08.19.18: Egret reflection

A Great Egret is reflected by water as it hunts for food, Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, Hilton Head, S.C.


Technical information

Jan, 31, 2017,
8:04 a.m.

32°14'25.877" N 80°46'36.654" W
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Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 


1/1250th second


A wading bird like the Great Egret is relaxing to watch while it is hunting for food.  

The bird remains motionless for a long period of time as it watches fish swim nearby. When it makes a choice from the watery menu, the bird begins the almost imperceptible process of lowering its head before striking quickly to catch a fish. 

I found this Great Egret hunting in the wetlands at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge near Hilton Head, S.C. It ignored me as I approached, which often doesn’t happen with egrets or herons. The bird remained focused on movement beneath the surface of the water. After a few minutes it slowly lowered its head until its beak was just above the surface. Then it struck, coming up with a small fish.

I liked the scene I saw through the viewfinder, but I was concerned about the lighting. The early-morning winter sun was low in the sky and behind the bird. Extreme backlight on a white subject like an egret makes proper exposure difficult for a photographer. Exposing for the front of the bird causes the loss of detail in the lighter part (blown highlights, to use a photographer’s term) and leads to a poor photo. Exposing for the highlights forces the front of the bird into deep shadows, also not a good situation. So I went for a exposure midpoint, hoping to preserve some highlights 

Great Egrets are large birds, slightly smaller and slimmer than the Great Blue Heron. The Great Egret was hunted to near extinction in the late 1800s because of the popularity of their plumes in fashion. This led to conservation efforts and creation of some of the first laws to protect bird populations

The Great Egret is also the symbol of the National Audubon Society.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.