Low light bird images

What I appreciate a great deal about my avian photography is working WITH the light, not fighting it in the camera or in post processing, so I am presenting these images below as what they are,  photos taken in low light.

One of the wonderful things about photography today is that the size of your portfolio is only limited by the amount of hard drive space you have available and because of that I often experiment with different lighting conditions to challenge myself and through my experimentation, I learn valuable lessons.

Low light Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle covered in hoar frost in low light –  Nikon D200,  f7.1, 1/400, ISO 400, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm,  +0.3 EV, natural light, not baited. No noise reduction used.

The lighting conditions the day I took this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) photo were dismal. There was a heavy fog and the light from the rising sun was muted by clouds to the east. The eagle was shrouded in hoar frost that had formed on it’s feathers from the bitter night time temperatures and the foggy, moisture laden air. I photographed the eagle for nearly two hours before the fog started to lift and the bird flew off.  It was interesting to watch the hoar frost slowly disappear during that period of time. I have images of this same bird in better light ; however,  this image stood out for me.

The hoar frost, the fog, the pose of the eagle and the low light show the harsh conditions under which these powerful raptors live and survive. For me this image conveys strength, determination and a very cold mood.

I purposely did not take any steps in post processing that would artificially alter the mood or light in this image. I didn’t want to change the mood or the story this image projects to the viewer.

About 99% of my images are taken without flash, I rarely even carry my flash unit or BetterBeamer with me. Thus I rely on using exposure compensation along with my other settings to achieve the image I desire. The EV setting I used of  +0.3 gave me the details I wanted to see in the eagle’s dark feathers.

Low light American Kestrel

Male American Kestrel in low light –  Nikon D200,  f6.3, 1/500, ISO 400, EV +1.3,  Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm,
natural light, not baited. No noise reduction used.

The day I created this American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) photo I had hoped to find some good light after days of dreary, cloudy weather. The forecasters had said there might be some breaks in the clouds but upon arriving at this location there were blue skies to the west, heavy snow clouds to the east in the mountains, it was snowing outside the vehicle and the light was quite low.

Later in the day there was some sunshine and birds in good light, but I found of all the shots I took on that day, the images of this kestrel delighted me the most.  I am drawn into the photo.

 Again, I purposely did not take any steps in post processing that would artificially alter the mood or light in this image. Part of the reason I was able to produce the fine details in the feathers against the almost high key background was my use of +1.3 steps of EV compensation, without it the bird would have been dark. Trying to artificially lighten the bird using shadow/highlight or increasing exposure in post processing would have introduced excessive noise at unacceptable levels for me. I was fortunate that the blue skies to the west gave me enough light to get the hint of a catchlight in the kestrel’s eye.

Not fighting the light and working with it produced two photos that for me have great appeal and tell a story about these birds.

Mia

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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: A Frosted Farmington Bay Wildlife Management Area

  2. “working WITH the light, not fighting it in the camera or in post processing”

    Exactly.

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