Bruce’s Birdtography: Know Light to Photograph Birds

Eastern wood pewee by Bruce Wunderlich.

George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak, once said, “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”

Last month I added eastern wood pewee to my backyard bird list. The encounter was very brief, but I was able to grab a couple of quick images. The conditions were not ideal for photography. First, I was shooting into the light, which meant the bird was backlit. Second, the bird was above me, so I was shooting up at the underside of the bird.

The bill of the eastern wood pewee has a yellowish-orange lower mandible contrasting with the blackish upper mandible. It also has a weak partial eye ring. Neither of these features was visible in the original unedited image.

A few days ago, while sitting on my deck, I again spotted the eastern wood pewee, but this time the light was at my back, with the bird perched on a branch 10 feet away, more or less level with my camera. I locked my focus on the bird’s eye, and as it turned toward me, I glimpsed a catch-light in its eye, so I released the shutter, firing off a flurry of images as it moved around on the branch. With the light at my back, the bird was nicely front-lit, showing all the detail that was missing from my earlier image. Now I could see that thin, partial eye ring, and because I was at eye level, it was easy to see the two-toned bill.

Eastern wood pewee by Bruce Wunderlich.

When I posted this image on Facebook, one of my friends commented, “Oh, love the green background, so vibrant! Makes him pop!”

What made the bird pop was the light. Learning to use light will make a difference in your bird images.

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