Here’s an interesting one I haven’t seen before. I was out shooting (with some new friends, Glee and Robert Finnegan) at Fort Desoto the other morning. We saw the Reddish Egrets doing their thing for well over an hour, but eventually it flew away and the light got pretty harsh. So we stopped by the pier on the way out because the action there can be amazing. You’re always battling the manmade backgrounds which is a problem, but still… every once in a while you get that amazing action shot and either the man-made stuff isn’t part of the photo or you can crop/clone it out.

Well, we saw some Snowies sitting on top of an ugly sun shelter looking thing on the pier (in the summer heat / sun, I’m pretty sure this shelter isn’t so ugly). They weren’t doing anything great, but it was a good chance to practice some in-flight shots as they came and went. But eventually, they all just sat there and didn’t move.

As I was standing there with Glee, I had a thought that goes back to something I used to keep in mind when shooting landscapes. Whenever something is moving in the scene, but the main subject is staying still, consider shooting it with a slower shutter speed. This works great for water, clouds, and fog, as slower shutter speeds give you a really interesting blurry look.

So I gave it a try on the Snowy and WOW! It was so cool! The wind was so strong that the feathers get blown around. But the egret is sitting still (mostly) so it’s sharp. Just like a landscape photo with fog rolling in. Whatever the landscape is would be sharp, but with a longer shutter speed (and a tripod) the fog would be blurry.

Sony Alpha 1 with the 200-600mm lens: f/20 | 1/60th | ISO 100
Just a zoomed in version of the photo above

How It’s Done

I used my Sony Alpha 1 with the 200-600m lens. I had my camera set to AF-C, though AF-S would have been fine here since it wasn’t moving much. I was using Zone Auto Focus (center position) and the Bird Eye feature was engaged at the time. Though it wouldn’t have made a difference, since the bird wasn’t moving and you could keep a focus point on it easily.

I was on Manual Exposure mode at f/20, Auto ISO which was at 100, and 1/60th sec. and handheld.

If you’re wondering how I got to those settings, it was totally trial and error. I rolled my shutter speed down to around 1/250th. The feathers still weren’t blurry enough. So I went slower and slower. But… as I used a slower shutter speed (letting more light in), I started to over-expose the photo since my Aperture was still wide open at f/6.3. So then I raised the aperture setting to f/20 (letting less light in). At that point I just kept making the shutter speed slower and slower until I got to 1/60th, which I thought looked good.

Now… At 1/60th while hand-holding my 200-600mm lens, I ended up with mostly blurry photos. I just can’t hand hold steady at that shutter speed with that big of a lens on (yes even with image stabilization on). And I don’t typically take my tripod with me to Ft Desoto, as it does more harm than good (for me personally).

But I kept shooting knowing that it only takes one shot – and I knew one would be in focus because I braced myself on the railing behind me. I took over 400 photos doing this, and this shot is the only one that won’t get deleted 🙂

Post processing was done in Lightroom for exposure, cropping, color and toning corrections.

As always my editing is covered in my Wildlife Editing Secrets Course. Also, you can find links to all of my gear, computers, hard drives, etc… over on the Gear page which can be clicked on in the top menu (or just click here). And it’s always appreciated if you use the links on that page (even if you’re not purchasing that specific item) when buying anything. It doesn’t cost you a penny and it’ll help me out a bit ?

And if you want to learn more about actually photographing the birds, check out my “Guide to Bird Photography”. People absolutely LOVE this course!

Takeaway Thoughts?

So what’s the point of all this? Well, it was just fun to experiment and do something different, that I think actually ended up with a cool shot. The light was mostly harsh, but at our back, so not too bad or shadowy. The birds weren’t doing anything amazing – but we still came away with a unique photo that’s very sharable, and I think that’s what it’s all about.



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