Herons are long-legged freshwater and coastal birds in the family Ardeidae of which there are 64 recognized species. Some you may know as egrets or bitterns. The herons are medium to large sized birds with long legs and necks. Their necks are able to kink in an s-shape, due to the modified shape of the sixth vertebrae which allows it to retract and extend. The neck is longer in the day herons than the night herons and bitterns. The legs are long and strong and in almost every species are unfeathered from the lower part of the tibia. The feet of herons have long thin toes, with three forward pointing ones and one going backward. Herons are mostly associated with wetlands and water, and feed on a variety of live aquatic prey. The diet includes a wide variety of aquatic animals, including fish, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, molluscs and aquatic insects. In one of my heron pictures you’ll notice the heron has a large water beetle.
The most common hunting technique is for the bird to sit motionless on the edge of or standing in shallow water and wait until prey comes within range at which time their bill is used to spear their prey. I have observed this behavior for hours on end and you’ll see this reflected in one of the heron pictures in my gallery. In addition to sitting and waiting, herons may feed more actively. They may walk very lowly snatching prey when it is observed. While the family exhibits a range of breeding strategies, overall the herons are monogamous and mostly colonial which why heron rookeries are quite often the preferred site for heron photography.
Cited Reference: Handbook of the Birds of the World
Heron Photography – Tips For Getting Great Heron Pictures.
- Great heron pictures can be taken in a variety of lighting conditions however I have always found that the early morning light brings out the colour in the plumage which otherwise gets washed out mid-day.
- Most of the herons I have observed are Great Blue Herons and they are easily spooked. If you spot one from your car it is best to try to get a few shots from your vehicle before attempting to get out else you risk flushing the bird and getting no pictures at all. Keep your camera with you in the car at all times. You do that anyway right?
- If you are still practicing panning and flight shot techniques then heron photography is a great place to practice. They are extremely slow flyers so that gives you plenty of time to focus and pan along with them.
- Get to know the limits of your camera, especially ISO settings and where noise is at an acceptable level as you will need to know those for flight shots when the light is low.
- For flight shots F/8 is still my preferred f stop but not at the expense of shutter speed. Keep your shutter speed above 1/800 bumping up your ISO as required. Of course if you are taking portrait shots where the bird is perched you won’t need to be as concerned about shutter speed.
- As with all wildlife photography focus on the eye always and use your depth of field to keep other elements in focus or fade them out. For portrait shots of one bird I usually opt for f/2.8 or f/4 to fade out the background as much as possible. With multiple birds I go up to f/8 or f/11 to keep both eyes in focus.
- Whether perched or flying you need to pay attention to the background in order to get winning heron pictures. I try to avoid just a bright blue sky but that’s just me.
- I am always on the lookout for a heron rookery as they have many advantages for heron photography. One the birds tend not to spook as easily and secondly the fledgling herons which have the appearance of their parents don’t leave the nest often and they always have entertaining exchanges with one another so keep them focused in your viewfinder at all times.
- If you are observing a nest, you’ll be alerted to a parents return to the nest by almost prehistoric cry’s of the young as the adult approaches with food. It is like a scene from Jurassic Park.
- The young are extremely competitive for food so when the adult lands be focused on the adult and the chicks as she advances to the nest. The chicks will be lunging at her and jostling with one another to be first in line.
- I have observed blood spilled during these heated exchanges as their bills are lethal weapons – not a pretty sight but as I stated the young are fiercely competitive with one another.
- Water wading herons usually stand very still for long periods but you will see then glance from side to side watching prey. When the head moves and the neck begins to lower be on the ready as the explosion into the water to catch their prey is very fast and you will miss the action if you are not ready.