Every year we get at least one cooperative Great Blue Heron that likes to frequent a certain local park. Green Herons, on the other hand, only show up seemingly every other year at that park…but when they do, boy can they ever be cooperative too. A couple of years ago, one made its hunting territory in a certain narrow and shallow part of a pond that gets a good amount of minnows and other small fish crossing through. Day after day for a few weeks this Green Heron could be found at, or near, this area hunting for fish, frogs, or large insects. Lots of images were taken, by lots of people…and every time it plucked a small wriggling fish out of the water I had a specific image in mind that I wanted to attempt…
This little fella was crazy tame, allowing people to basically approach it standing upright. Seeing how tame it was, and how productive it was at fishing, my idea was going for a tight head portrait with a fish dangling at the tip of its’ bill. The Green Heron is a rather small heron, so that meant keeping the 500mm f/4 and 1.4 TC on more maximum magnification. A low approach was a must for two main reasons: the background was rather ugly and distracting, so staying low threw the background into a more pleasing out-of-focus soft blur; and the other reason being that I almost always strive to photograph my subjects at their eye level for more intimate views of them.
These guys are quick to consume their prey if it is small, therefore no time to fiddle with focus at the time of the action. Pre-focussing was key here. With the heron’s face being large in the frame, it was a bit of a hit-and-miss to get it back properly framed after it plunked down to the water then raised its head again, prey in bill, but being pre-focussed helped keep some of that precious short time on my side. Many times once I had the subject in the frame it was already too late to get it with the fish at bill-tip…most often having already worked it down the bill (or already consumed it!). A few close calls, one of which I quite like:
Green Heron with prey, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/640s., f/7.1, ISO 800.
I like the image above, a lot, but it was not 100% what I had in mind. Keeping persevering I witnessed and photographed many catches. Some could have been good but with the heron looking away, or the prey item not placed like I had in mind, were not keepers. After a few hours (and a couple of visits) I finally had the catch I was patiently waiting for! Perfect head angle, good background, excellent prey item dangling from the tip of the bill just as I had hoped for! It must have been funny seeing me lying on the ground pointing such a large lens so close (approx. 15 feet away) to a cooperative and relatively large subject (compared to songbirds). The time and effort well worth it, I think, and in the end I got the image I had pre-visualized 😎
Green Heron with prey, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/1250s., f/7.1, ISO 800.