Sunday, May 22, 2011

Taking Wildlife Photos In The Rain

Black-chinned Hummingbird during an Arizona Monsoon
400mm, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/40 second

Many photographers will tell you that there is never enough light. Maybe it would be better to say that there is never enough PERFECT light. To me, with the exception of a poorly cooked hamburger, nothing is more disappointing that having a photo that is both underexposed and overexposed at the same time. For example, an adult Bald Eagle flies by, banks perfectly and still, the body feathers are too dark and the white head too light so that you lose detail on both ends.

This is an example of a photo that came out poorly
because of too much light on a bright sunny day

This is usually not a problem during the “golden hours” which are thought to be an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. The golden hours are also known as the “magic hours” or, as I like to call them, about two hours before I haul my butt out of bed and an hour after my feet hurt so badly that I can hardly walk anymore.

Eastern Bluebird - if you look closely, you can see rain on his back
600mm, ISO 500, f/7.1, 1/320 second

Besides, if I am traveling, I want to shoot all day, regardless of how harsh the light might be (think white birds in Florida at mid-day). If I’m at home, taking pictures is a good excuse for not mowing the lawn (with all due apologies to my neighbors).

600mm, ISO 640, f/7.1, 1/125 second

Unless I’m taking photos that need to include a blue sky, some of my favorite times to shoot are days with a high, hazy cloud cover. It’s sort of bright out, but there are no harsh shadows. I hate those “beautiful” days with big fluffy clouds that make the exposure change every two minutes (i.e. right when the fox runs across the path).

Wild Turkey
600mm, ISO 1000 f/10, 1/250 second

The weather in my area has been quite miserable for the last two weeks, but I got out there and took a bunch of photos anyway. I don’t have the luxury to crank up the ISO too high if I hope to sell a photo, but I push it a bit, mount the camera to a heavy tripod and do my best. I end up with more shots in the trash bin than usual – darker days mean slower shutter speed, resulting in more blurred shots. Think outside the box – sometimes slow shutter speeds are better. Most people that shoot waterfalls pick cloudy days so that they can show motion in the water.

Firehole Falls - Yellowstone National Park 
50mm, ISO 100, f/22, 0.8 second

So I sometimes take wildlife photos in the rain. People may think that I’m crazy, but that is a whole different issue that has nothing to do with my photos. Usually, I either shoot from the car or stay at home and use a blind in the backyard. My new “man cave” is both waterproof and wind resistant. It did, however, recently suffer a flat tire. How many people can say that their photo blind got a flat? If you go all the way to the very bottom of the blog, there is a link to that shows the types of portable blinds that I like. They are easy to use and fairly inexpensive (and weigh at least 250 pounds less than a fully loaded man cave). It's also easier to sell your spouse on the idea of a pop-up blind than a really cool man cave. You ladies out there have to get to work on your own lady caves so we can compare and contrast. I'm thinking of installing something really macho in mine like a gun rack or a Holly four-barrelled Carb.

Female Eastern Bluebird
600mm, ISO 500, f/7.1, 1/250 second

I have selected a few photos taken during rather rotten weather. To make up for the rather flat light in poor weather, try boosting the saturation in photoshop - the results can be pretty good. Most of the photos included here have very little processing involved. In fact, most were made from the small jpeg files that I use to sort my photos rather than their corresponding RAW files. Many people try to follow the rule of thumb that you want to shoot at a shutter speed at least as great as the inverse of the length of your lens. In other words, if you are using a 400mm lens, you want a minimum of 1/400 of a second shutter speed. As you can see, I shot way slower than that for most of these photos because I was using a tripod.

Red-winged Blackbird
600mm, ISO 800, f/7.1, 1/125 second

Poor weather can also good for shooting typically difficult subjects such as crows and blackbirds where details can be lost. Instead of shooting hummingbirds at the highest possible shutter speed, try shooting at the slowest you think you can get away with and still get the body and head sharp.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
600mm, ISO 800, f/7.1, 1/250 second

A good question might be why I don’t just use a flash. The simple answer is that the things are just too darned complicated for me to figure out. Too many photos taken with a flash look like photos taken with a flash.

Male Eastern Bluebird
300mm, ISO 500, f/4.5, 1/500 second (this one fell within the range of the "rules")

The photo snobs that only shoot during the golden hours will tell you that life is too short to drink cheap wine. To them I say, “Like fine scotch, cheap wine is an acquired taste.”

You can see thousands of my photos at  They are all available for sale as prints or license. You can contact me at

1 comment:

  1. Hey this wild life photography is just amazing..... Thanks for sharing your best efforts...

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