Early morning territorial call

Backlit calling Red-winged Blackbird

The Shot

  March is always a difficult time for my photography, winter is almost over and unless a spring snow comes through the snow is pretty ugly. Spring flowers have yet to make their appearance and most of the migrating birds are still soaking up the sun at their southern homes. One of the exceptions is Red-winged Blackbirds they are one of the first migrants to make it back to the cattail wetlands of Minnesota. I had just saw my first male Red-winged a few days ago. The males always arrive first to set up territories. Now I have not targeted this species of birds for many many years, but when I did it was always at Wood Lake Nature Center; nice boardwalks and trails going right through the cattails. I looked at the weather for tomorrow morning and it was to be cold, sunny with calm winds. Perfect conditions for my goal of backlighting to catch the steam coming out of the birds beak while calling. I arrived at the center about 10 minutes before sunrise and the weather was absolutely perfect, clear, calm and temp around 22 F. But as the sun was rising all of the birds were high in the trees to soak up the warmth of the rising sun! Bummer!! Did not plan for this! I was really disappointed but than as the sun got a little higher and began to hit the cattails the birds came down. I had about 30-40 minutes of great photography.

When photographing backlit subjects it is always important to control the light behind your subject. I did not want a silhouette blackbird, so I did some practice testing on the cattails and determined that if I set my exposure at -2/3 I can control the light to show the great rim lighting but still have enough detail in the Blackbird and bring out more detail in post-processing. I was handholding my camera/lens because your time to catch the blackbird calling can be very short and not enough time to set up tripod! Hooray for the technology of Vibration Reduction camera/lenses. While walking on the boardwalks and trails I always positioned myself for backlighting. To make the "steam" really stand out it was important to have a dark background and the dark naked trees made for a perfect background.

During the next 30-40 minutes I took many images, but once the sun got so high my time was over. I was back home by 9:30 AM with a big smile on my face! Subjects are always there sometimes we just have to set goals and look for them.

Technical Data

Nikon D500

Nikon 200m-500mm w 1.4X @ 700mm



ISO 800

Aperture Priority

-2/3 Exposure

Cloudy White Balance

Handheld VR on

Processed in Lightroom

Fine-tuned in PhotoShop