Friday, August 06, 2010

Twilight vision -- a white speck of mystery wrapped in an enigma

Twilight Vision: A White Speck as Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma
Sometimes a photograph has less to do with aesthetics than with solving a mystery.

We were walking at Tiedeman's Pond late in the day when I saw a white speck high in the shadowed woods all the way across, on the other side of the pond. I couldn't make out what it was, and didn't have any binoculars with me. Could it be a gull? Do they sit in trees? I didn't think so. Maybe it was a trash bag that had blown around and gotten snagged in the branches.

I started taking pictures with the D90. The 200mm lens wasn't much help on its own, but I could enlarge the image a lot on the LCD, until I was looking at just the very center of the frame. I felt like David Hemmings in "Blow Up", the photographer looking for the mystery hidden in his photos of trees, or a NASA Jet Propulsion Lab scientist trying to tease the last little bit of detail out of photos from an interplanetary probe.

The first few photos tended to confirm the trash bag hypothesis -- just a big white blob. Then I looked at the shutter speed and realized the "blobbiness" was mostly a result of camera shake. So I selected a higher shutter speed. Click, click, click... I kept enlarging, and suddenly I saw the unmistakable profile of big white bird, one that was shaped like a pretzel. That's because it was grooming, and its long white neck was bent completely around, and the beak buried in its feathers of its body. I kept shooting until I found an image with the head upright.

I think it's a Great Egret. It doesn't look much like one from this angle, but that's because its neck is tucked in and folded over, and it's facing away from the camera. Mystery solved, I think.

No comments: