The Story Behind the Image 12 – Hunting Heron in Silhouette

I have not posted a “Story Behind the Image” in a while, but after a few requests this reminded me it was time for a new one.  New story, but of an oldie, one of my personal favorites.  I included one of the images in the “Silhouettes” blog post from a while back, if you wish to check back for a couple of tips there.

One early summer morning I arrived at one of my favorite local ponds, right at sunrise.  While scouting the area I saw a Great Blue Heron posing majestically tall in shallow water.  There was, however, and ugly man-made structure directly behind it.  For me this negated the opportunity except for two exceptions:  tight front-lit close-ups, or swinging around to the other side for possible silhouettes.  Since I had “only” a 100-400mm lens at that time, and the heron a little too far for tight portraits, I walked around to see what the scene looked like from the opposite side…the colour was beautiful and the scene clean…and I was standing right next to that ugly structure so it only shows that simply moving around can get rid of big distracting stuff to make it look “wilder” than it actually was 🙂

I then aligned myself for two things:  to get the brightest and most vivid oranges into the frame, and then also to keep a few distractions that were poking up through the water out of the frame.

Usually, if not always when confronted with silhouettes, dialing the settings to obtain a solid black subject is a good place to start.  Sometimes you may want to keep some detail in those blacks to then fully blacken during post-processing – this helps with keeping details in paler areas of the frame, if needed.  Just as I was dialing in the settings for silhouettes, the heron began to hunt for minnows in the otherwise perfectly calm water.  What resulted was an amazing series of water splashes and reflections that were (and still are) unlike anything I had photographed before, with these two being my favorites:

Great Blue Heron, Canon 40D + 100-400L @400mm, aperture priority, evaluative metering, 1/1600s., f/7.1, ISO 400, 0 EC.

Great Blue Heron, Canon 40D + 100-400L @400mm, aperture priority, evaluative metering, 1/1600s., f/7.1, ISO 400, 0 EC.

Talk about luck having the heron hunting just at that opportune time.  The heron spent about 10 minutes fishing from this very spot.  Every 30 seconds or so I would let off a sequence of images, timed with it striking of the water.  Time of the bottom image is 6:24 AM, top image 6:26 AM.  It was barely half an hour after sunrise and I felt like I had a day’s worth of great images to process.  This shows the importance of getting to a location early – before the crowds and before the harsh light.  Lots of birds are very active first thing in the morning too, so you get additional chances at cool action.

The last thing I remember from that session is heading out of the park at about 9:30AM to go back home, and crossing a group of photographers that were just arriving, them asking me if there was anything good to photograph, to which I giddily replied “Oh yeah!  But that was 3 hours ago!”

Keen-eyed readers will note the use of Aperture Priority in the exif described under the images, which was the mode I preferred back then.  If there is one thing I would change and highly suggest today is to go to full manual mode in a situation like this.  Although AV worked well for me that time, going manual would ensure an exact same exposure for all frames taken during the encounter.  Accidentally metering in a different spot while in Aperture Priority would have changed the exposure – not good.

During post-processing, after converting the raw files into tifs, all that was to be done were small crops to help the compositions, deepen the blacks to get a solid shape out of the heron, add saturation to the oranges, and remove a few spots in the water that I felt were extraneous.

In ending this blog post, I know which of the two images is my favorite…which one is yours?



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  1. Holly July 26, 2017 at 8:52 pm #

    They are both amazing photos. I like the bottom image best, the shape between the heron and its reflection in the water adds to an already amazing image.

    • Daniel Cadieux July 27, 2017 at 6:11 am #

      Hi Holly, thank you for the comment! The bottom one is my favorite as well 🙂

  2. Peter July 27, 2017 at 5:30 pm #

    I prefer the top image, primarily because the splash pattern is beautifully rendered via the silhouette style, and it seems unlike other splash patterns. Both images are spectacular.

    • Daniel Cadieux July 29, 2017 at 2:27 pm #

      Peter, thank you very much! Although I prefer the other, they are both pretty close. Glad you like them.

  3. Arthur Morris September 29, 2017 at 8:28 am #

    Hey Dan, Both are superb but for me it it the top image by a mile. The splash pattern is far stronger and the fact that it encircles the head is 100% amazing. with love, artie

    • Daniel Cadieux October 1, 2017 at 1:36 pm #

      Hi Artie, thanks for dropping by. I’ve flip flopped a few times on which I like best, but I do love the splash encircling the face in the first as well.

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