Hunting Great Egret

Great Egret hunting Great Egret hunting – Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, /180, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 195mm, natural light

I enjoy taking images of birds that include their natural habitat and behaviors, I think that it helps to tell the story behind the photograph. This Great Egret hunting photo was taken early in the morning as the sun had just begin to touch the grasses, the bird and the water. Great Egrets move slowly while they are hunting then when they see their prey is within reach they make lightning fast movements to stab or capture the prey. I think of them as “stealth” hunters.

Lately I have had a few people ask me how what settings I use when I photograph so I thought I would explain how I took this image a bit more in depth.

I use aperture priority when photographing, by using that I can control the aperture, the ISO and my exposure compensation settings.  I turn off auto ISO in my cameras setting because I want to decide the ISO and not allow the camera to do that.

Here I set my aperture at f7.1 to get both the bird and the surrounding grasses sharp and that worked well even though that caused my shutter speed to be quite slow for being handheld but as I almost always handheld when I lived in Florida so I had a fair amount of practice at it.

The shutter speed was a combination of the aperture I used and the ISO, in this case I used ISO 200 to get as much of the detail to show in the bird and grasses as possible in the available light.

If it had been a bit darker when I took the image I may have had to use some positive exposure compensation so that the egret would be exposed correctly. I always try to expose the images so that I don’t have to lighten them in post processing which can introduced unwanted noise. If the light had been brighter I may have had to use negative exposure compensation to keep the whites from blowing out.

Other people employ different settings and techniques to get their images and those can work equally as well, I use the methods I do because I am used to them and they work for me.

I always photograph in RAW, and use Adobe Photoshop to process my images.  Adobe Elements; which is far less expensive than Photoshop, can also be used and has almost the same features as Adobe Photoshop.

For White balance (WB) I use auto, that works the best for my tastes. If I need to adjust the WB to make the image warmer or cooler I can do that in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) by sliding the temperature adjustment to warmer or cooler or by selecting the preset WB’s built into ACR.

In post processing I masked the bird and grasses and only sharpened those by using smart sharpening.



  1. Tammy Karr December 21, 2011 at 7:09 am

    Great article and stunning photo! I’m taking my first trip to Fort De Soto this month and really looking forward to it!

    • Mia McPherson December 21, 2011 at 7:21 am

      Thank you Tammy, the egret sure looked beautiful in its surroundings. I hope you will have a great time at Fort De Soto, it is a gorgeous location and the birds are great.

  2. Prairie Birder December 20, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    While my family was staying in the Caribbean I was able to see a couple Great Egrets and observed them hunting, they are very neat birds.

    • Mia McPherson December 21, 2011 at 7:20 am

      Hi PrairieBirder, Great Egrets are very neat birds to observe and photograph. I saw some in the Caribbean too, it is so much fun to watch birds no matter where they are!

  3. Bob Zeller December 20, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Wow, another great image. Great Egrets are one of my favorite subjects, even though one must be careful exposing for the whites. I love your description of how you accomplish your exposures. I do it similarly, using aperture priority most of the time, and auto-white balance. I haven’t learned yet about masking that you described in PS, to do your sharpening. I certainly love your results. Magnificent, Mia!!

    P.S. Love the composition!

    • Mia McPherson December 20, 2011 at 6:12 pm

      Thank you so much Bob.

      Perhaps I’ll try to do a post in the future about masking. It decreases halos and artifacts that can show up in the background from being sharpened.

  4. Dan Huber December 20, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    wonderful image and great information Mia

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