even matched the top right corner color to the rest of the background so that one spot didn’t stick out as much. This is all covered in my Wildlife Editing Secrets course by the way, in case you have it, or are interested in checking it out.

Which Do You Like Best?

So… do you feel like a sitting duck today or a flying one? 🙂 Let me know in the comments. Also, if you like these posts please do me a favor and share them with people you think may like them as well. I’ve done a very “soft” launch of this series, so you’ll notice I haven’t blasted it out to my big email list, etc… I’ve been trying to keep it small and intimate for now, but also trying to attract people who like this type of photography and format, since it’s different from my normal tutorial videos. Thanks!

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