Creating Drama With Shutter Speed

great blue heron - ardea herodias - at the capilano river

Great Blue Heron
(Ardea herodias) – 1/125 seconds

-click to enlarge-

   In October I visited the banks of the Capilano River in North Vancouver in search of some fall colours. I didn’t find much there, but the canyon is always so beautiful that I knew a photo opportunity would be likely regardless of the state of the leaf colours. Lucky for me, this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was lounging near the bank and posed for some photographs.

   Often when I shoot wildlife with my Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens, I switch to AV mode and f/4 so that I am always getting the fastest shutter speed possible. I do not know what I am going to encounter a lot of the time, and this gives me a good chance of being able to catch whatever action I may happen upon. On this day I had upped the ISO to 640, so that I had a bit of extra shutter speed available (1/125 sec) for this photo. Thankfully the 7D does great with much higher ISOs than this – so there is some room available for dealing with low light. When I came upon this Heron, I was able to make this photo quite easily with these settings.

great blue heron - ardea herodias - at the capilano river

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) – 0.6 seconds(Purchase)

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   While I like the above shot I thought there might be an opportunity to make a better photo. Having tried a number of ideas with a faster shutter speed, I decided to try a slower one to see what I could do with the water in the background. I changed my aperture to f/18, and lowered my ISO to 100 in order to create the longer shutter speed. Using a tripod, I made the photograph on the left with a shutter speed of 0.6 seconds.

   I believe that the blur in the river created by the slower shutter speed makes the second photo here much more dramatic and interesting than the first. The Heron doesn’t really change between them, the rocks remain the same, but the longer shutter speed creates a great effect in the river. While I do this quite often with static landscape subjects, this is one of the first times I have tried this with a wildlife photo. Granted, the Heron made a great subject for this attempt, but this really shows how varying shutter speed can have dramatic impact on the photographic result.

Great Blue Heron at Pitt Lake

A Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) at the marshes near Pitt Lake in Pitt Meadows, British Columbia

great blue heron in the marshes near pitt lake

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

-click to enlarge-

   A few weeks ago I visited the Pitt-Addington Marsh Wildlife Management Area near Pitt Lake. Shot a lot of landscapes, but this area is always a good place to spot a lot of birds and general wildlife. I walked along the dike for a while, then down into the marsh along a trail. What I should have done was look at the marsh before I came down off the dike into it – as there was a Great Blue Heron standing about 5 feet in front of me looking a bit startled. He took off immediately and landed at a distance just near enough for me to see him and just far enough away that my longest lens wasn’t quite going to cut it.

   I must not have looked like too much of a threat because once I got the wide angle lens back on and started shooting the landscape he flew close again. Not as close as our original encounter but close enough for me to be happy with the photographic opportunity. Was hoping for some hunting shots like I had at Stanley Park recently but today this one seemed much more intent on cleaning and preening itself.

Great Blue Heron in Stanley Park

a great blue heron - ardea herodias hunts-  along the seawall of stanley park

   About a month ago I was on the seawall in Stanley Park taking some shots of downtown Vancouver at night. Last time I attempted this my relatively cheap tripod was not up to the task of holding my camera steady (in portrait position) for 30 seconds at a time. The result was some decent shots, but others had a 30 second long vertical light streak through them due to tripod malfunction. Did I mention how much I like my Gitzo tripod?

   I had not expected that I was to be stalking any sort of birds at night. Thankfully though it was a Great Blue Heron ((Ardea herodias) which luckily tend to stand still for lengthy periods of time (or until you trigger the shutter). I guess this lulls the prey into a sense of complacency, at least temporarily. This is probably one of the few species that I would be able to find at night and that would stand still long enough for me to get a clear shot with shutter speeds of 1-2 seconds. That being said, this is one of the few clear shots of the 40 that I took. I like it – not my usual sort of photograph.

Morris Valley in the Fraser Valley of BC

great blue heron ardea herodias flies over morris valley road salmon spawning in the harrison river

Last year I went deeper into the Fraser Valley in search of spawning salmon and the Bald Eagles that would be feeding on their remains. I saw no eagles. I did manage to see a lot of seagulls and Great Blue Herons which are a bit less interesting, but subjects which would occasionally sit still for me to photograph.

glaucous winged gull laurus glaucescen flies over spawning salmon glaucous winged gull laurus glaucescen watches over spawning salmon

These are two Glaucous-winged Gulls (Larus glaucescen) feeding on salmon eggs and carcasses in the Harrison River.