Wood Ducks on Golden Pond
Fall color is sweeping through the Denver Metro area which is about a month after colors began to change in the higher altitude regions. The changing colors bring vibrant hues to more than just the trees. Reflected leaf colors make the waters of ponds and streams pop with more colorful life. Add in the waterfowl migration, a wood duck or two and you’ll see a shift in the diversity of the landscape by the trees out on the horizon.
I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t going to try to photograph these ducks like I had in the past. Last year, I just wanted clean full-frame images of the ducks out in the golden water with no harsh lighting and no heavy shadows. In a wooded area around a pond, there are a number of different lighting scenarios that could possibly come in to play. So I spent the day out at the pond chasing pockets of light in circles and waiting for different ducks to either end up in those light shafts or move through them.
It’s not necessarily an easy task. With the sun to either my back or at 90 degrees most of the day, I set out to try to creatively light these ducks using the reflections of the leaves in the pond and the sun. I did try to employ some backlight but based on the location the backlight effect did not quite get fully utilized as by the time it would have been dramatic the light source would have been full obscured.
Backlight can be fun as it will give you some dramatic light that rim lights your subject. Also, when shooting water it illuminates splashing from the back making more particles visible. Shooting water in that way can actually create visual chaos, which in a chase scene like the one below, helps sell the drama in the scene. These drakes are chasing after a hen in the water and it is a race to the finish!
When shooting in wooded areas, trees can help create dramatic pockets of light or diffusion for your subject. Using trees is a common theme in portrait family photography as many photographers line a family up in a pocket of back light it instantly transforms some of the scene for them. With wild ducks, you can’t predict or ask them to do anything for you. You need to figure out which shoreline trees are going to help create the lighting scenario you want to shoot in and get into place from there. Once into place, sit still and become a natural part of the scene, others may choose to bring a blind. I set me exposure settings up so that I could underexpose the entire scene by around 2 stops. I wanted background to the fall into the shadow to create dramatic lighting.
After the ducks got up from their afternoon nap, the began swimming around the pond and feeding. I waited patiently as they made their movements choosing to shoot one duck at a time and not worrying about the dozen others that were nearby. Once that one duck would hit my predetermined place, I’d fire off a few frames.
Once I got what I came for, I started to move around a bit and started getting images of resting ducks on the shoreline as well as more dramatic spotlit photos in fall colors. I also began to shoot a few of a the ducks at close range as they became comfortable with my presence to make a few portrait images.