Scouting the Mallards, and Going Tight.

Hey guys and gals, welcome to my brand new blog!  This is my second try at one, and now with a few more internet years under my belt I know better what to do and expect.  So to make a long story short, let’s begin!

My first entry is photographing over-wintering ducks.  Most areas that have these are mostly over-run by Mallards and a few American Black Ducks, but it is very crucial to carefully scout these flocks.  Many times a surprise may be lurking there, and often that means an over-wintering duck OTHER than a mallard – and one that will likely stick around for a few weeks at least.  These are often species that are usually hard to approach, but seemingly feel the safety in numbers by hanging out with the many mallards.  Best of all, if you are lucky and find a drake (male), winter is the best time of year for peak breeding plumage for most ducks!

Northern Shoveler, male, breeding plumage

Northern Shoveler, Canon 7D + 500mm f4 II + 1.4TC, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/1600s., f/8, ISO 800.

The main challenge in photographing over-wintering ducks within those many mallards is to get them isolated in the frame, let alone get a clear view.  The best way, and my favorite, is to keep the big lens (and teleconverter if needed) on and go for tight portraits.  Many of these will come in for food so getting close is often not a problem.  Going close puts those magnificent breeding colours on display.

American Wigeon, Canon 7DII + 500mm f/4, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/1250., f/8, ISO 800.

Both the Northern Shoveler and the American Wigeon above had Mallards either just out of the frame, or even obstructing their back halves, but we would be hard pressed to tell that they were not alone by going in for these tight portraits.  This winter we have been lucky with a Northern Pintail joining in the winter fowl fun, and by using the same strategy I was able to get a few beautiful intimate portraits of it too.  Tip:  For close portraits such as these you will want to stop down the aperture, if possible, as the depth of field is “shallower” the closer the subject is to the lens and you may risk getting the flanks or other areas soft and out of focus.  Out of focus areas, apart from the head, are normally not a problem for full body images, but this become prominent and possibly distracting for close ups.  Closing the aperture at least 1 stop is normally good enough.

Northern Pintail, Canon 7DII + 500mm f/4, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/1000s., f/7.1, ISO 800.

Diving ducks may even show up.  The Common Goldeneyes are expected and are numerous here during the winter months, but once in a while we get something unusual and uncommon (for here) such as a Harlequin Duck.  Food can be used for them too, but not in an expected way!   A couple of winters ago I tried photographing such a Harlequin Duck, but the mallards kept getting in the way.  The strategy I used was to throw food (cracked corn is best, please do not use bread) as far to my side as I could.  This drove ALL of those to the food, and since Harlequin Ducks are not interested in the same food as dabbling ducks it stayed put and right out in the open by itself for clear close ups.

Harlequin Duck, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/400s., f/5.6, ISO 800.

The same strategy was used for this Pied-billed Grebe too:

Pied-billed Grebe, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/250s., f/5.6, ISO800.

Sometimes just simply being at the right place at the right time gets you the shot.  This Common Goldeneye emerged directly in front of me, but by being tight on it permitted me to excluded the mallards that were wandering around below and to the left of the frame.  For most of the diving ducks keeping down low, preferably laying down, will get them to come closer as they are normally wary and will keep their distance if your presence is too prominent by staying upright.  I was lying at the edge of the ice for this image of the Common Goldeneye:

Common Goldeneye, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/1600s., f/7.1, ISO 400.

As you can see, next time you come across a flock of wintering Mallards scan the group carefully, or return periodically to see if something else has shown up and decided to stick around.  At best you may add a new species of waterfowl to your archives, or at the very least be able to create good tight portraits of those Mallards – they are not always as evil as we make them out to be!

Mallard, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/500s., f/8, ISO 800.



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  1. Tim Carey March 12, 2016 at 7:42 pm #

    Excellent article, Daniel, with many useful tips and first class photos. My only comment was that I found the dark text hard to read, especially after looking at the bright photos. Otherwise a very good start to your project. Well done!

    • Daniel Cadieux March 12, 2016 at 9:21 pm #

      Hi Tim, thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the feedback!

  2. Tony Whitehead March 13, 2016 at 4:46 am #

    Love it, Dan. Great tips and love your bird images as always. Good advice from Tim on text colour. Looking forward to more posts. Tony.

    • Daniel Cadieux March 13, 2016 at 7:17 am #

      Thanks a stack Tony! I will take a look at the text colour.

  3. Cindy March 13, 2016 at 8:55 am #

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

  4. RIchard Gollar March 13, 2016 at 10:33 pm #

    Your images are really top notch. Looking forward to your photos and learning.

  5. Ross Taylor March 14, 2016 at 9:00 am #

    This is great Daniel! Thanks for sharing your experience and awesome photos 🙂 I will follow this blog on my RSS reader Feedly. – Ross

    • Daniel Cadieux March 14, 2016 at 4:45 pm #

      Hi Ross, thank you for checking it out! See you soon….

  6. Terry Lee April 3, 2016 at 8:49 pm #

    Hi Daniel,

    I’m looking at your Blog on my iPad and the images aren’t sharp at all, totally unlike the beautiful photos I see on Facebook. Is there a setting I might to to adjust or do you have any suggestions? I’m looking forward to reading regularly.

    • Daniel Cadieux April 4, 2016 at 6:51 am #

      Hi Terry, thank you for the feedback, when things don’t look as they should I am happy to know about it so I can find a fix! The images on my blog and website should look better than on facebook. Everything looks fine over here, including my ipad. I’ve tweaked a setting…not sure if that worked or not. Please do let me know if things have improved.

    • Terry Lee April 16, 2016 at 12:23 am #

      Sorry for the late response. Yes, big improvement. The photos are very sharp. Thanks.

  7. Steve Constable April 4, 2016 at 3:29 pm #

    Great tips and suggestions Daniel. For students of the hobby like myself (a job for the lucky ones) it is nice to be able to access a great learning source. Most appreciative of your efforts.

    • Daniel Cadieux April 4, 2016 at 7:00 pm #

      Steve, thanks for taking a peek. I’m glad you find it useful. I do wish bird photography was a career for me, but it is the best hobby I can think of!

  8. Danielle Lefrançois July 8, 2016 at 5:00 pm #

    Daniel, bravo pour tes superbes photos et tes bons conseils.

    J’aime beaucoup les canards moi aussi, surtout le canard branchu!

    • Daniel Cadieux July 8, 2016 at 7:11 pm #

      Merci beaucoup pour les compliments. Les branchu sont assez spéciales! Surtout en automne (septembre-octobre). Très approachable à Mud Lake…..

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