Three Tips on Photographing Florida Wading Birds

Snowy Egret Portrait, Tr Isl, FLThirty years of photographing birds in Florida has taught me some things that can make or break a winning image. This handsome guy was photographed on a recent trip to Florida. I expect the following remarks will hold in just about any location where wading birds are found.


I selected this Snowy Egret for the composition potential.

  • First, the background is nondistracting.
  • Second, the warm highlights in the feathers says morning or evening – two of the best times to capture the warm flavor of nature. In this case is was morning.
  • Also, few things dress up a portrait like the breeding plumage and rich color of the lores – the color around the eyes


Having a long lens sill increase the chances of getting images, especially in the wild.

  • A 100mm lens is good;
  • A 200mm lens is better;
  • A 300mm lens is best

With today’s computer-designed lenses, a zoom in the range of 70 – 200 would be a good choice to get close ups as well as some surrounding elements to help show the habitat.

Approaching wading birds…

Birds don’t like to be crowded. As soon as we step inside their magical space they will give flight. If somewhere where birds are attracted, like a fish cleaning station, or a bridge where fisherman are, they become less concerned about our presence than finding a free handout. They’re opportunistic.

If in the wild, approaching feeding birds along the shore works if one moves slowly. If the bird is not feeding it can be more of a challenge. However, I have been able to move closer to an Egret or Heron by avoiding eye contact. At times I have approached the wariest of Great Blue Herons by appearing to be looking for my lost keys in a slow zig-zag fashion as I moved closer. It’s sort of a game, but we still don’t want to invade their territorial space.

A Few Techniques…

Wading birds like all wildlife can be unpredictable; however, we can learn some predictability by studying their behavior. Noted National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting studied the Sanderlings in California for weeks before picking up his camera. He spoke of this during a subsequent lunch period at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute event, I was privileged to attend. It is one of the most important activities in becoming a wildlife photographer.

Presetting the camera for the anticipated behavior is almost a must. I used to set my SLR camera on Aperture Priority for the low morning light. The shutter speed would set automatically.

Others like to set on Shutter Priority so the most speed the camera can produce will occur, then let the Aperture adjust for whatever depth-of-field it could muster depending upon the light.

Today, with digital, one can advance the ISO sensitivity in low light conditions, then clean up the noise in Post Production Program.

My most recent setup reflects the advancement of technology. My Sony a6000 thinks so fast in the Exposure Program mode that I usually use it in changing light conditions. My most recent Sony version, the A7II has been able to make images with virtually no noise at ISO 6400.

The above image was made using the Exposure Program with the Sony a6000 set at 200mm, set at f/6.3. The camera selected a 320ISO and 1/320 of a second. My job was to concentrate on the subject and composition.


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