Posted: February 20, 2011
It was early February and the late afternoon sunset was rapidly approaching at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. I was driving slowly along Wildlife Drive looking for the perfect photo opportunity to wrap up an incredible morning shooting photos of over wintering Snow Geese lifting off by the thousands into a chilly morning breeze. That afternoon, soaring Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles against a clear blue sky afforded other terrific photo opportunities. The sun was now very low on the western horizon and the sky was glowing with the pastel hues of civil twilight.
[click on an image to view it in my Blackwater in Winter gallery]
Just off to the left of Wildlife Drive my eye caught a Great Blue Heron standing in the shallow water that was illuminated by the colorful sky. It was patiently waiting for a potential evening meal to swim within sight of its keen eyes and within reach of its fast, spear-like bill. The low sun angle and water created a mirrored reflection of the large bird on the silently and slowly rippling water patterns that lapped the marsh grasses growing along the shoreline. The silhouette of the Heron's body and its reflection against the pink and blue hues of the reflected sky meant one thing... I had found my sunset photo opportunity!
I steered the car onto the shoulder of the drive, grabbed my camera with 100-400mm lens attached, checked my settings, and as silently as I could, closed the car door. I was hoping to capture my "National Geographic moment" shot of the day (Ha!)... before the Great Blue decided it might be safer to fly off and do its fishing a bit farther away from the road. I quickly snapped a few shots to make sure I had at least a few images on my card. Then, slowly and as quietly as possible, I approached the Heron a few cautious steps at a time, stopping to shoot a few frames as I got closer. Luckily it was still preoccupied with catching dinner, and it continued to stay motionless in the twilight-illuminated waters as I approached even closer.
I then recalled reading in one of photographer Bryan Peterson's books that he has often been asked by his students "When should I take a vertical shot?" His answer? "Right after you take the horizontal shot!" So I reoriented my camera to portrait mode and took a few more shots.
By then the Heron may have thought that I was getting a bit too close for comfort. It gracefully spread his wings, and with a few strong flaps, took flight skimming a few feet above the calm water and landed about a hundred feet from the curious photographer. No matter... I had captured a classic Blackwater sunset photo.
Additional Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge sunset photographs from prior photo outings can be found here.