Photographing wildlife takes patience, practice and knowledge of your subject. In this case, I was also a little lucky.
I went to central Florida in February – near Palm Beach to photograph the many birds that migrate through and mate in that area.
On this occasion, I found this Great blue heron couple (Ardea herodias) displaying some great courtship behavior in a swamp.
To make this shot I had to know the following things…
a) Where the birds where likely to be
b) What time of day they were likely to be there
c) What time of year they began courtship
Studying ANY subject, wildlife or not, will help improve your odds of getting a great shot.
As with ALL wildlife, I set up with the sun directly at my back. There wasn’t much light because the sun had just come up, but there was enough to get a good image.
The birds were high up on top of a tree so I shot from a step ladder to minimize my upward angle. (I always carry a small portable, light, step ladder with me in the field for just such an occasion.)
I made the shot using a Canon 1D MK II N with a 6oo mm F/4 IS lens, mounted on a Wimberley Head, affixed to a Gitzo 1325 tripod. The effective focal length (EFL) of the lens was 840mm due to the crop factor caused by the less than full-sized sensor on the 1D MK II N.
I made about 10 images in a span of about 30 seconds before they took off together. This is my favorite, although it’s not perfect. The small tree branch that intrudes from the bottom bothers me, but there was no way to position myself so it wasn’t in the shot, and I decided I didn’t want to remove it via Photoshop. Why? The image still stands strong on its own. And only other photographers notice the branch. Everyone else enjoys the courtship of the birds.
Not that it matters much, because if I went back there today, the conditions might be totally different, calling for a different exposure, but the exposure used here was 1/500th of a second at f/8, ISO 250.