Hovering Belted Kingfisher

Sometimes a minor tweak in processing technique can salvage an otherwise unusable image.

Kingfishers in flight are among my toughest subjects. My chances of success are best in two situations – during a dive after fish and when they’re hovering over water. Catching them during a dive is extremely difficult because their dives are so fast (and unpredictable) and for some reason “my” kingfishers don’t hover very often. I think that’s because the pond is small so they tend to hunt from perches over the water instead of hovering over a potential fish.


1/6400, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

But on the afternoon of February 12, 2016 this female kingfisher actually hovered for a few moments while she was close to me and I was able to get a couple of shots I like. This is my favorite of the two because it’s sharpest and has the best detail and I like the wing position and classic hovering posture.

I didn’t post this photo back then because there’s two catch lights in her eye (neither one is very bright). Often that doesn’t bother me but in this case I didn’t like the effect because I found it distracting. I could have cloned one of them out but I’m always hesitant to do that so I just passed over the image and then forgot about it until last night when I stumbled upon it again. This time I decided to try a different technique to mitigate the effects of that second annoying catch light.

Sharpening during processing enhances highlights such as catch lights and makes them more obvious to the eye so in this version of the image I removed the top catch light from the sharpening mask before I sharpened the bird and not sharpening that catch light made it significantly less bright and annoying to me. Enough so that I decided to post the image. In fact here you have to look fairly carefully to even see it. When it’s left in the mask and sharpened like everything else it’s much brighter than the bottom catch light and that combination is what I found distracting.

I realize that many of my readers think I’m too picky but for me little things can make a big difference either way and this was one of those times.




21 comments to Hovering Belted Kingfisher

  • James Waghorne

    Thank you for the tips Ron. I have Belted Kingfisher photos in my file which I took yesterday. Some flying and others perching. I have only processed one so far and wasn’t happy with the background. So the others are just sitting for now until I figure out how to deal with that. I understand wanting to get it right. Still learning how to process in lightroom, but I have a hard time posting anything just for the sake of showing it on Internet until I feel good about it.

  • Laura Culley

    What a gorgeous image! I love watching them hover, but of course, I NEVER have a camera in hand or the ability to use it. Instead, I scrape my jaw up off the ground when they move on and file the image in my brain where it might, or might not, be retrieved at some future date 😉
    Gotta admit that I’m aghast at what some photographers do to get a shot. In my world (where the color of the sky is admittedly often strange–to humans–colors), that’s just not fair!
    BTW, lest you believe the experts that only Kestrels can hover, I’m here to tell you that just ain’t so! Redtails and HAHAs hover, too. I’m pretty sure many bird species do it along with this lovely Kingfisher! As you know, when you’re out and about in The Great Out There regularly, you see all kinds of cool things.

  • Ed

    Beautiful Kingfisher photograph Ron. I love the coloring on her and her wing position.

    They hard very hard to photograph and you have done a great job, doing it ethically. As you know (but perhaps some who read your blog may not realize), there is a plethora of kingfisher images perfectly photographed beak first into the water..these are all faked, setup, images where the cheater put fish in a plastic bag, or in a kiddie pool, or … and used trickery to get the photo.

    So, when I see photos like yours Ron it reinforces in me that there are some honest and very talented photographers who can get incredible images of kingfishers, and it is worth the wait and efforts of many to do it right.

    “I realize that many of my readers think I’m too picky but for me little things can make a big difference either way and this was one of those times” — Yes 😉 I did see the second catch light and I was looking for it..

    • Ed, I thought about those cheating (and unethical IMO) photographers who use those kinds of setups when I answered Dick Harlow’s question below about getting shots of kingfishers as they’re just entering the water. And those photographers almost never disclose what they did to get the shot.

      Hmmm, I wonder why…

  • Patty Chadwick

    That brown/red is called burnt sienna or sienna….a beautiful, warm color and extra beautiful when combined with cerulean blue, cobalt blue, aqua or turquoise. I love this image…for the detail(esp.on the wings), the hovering position, the beard and how it shows off those funny, little legs….the wing detail alone is wonderful!!! Great shot!!!

  • Art

    Love the processing details, Ron. And the photo of course…

  • Marty K

    What a fabulous image! Love the wing position (I never knew Kingfishers had brown armpits!) and the teeny-tiny feet. Glad you decided to post this one. 🙂

  • Dick Harlow

    Excellent shot Ron, just beautiful.
    You probably have one of them in the process of diving or just before they go into the water?

  • Judy Gusick

    Beautiful capture, Ron. 🙂 The kingfishers are tough no matter what! Looks like it has a “beard” there………. I’d take it no matter how many catch lights there were 😉

  • Marina schultz

    Oh dear Ron !! 2 catch lights ! Better than non !! Love the picture ..

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