A Great Blue Heron suddenly appears from your right, flying at eye level right above beautiful marsh habitat, and crosses in front of you perfectly parallel to the camera. You fire off a series of 12 images, each one being sharp, well exposed, and needing but a slight crop to help the composition. For many that can bring on an unexpected predicament: which one(s) to post-process? One option is to keep and process them all, but that is rather redundant IMO. Better, cull them and keep the best half. But again, which ones to keep? Best, cull them all but the very best one, or perhaps a second one too.
Taking the very situation above, I have culled the initial series of twelve down to the four that had the best background. Four varying wing positions, and a single one I want to keep for my files (and did), but processed the four of them for this blog post to discuss why. Looking at the four images above, I knew immediately which one was best to keep, and by a mile. None of them are “that bad”, but one is a standout to me. Let’s take a closer look at them (all taken with the following gear and settings: Canon 7DII + 500mm f4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/2000s., f/5.6, ISO 800):
- Slight down stroke
Better than the full “pancake” wing position (wings spread flat, like a small airplane), which is the worst IMO. Still not quite to my liking though. Had this been a rare bird for me, or a personal first ever sighting of this species, and this was the only image I had managed of it, then I’d keep this frame. Otherwise, it’s a “delete” for me. A few extra grasses crossing the head and neck also help me in making this one bound for the trash can.
2. Bent wing
The heron is perfectly sharp, and nicely parallel to the back of the camera. But the wings are bent at the joint. It is an awkward position to me. Yes, that is a natural bend but artistically this just does not speak to me. Some may like it, but for me this is a bad wing position, especially when you have others to choose from. Instant delete for me.
3. Slight up stroke
This one is the same vain as image #1, and another that I would only keep only in those same conditions. OK, but not ideal. Had the wings been extended fully up, my second favorite position, then I would have kept it no matter if there was a better wing position or not in the series. I wish I had a “full up stroke” in this series, but the heron was not in full power-flight and thus never extended its wings up so high. The background is better here and less distracting around the face area. Still, this is a “delete” for me in this particular case.
4. Full down stroke
Ahh, now we’re talking! Hands down my favorite wing position for a bird flying relatively parallel to the back of the camera, beating only the full up stroke. This beautifully shows the full thickness of the wings. We can clearly see all primaries, secondaries, and tertials. The textures, patterns and colour variations are better defined. We get a full sense of the power of flight, making the image a much more dynamic one. As an added bonus, the face is clear of distracting grasses, and the bill is slightly open, adding yet another point of interest.
So that is my reasoning in culling images in a series. Choosing to keep only one, maybe two, of the best in a sequence of flight images. Do you agree, or not? Which one do you like best?