Geese, Dusk. San Joaquin Valley, California. December 18, 2013. © Copyright 2013 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.
Geese take flight into dusk haze and clouds
A group of us – Patty Mitchell, Michael Frye, Claudia Welsh, David Hoffman, Charlotte Hoffman, and I – spent a day photographing migratory birds and the landscape of California’s San Joaquin Valley recently. I hope that it is obvious that this photograph does not attempt an objectively realistic presentation of geese! The facts include… these are almost certainly Ross’s geese, they are passing quickly as they fly between two close flocks in the early dusk light, the clouds in the distant sky are colored blue and pink and purple by post-sunset light. By the time I made this photograph it was almost too dark to clearly make out much of anything in this scene, and certainly not to see clearly the individual birds rising into the air, flying past, or landing among other birds already on the ground.
From a certain point of view, this photograph does everything “wrong” when it comes to wildlife photography in general and bird photography in particular. The shutter speed was something like 1/8 of a second, and kept that “short” only by underexposing by nearly a full stop and shooting at ISO3200. The shot was hand-held with a 400mm focal length. Geese, barely visible in the twilight gloom, where coming and going in almost unpredictable ways, yet getting an interesting arrangement of birds in the frame required quickly responding to what they did and then panning while shooting. I had positioned myself to the east of the flock in the hope of getting some interesting sky behind them, so I was also trying to remain aware of the background while tracking the birds. Clearly, this is not a recipe for razor-sharp, carefully and thoughtfully composed images! Additional work was done in the post-processing phase – to deal with the inevitable noise and with balancing out the luminosities of various parts of the frame and bringing out details that might otherwise be lost. Yet, with enough shots and some intuition from photographing these birds in these conditions before, it is possible to make something happen. In the end, for me a photograph like this can evoke the mystery of what happens in the deepening twilight – the sudden unpredictable motion, the sounds of the geese, the hazy atmosphere, and the gathering darkness.
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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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.