Because I live far from my family and have no children at home my yearly Thanksgiving tradition includes spending a part of my day out photographing birds, mostly early morning outings. This morning I did get out to photograph but I came home “skunked”. There are low heavy clouds here today but even worse, there were no birds close enough to even do low light bird photography. Well my tradition was not broken, I did go regardless of being skunked.
Low light Sanderling in breeding plumage – D200, handheld, laying on the sand, f6.3, 1/500, ISO 400, Nikkor 70-300mm VR at 300mm, natural light
I firmly believe that fine quality, compelling images can be taken in low light. Yes, most of the time bird photographers desire that “sweet light” so often spoke of, but there are situations where no matter how closely you look at the weather on TV or online radar images that the light will not be what you thought (or hoped) it might be.
The morning I took the Sanderling (Calidris alba) image above the forecast was for partly cloudy skies. The radar looked good so I gathered my gear and drove to Fort De Soto in the very early pre-dawn light. On the way there I could clearly see the sky beginning to turn colors and I was excited about spending the morning sand crawling or immersed in the water to get photograph of the birds I would see. Excited until I looked to my west while at the first bridge just after the toll booth.
Argh, those radar images didn’t pick up the sea fog that was swirling over the north beach. “Too late” I told myself, “you’ve driven 45 minutes to get here, make the best of that fog!”.
There was enough ambient light coming through the fog to produce fine images of the birds that morning, for the image above I didn’t even feel the need to use exposure compensation which does need to be used on occasion in foggy conditions. When I am processing images taken in low light I try to retain that feeling by not overdoing contrast, saturation or sharpening. The image above “whispers”, it doesn’t “shout” and I like it that way.
Preening juvenile Roseate Spoonbill in low light - Nikon D200, handheld, laying on the edge of a lagoon, f7.1, 1/200, ISO 400, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 250mm, natural light
I found this juvenile Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja); with some adults, preening in a sea fog one morning that I went to Fort De Soto. The weather forecast for the day was clear, the radar looked good on line but the fog came rolling in not long after I got to the beach. It happens.
When I post processed this image I did apply a minimal amount of Noise Reduction to the background to help with the noise I saw evident while hoping to retain the foggy feeling and only slightly increased the saturation globally.
Today; I could have created similar images like this Sanderling and Roseate Spoonbill… if ONLY there had been birds nearby.
The forecast for today? Partly cloudy. Man, the weather forecasters were wrong.
Again, Happy Thanksgiving!