Behind The Shot: Family Portrait

Photo By Don Martin

I moved to Viera, Florida, five years ago from Palm Coast, Florida. I had only recently taken up photography, and my efforts to date had concentrated on landscape, travel and long-exposure night photography. I had never even given any thought to wildlife photography. Within a short period, I learned that the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands, also known as the Viera Wetlands, were only a mile from where I was living.

The Viera Wetlands are located between the Moccasin Island Tract of the River Lakes Conservation Area and the Brevard Zoo, and are popular among birders, photographers and eco-tourists. Natural Resources Management Department staff assisted by members of the Viera Wetlands Volunteer Program provide land management for this 200-acre constructed wetland system belonging to Brevard County Utility Services. The wetlands consist of four shallow, manmade marshes surrounding a deep lake with earthen berms that allow visitors access throughout the site. Pedestrians, vehicles and bicyclists share the berm road.

On this day, deep into the wetlands, I had set up my tripod on a berm within view of two great blue heron nests that I had been watching and photographing for several months. I was almost at eye level with this nest with no obstructions between my camera and the great blue family. One heron had been flying in regularly to bring new material to reinforce the nest and expand its size. I knew that periodically a heron chick would poke its little head up and that there were a total of three chicks, though I had never seen them clearly all at the same time.

After about two hours with almost no interesting photographs taken, I could see one of the herons out of the corner of my eye flying in with a branch in its beak. Just as the landing was occurring, the three chicks simultaneously raised from their nest to see what all the commotion was. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: the male, female and all three chicks lined up perfectly for a portrait. I couldn’t help but recall the agony of trying to have family portraits taken as a kid.

Shooting in manual mode, I had my lens aperture as wide open as possible to minimize any distracting background and maximize the light. I always photograph birds at shutter speeds of 1/1600 or 1/2000 sec. to minimize any movement of the birds’ wings and use auto ISO. Photographing in the late morning with plenty of light and the aperture wide open, I know the ISO will be in an acceptable range. I use single-point continuous focus and usually pre-focus on the head of one of the adult herons in the nest. When I see movement, I activate my AF and allow the camera to continuously focus on the subject. 

See more of Don Martin’s photography on Instagram @capt.donmartin.

Nikon D810, Tamron SP 150-600mm, f/5-6.3 Di VC USD at 460mm, Sirui N-2204X tripod, Acratech GP ballhead, Really Right Stuff L-bracket. Exposure: 1/2000 sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 200.

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