Landing Gadwall (and why I can still enjoy a flawed image)

Oftentimes flaws in an image can ruin it for me. But not always…


1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this male Gadwall this past New Years Eve as he was landing on a local pond. I like his “water-skiing” pose, the sharpness of the duck, the water plume thrown up in front of him and the excellent eye contact but the image has at least one significant flaw.

The bird was too close to the top of the frame to get the composition I prefer so I had to compromise with this near-pano crop to make it look as good as it does. I could have added canvas up top but that’s something I try hard to avoid for reasons I’ve mentioned before. If this bird had been taking off instead of landing I probably would have deleted it.

So why did I choose to keep it and even post it on Feathered Photography? It all has to do with degree of difficulty.

Photographing a bird as it takes off is relatively easy compared to a bird as it lands, especially one landing on water where it continues to move after making contact. Because you’ve already prefocused on a static bird your main challenge is timing – being quick enough to catch it in frame without clipping any body parts.

But maintaining sharp focus on a bird in flight as it comes in to land is much more difficult, compounded by the fact that our active focus points tend to be grabbed by elements in the background or foreground which are usually close to the bird at that point. In situations like this one I’ve taken more photos of sharp water and soft birds than I care to remember.

So for me at least degree of difficulty plays a significant role in the appeal of a photo, just like it does in figure skating, gymnastics, diving and some other sports. For an image like this one I’m sometimes willing to cut it some slack.




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