"Pathways" - A Great Blue Heron Hunting During High Water, Great Falls National Park, Virginia

Hello there! It's been a little while, I know. My healthy and beautiful son, Porter, was born in early June, and while I wish I could say my absence was solely thanks to the hectic adjustment period of having a newborn in the house, that just wouldn't be true. He's the best damn baby ever. Sleeps all night, smiles at his parents, laughs, and drinks milk pretty much all day long. What a life. I guess the truth is that I just haven't been inspired lately. Like a summer drought, my creatives juices had slowed to a trickle. But just upstream, a rainstorm is pouring, and I can feel my artistic soul beginning to re-hydrate. And man, was I thirsty. It's funny how you don't realize what you've been missing sometimes. With autumn just around the corner, I can't wait to get out to my favorite local areas to capture the stunning change from summer, to autumn, to winter. For now, here is an image that I'm extremely excited about. I created this photograph earlier this summer in Great Falls National Park. Every summer shad migrate upstream, and the local great blue herons gather along the banks of these rapids to chow down. 

"Pathways" - A great blue heron attempts to catch Shad and other fish during high water in the Potomac River. Great Falls National Park, Virginia.

About the Image: The unusually high water level during this time of year, this year, led to some new compositional opportunities at a place that I sometimes think I've gotten every possible heron shot at (what a stupid notion). Typically the river along the bottom right side of this image is just dry rocks. Using my 70-200 f/4 with a slow shutter speed while locked down on a tripod, I composed the image where the water flow made an S-curve from top left, to middle right, and finally bottom left. Additionally, I watched the placement of the trees so as not to clip the tree in the top right and to provide enough of an anchor to the tree on the bottom left so that it didn't feel too truncated. Taking several exposures, as I always do when including moving water in the photograph allowed me to pick the image with the best looking water, as well as ensuring that the heron was sharp, as they do occasionally move during the relatively long exposure. A polarizer helped to cut some of the glare on the rocks to provide some more contrast overall in the scene.

Techs: Canon 7D, Canon 400 f/5.6., 1/4th second, f/14, ISO 100. Polarizer. Tripod.

"A Striking Image" - Great Blue Heron Hunting Minnows in Fort De Soto Park, Florida

Capturing a decisive moment such as this can really add a lot of movement to an otherwise still wildlife photograph. Subjects such as slow moving herons and egrets are perfect  to practice on. By utilizing a tripod to compose for the body of the heron, one must simply choose a high enough shutter speed (1/2500th second in this case) and hold down the shutter button when the action begins. Higher frame rate cameras are certainly beneficial here, but you can get by with about 5 frames per second or so quite well. 

About the Image: Using a slightly higher ISO of 400 here was important to quicken up the shutter speed a bit to 1/2500th second. In hindsight, I probably should have chosen ISO 800 as 1/2500th is right on the edge of capturing such a quick movement sharply. However, it did work out in this case and I'm glad it did! Additionally, I chose an aperture of f/7.1. instead of wide open to add a bit of depth of field in case the heron's head and eye moved slightly out of focus during the strike. Exposure was quite straight forward, spot metering the blue water at -1 exposure compensation let everything fall into place. In regards to composition, I let the heron sit quite far to the right to not appear too centralized and to allow space for water droplets to fly up on the left. Those flying drops of water add movement and are an integral part of the composition. They also look damn cool, and I wouldn't want to miss out on being able to include them in my image!

Techs: Canon 7D, Canon 400 f/5.6. 1/2500th second, f/7.1., ISO 400. Tripod.

"Silent Chorus" - Great blue heron alone in fog, Great Falls National Park, Virginia

It's funny how our tastes and tendencies change as we mature. I would have never posted the following image as a younger photographer. As time has passed, however, I've become more confident in what I like and am perfectly willing to present an image to the public whether I think they will like it or not. Why wouldn't I have posted this image? Because the heron is looking out of the frame. The #1 rule of "proper" wildlife photography is to have the subject looking into the frame. It just works better for the composition. Everything feels right, harmonious, and natural. Well, rules are meant to be broken as they say, and I find that the heron looking out of the frame here creates some tension in an otherwise perfectly peaceful and calm scene. Are you afraid to post images when you aren't sure if they will be received well? Comment and let me know!

"Silent Chorus" - Great blue heron alone in fog, Great Falls National Park, Virginia.

Techs: Canon 7D, Canon 70-200 f/4 @ 200mm. 0.4 seconds, f/14, ISO 100. Polarizer. Tripod.

