Photographing American Wigeon Drakes in Afternoon and Low Light

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Low light portrait of an American Wigeon drakeLow light portrait of an American Wigeon drake – Nikon D500, f6.3, 1/400, ISO 1000, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

Many of the regular readers of my blog know that I photograph in all kinds of weather conditions from blowing snow, heavy fog to golden morning and afternoon light, plus sweltering summer days to winter days when my fingers go numb, I’m okay with that because I am following my passion.  I love observing and photographing birds and even though some of the conditions make me uncomfortable I am just happy to be there with my subjects, watching and learning more about them.

Some lighting conditions require more thought about my choice of settings including when there is low light where I often use positive exposure compensation so my subject isn’t too dark. I shoot in aperture priority because that is what I learned to do when I first started using a DSLR and it is the mode I am most comfortable with.

A couple of weeks ago at my local pond the lighting conditions were quite dreary because of heavy fog and low hanging clouds but I went to the local pond to get out of the house and to see what birds might be hanging around. There have been a pair of American Wigeons at the pond and to my surprise they swam in very close to where I sat in a vehicle using it as a mobile blind, in fact the drake got out of the water and walked up onto the shore and was so close to me that I opted to take portraits of him despite the low light conditions. I had to crank my ISO up to 1000 just to have enough shutter speed and I set just a touch of positive exposure compensation so the duck wouldn’t be too dark. The little bit of snow on the ground created the light colored background.

Even though the wigeon is sharp the image has a soft feel to it that I quite enjoy.

Alert American Wigeon drakeAlert American Wigeon drake – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/400, ISO 400, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

Just two days ago I had another opportunity with an American Wigeon drake up close and in afternoon light where I used negative exposure compensation to keep the brightest whites of the duck from blowing out, his white head feathers would have been easy to blow out.

I like how both these two American Wigeon photos turned out even though they were taken in different lighting conditions, they are both pleasing to my eye.

I can’t say for sure that these are the same drake wigeons they may be two separate individuals, the drakes were photographed at two different ponds that aren’t that far away from each other so it is possible they are the same bird. You’ll notice this drake has more green on his head than the drake in the first photo but the drake wigeons are going into breeding plumage (Definitive Alternate Plumage) right now and that could account for the differences in the amount of green feathers.

It would be wonderful if the American Wigeons hung around the local ponds long enough for me to see and photograph their courtship display behaviors. The Redheads, Mallards and Common Goldeneyes at the local ponds have been busy courting perhaps they will inspire the wigeons to start courting too.

The wind is howling outside my window this morning ahead of a weather front that is heading for Salt Lake City that the forecasters say might bring snow to the valley. It is about 6 am and it is 57°F right now, our normal temps for this time of the year are in the 20 degree range before daybreak. Given how warm and weird this winter has been so far I will only believe that when the ground turns white.

Life is good.



  1. Pepe Forte January 21, 2018 at 5:34 pm

    Great pics Mia. Love the detail in the second image. Thanks.

  2. LSClemens January 19, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    Such a beautiful bird!

  3. Elephants Child January 19, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    I hope you do get some much needed snow.
    And love the wigeons. Thanks.

  4. Jorge H. Oliveira January 19, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    Wonderful shots.
    And thank you for the technical notes. Seeing those settings helps me to understand what the D500 can do under difficult weather conditions.

  5. Utahbooklover January 19, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    Very good work Mia; excellent images. As for the warm temperatures before the rain and snow,
    the weatherman showed us winds from the South keeping it warm until tonight. Then, let it snow!

  6. Patty Chadwick one of my favorite birds January 19, 2018 at 8:24 am

    These are such beautiful birds! I love your close up portraits and these are great…you really get to see so much detail that you coukd never see otherwise…thanks!!!

  7. Liz Cormack January 19, 2018 at 7:41 am

    Oh, my! Beautiful. Both of them.

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