Win, Lose or Draw

It’s really only been the past four years or so that I’ve spent time discussing images in which some were winners, some losers, and a few that were somewhere inbetween. I only use my own images for that purpose. I am especially interested in photos that “almost” make the top grade, but not quite. I will however share with you today winners, losers and those that are sharable but not sellable, so to speak. Note that I’ve already done some minor fixing on these images and some that miss the boat could be saved with more editing.

The vast majority of today’s pictures were created at Horicon Marsh NWR in Wisconsin. It is often referred to as the Everglades of the north.

It is indeed hard to beat clean, simple, elegant bird images. This image of a preening male Blue-winged Teal epitomizes those qualities. It actually makes the bird seem more elegant than they often are.9DSC_6459

These pictures of two different Lesser Yellowlegs fit that mold as well. Take note that no “scrubbing” of the background water was done due the fact that it was already perfect. Nice when things work out.



While the water wasn’t quite so flawless where I made this photo of an immature Pied-billed Grebe, it was still mirror-like in its quality. The one flaw is that a mirrored image of a bird, that has the top of the bird’s head cut off in the reflection, takes a winner and makes a “sharable only” image only out of it.12DSC_8417

One of my favorite marsh birds is the Black-crowned Night Heron. The striped immature version is the most fun to photograph do to their naïve approach to humans, but the adult is a champion of the marsh.

Pretty, but not exceptional light made my time with this beautiful adult well worthwhile. A quiet bird makes for sharp images.13DSC_0123

The Black Crown is not only a wading bird that will wade in up to its belly, but they will actually swim. This one alternated between wading in chest deep water and swimming. The face is bathed in sunshine while the body is in shadow. That helps give a unique quality to the picture.14DSC_0124

Birds in more complex scenery make for a more difficult image to create. This Sandhill Crane was a pretty easy shot as these large birds usually walk with most of their bodies and all of their head above the grasses. My problem with this one was its face was in the shadow created by its head. I did open up the face just a sliver in the editing process which made it a fair image.14DSC_7079

Grasses and other plants that are directly in front of birds such as with this Great-blue Heron will usually spoil an image. In this shot however, those grasses leave a lot of open space to see the bird. Those front grasses are almost on the same plane as the bird which allowed me to keep them in focus with the bird, despite only using an aperture of 5.6.15DSC_2599

A clean and sharp image of a Great Egret bird with weeds (he/she seems to think it is food) hanging from its mouth could have been cool, except the framing/composition of this shot, no matter how I crop it, looks like a trophy one might hang on a wall. It’s uncomfortable. Almost a winner, but definitely a loser. Oh well!!16DSC_7231

Posing and preening shots of ducks are generally a pretty good catch for any bird photographer. While I enjoy viewing these two female ducks, both pictures have issues.

This first duck is in a reasonably clean environment, but she is in and out of the sun at the same time. I had to reduce the sun on her right side while editing. I only did a fair job and while the duck, the pose, and for the most part the environment, are respectable, my focus did not completely cover that right side. I also made zero attempt to clean up the water. That would take so much scrubbing that I would feel as though I was not sharing the real picture. I also do not have that much patience.17DSC_1407

This next image provides a much nicer pose but in a more complex setting. Because her rear end is closer to us than the more important front end, I was forced to allow that to remain slightly out of focus. I still enjoy photos like this but they are of little use except to share on the blogs of old battle worn photographers like myself.18DSC_1435

This young Virginia rail, provided me with some very nice up close and personal photographs. A lot of these young birds are gullible (and vulnerable) and while that makes for happy times for the photographer, it also provides opportunities for predators and the more unscrupulous sorts of photographers. This shot is an interesting comp with a pretty clean habitat, although I did some cleaning just to make this appealing.19DSC_0406

Rafts of Pelicans lend themselves beautifully to the panoramic format. Doing that is becoming a cliché, but I think most image makers are bound to make some of these. I left the water as I found it in these pix. Sometimes photographs are about the subject, sometimes the photography, and sometimes both. I view these first and foremost as being about the subject.20DSC_7154



I love single images that contain multiple species. I learned long ago that so do magazine editors. I call (not very creatively) this pairing of a Great-blue Heron and an American White Pelican the “Odd Couple”. I also have a clean and simple environment here, but I still scrubbed it a little. The light is extremely difficult but as a personal study of these subjects I will keep it.24DSC_0684

The light of late afternoon can be beautiful but with wild animals, it can also be difficult. Despite that, I have special memories of my time with these scraggy, molting, male Yellow-headed Blackbirds, as they artistically posed along some branches at the edge of the marsh.

Sometimes when we don’t have frame filling images, the art and design can become more apparent. In their own way, these guys were the artists who drove the camera, not me. When it comes to art in wildlife photography, I generally see my subjects as the artists, and myself as the one who shares their art with the world.25DSC_0174


Natural history can be as important in bird photography as is art. Often, a more complete story can be told with pictures that show more, at a greater distance. In this case, a brief look at a moment in the life of a Great-blue Heron rookery, helps tell the story of this species. Low cost housing for Herons? Four units, cheap rent. The picture was made at great distance with a 500mm lens. There is always a possibility of compressing so much atmosphere with a long lens at great distance, that the scene might become dirty and less than crisp. Thanks to a clean atmosphere on that morning, that problem was very minimal.27

Which images are winners, and which are losers is in the eye of the beholder.  It’s all in what you see.

Have a great day,                                                                                                                               Wayne

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