"Delicate Dance" - Great Blue Heron Fishing Below a Set of Cascades, Great Falls National Park, Virginia

I'm continuing to go through my Great Falls images from this year's great blue heron season. Not quite sure how this one got by me at first, as I love the flow of the water as well as the feeling of power it presents. The water level in the Potomac River was just right for this one. Not so powerful to prevent the heron from fishing there, and not so weak as to be boring within my image. The little rivulet of water on the right side is an added bonus of the perfect water level as it helps to balance the composition quite a bit. As another point to consider ... when photographing wildlife within a grand landscape, always think about the pose of the animal. I had to wait until this heron crooked his neck just right to satisfy my desire for the best photograph possible from this situation. If I hadn't paid attention, the heron may have appeared to be only an afterthought, hunched over and failing to gain the attention it deserves!

"Delicate Dance" - Great blue heron fishing below a set of large cascades, Great Falls National Park, Virginia.

Techs: Canon 7D, Canon 400 f/5.6. 0.4 seconds, f/16, ISO 100. Polarizer. Tripod.

"Adrift" - Great Blue Heron Among Towering Rocks and Walls of Water, Great Falls National Park, Virginia

Is it bad to constantly fall back on themes we've done before? Is my Great Falls portfolio a gimmick that I've stuck with for so long? A small bird. A big landscape. I don't know, but I'm so happy with the look of this image. Welcome to the mind of this particular artist. Adrift in a sea of thoughts.

"Adrift" - A small bird in a big landscape. Great Falls National Park, Virginia.

Techs: Canon 7D, Canon 400 f/5.6. 1/5th second, f/13, ISO 100. Polarizer. Tripod.

"Landing Formation" - Great blue heron landing over rapids, Great Falls National Park, Virginia

It's funny, after years of creating images of great blue herons surrounded by water blurring by in a surreal landscape, I finally went to Great Falls with the intention of capturing the behavior of the herons. I truly believe there is a lifetime of possibilities when it comes to capturing herons in different locations with different compositions using my signature slow shutter speed technique, so I never had the desire to try to capture different types of photographs of them. Despite that fact, I had a ton of fun trying to get images of the herons fighting, fishing, and flying. I'll definitely be trying for some more images like this. It's good to change things up every once in a while!

"Landing Formation" - Great blue heron coming in for a landing over the rapids of the Potomac River in Great Falls National Park, Virginia.

Techs: Canon 7D, Canon 400 f/5.6. 1/3200, f/5.6., ISO 800.

"Losing Control" - Great blue heron among wild high water, Great Falls National Park, Virginia

The great blue herons are still as active as ever and really putting on a wonderful show at Great Falls Park. "Losing Control" is perhaps the image I'm most proud of so far this season. I just love the way the water looks truly menacing and overbearing compared to the diminutive heron. And yet, they seem so completely comfortable in this habitat! The morning air was full of mist as high winds whipped up spray and sent it flying hundreds of feet. That hazy thick atmosphere contributed even further to the depiction of powerful water.

Here's a little tip for photographers ... I took dozens of photographs of this exact scene for two reasons. First, taking many images insures that you will come out with at least one where the heron is sharp and detailed. Second, the water is constantly pulsing and changing shape. Out of all of the frames I captured, this one was a clear winner because of it's smooth and powerful looking flow, which just plain worked with the composition. So remember, always take a bunch of frames when photographing any scene with water in it!  

"Losing Control" - A great blue heron standing next to wild whitewater, Great Falls National Park, Virginia.

Techs: Canon 7D, Canon 70-200 f/4 @ 184mm. 0.5 seconds, f/16, ISO 100. Polarizer. Tripod.

"Ghostly Echoes" - Great blue heron fishing, Great Falls National Park, Virginia

I've been chillin' at Great Falls National Park over the past week. Hard. The great blue herons have returned in abundance and are really putting on an amazing show. They line up along the shore of the Potomac River and test their luck at plucking various species of fish like shad and bullhead out of the churning whitewater. I know it's easy for them, but as a human onlooker, the line between life and death here seems so startlingly thin. One slip and it's over!

In this image, I utilized one of my favorite techniques of leaving the heron small within the grand landscape. I also chose to use a relatively long shutter speed to blur the water while the heron stood perfectly still.

"Ghostly Echoes" - Great blue heron fishing along the Potomac River, Great Falls National Park, Virginia.

Techs: Canon 7D, Canon 400 f/5.6. 0.4 seconds, f/16, ISO 100. Tripod. Polarizer.