There is nothing blue about them. They are white, gray, black, and even some yellow and green but no blue. I’m talking about the misnamed Great Blue Heron. I guess one could say that the light grey takes on the look of a bluish gray but that is stretching it in my opinion. Great Blue is the largest of the Heron family and is considered a coastal wading bird, they are common along the East and West coast and in the Southern states of the United States.
The photo here with the adult feeding the young has special meaning to me as it was the first series of images I made of the Great Blue Heron. It was also the first time I photographed at 500mm focal length. The lens was a brand new Tamron 200-500 on an old rickety tripod and ballhead. The scene was actually quite dark with the sun at my back completely covered in clouds. Shutter speed was down to 1/160 or below and I was pretty much holding on for dear life trying to keep the camera steady watching the young pop up from the nest from time to time when all of a sudden the adult circled above my head and came in for a landing. I was in the right place at the right time and got one of the more memorable images of my life. All the feeding was over in remarkably short order and in moments the sun was completely obscured and fog rolled in. How did I know to find these birds? Well that part was pretty easy. In the parking lot of the reserve I followed the guy with the most expensive gear. Yup, he hiked in before sunrise about a mile with me trailing him, he set up and waited and I set up right behind him and waited, he didn’t say a word, I didn’t say a word. Many other photographers came by took a few shots and wandered off and not a single one of them got the feeding shots that we both did. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss and it pays to play follow the leader when you don’t know what you are doing.
I have photographed the Great Blue Heron many times over the years and in spite of their size they can be rather challenging to shoot. Every time out I do better than the time before but still I am often disappointed. Perhaps I trick myself into thinking that it is easier than it really is and get lazy about it all. Big slow-moving birds that have neutral colors, what more can you ask for? They tend to be shy and separate themselves from humans on a three-dimensional level (they always want to be higher or lower as well as distant) and that makes things extra tough. When they are hunting or hanging out in a tree these Herons will stand perfectly still for long periods of time so there is never a rush to get the shot just realize that you are going to be at a distance. The best literature I have read about photographing the Great Blue Heron is located on Moose Peterson’s website and rather than trying to repeat what he wrote I will link to that post and let you enjoy it in all it’s glory here.
It may just be bad memory but I think I am drawn to the Great Blue Heron from a sinister cartoon character in my childhood. Sometimes they just look like they are pondering some evil deed.
You can see more of my pictures at www.ronboyddesign.com
For years I have been trying to get close to a Great Blue Heron. They are one of my favorite birds but I have never really been able to get close as I would like to. For a long time, when I could see them in numbers, on a regular basis, there was a fence keeping humans away from their area. I could still get decent pictures but the Herons enjoyed that safe space and outside that area were very skittish towards people. A couple of years ago they all abandoned that nesting place and all but disappeared from the area. This last season I saw a couple of them here and there almost every time I was out. About four weeks ago I first saw my new pal in a place they usually don’t frequent but is a wonderful fishing spot that attracts many other birds. It kept its distance and I thought nothing much of it. When I saw that bird again last week things were different. It seems as though the fishing is so good there that it was becoming acclimated to humans.
That’s when I had the chance to make the picture you see. For the first time a Great Blue Heron allowed me to get within spitting distance and I was able to make one of the images I have been after for such a long time. I chose this particular image as the best. It is my favorite composition and I think the best way to compose portraits for long-necked birds. I think that in order to have great detail in the head and face it is impossible to make a full length portrait of this size bird, photographing just the head does not look natural because it crops in the neck and kind of makes the “floating head” effect, so what I like to do is place a portion of the body in the frame in one of the lower corners of the frame. This makes a very pleasing portrait that shows lots of detail in the head area. Depending on the size of the bird this can work out to be an 8×10 or 4×6, in portrait mode of course.
One of the things I love about shooting the cliffs of La Jolla Cove is the incredible backgrounds available, usually with the blue ocean blurred out even when stopped down. This was not La Jolla but when I saw the bird fly to a very small cliff and look out to the water I knew things were getting even better. As you can see this background is classic and flawless, no retouching either. Just one regret with this photo. It was shot before golden hour by just a little bit. If the time had been deep into golden hour the colors would have been a little more vivid and our subject bit golden. There was however a bit of a haze rolling in about the time of this shot and that helped soften the sunlight a bit and things worked out just fine.
Thanks for reading. You can see more pictures at www.ronboyddesign.com.