Flight of Geese, Twilight. San Joaquin Valley, California. December 18, 2013. © Copyright 2013 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.
A huge flock of Ross’s geese takes to the sky in the twilight
I probably don’t really need to point out that geese to not look like this, at least not in the objective sense, and that this image is about a subjective impression of these birds and their world. When photographing geese, at least the geese I work with in the California’s Central Valley, long periods of sitting around while not much happens are periodically punctuated by moments when the world goes nuts. For reasons that are often not at all clear, a flock of many thousands of geese that has been on the ground feeding will suddenly lift off as one in a maelstrom of sound and flapping wings. They often head off in some direction, and the group turns in this and that direction and spreads out… and after a few minutes returns to the ground, often in the same or nearly the same spot they just left. After this wild flight ends everything returns again to relative calm.
In the evening as the light fails, I often continue shooting as long as I can, gradually raising camera ISO, opening the aperture all the way, and pushing the shutter speed lower and lower… until there is no longer any way to continue to shoot in the normal fashion. On this evening I finally looked down at my camera to note that I was shooting wide open and ISO 3200 and at 1/5 second or longer… with a handheld 400mm lens! By this point one (at least this one) can no longer really even see the geese with clarity, especially on a typical Central Valley evening when the air is thick with haze and incipient fog. While it might seem like a good time to put the camera away and go have some dinner, at this point I look forward to one final and very special photographic opportunity during this marginal dusk time between sunset colors and blue hour light. I go with the slow shutter speeds and the impossibility of clearly seeing the birds, much less stopping their motion with fast shutter speeds and perfect focus, and I instead play with camera motion and soft focus and the motion blur of the birds themselves. And given that this cannot in any way produce objectively accurate and clinically precise depictions of the birds, I instead go for a sort of subjective truth that represents their wild and only have visible flight through twilight sky.
G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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