A winter plumage american goldfinch


Ok, I have to admit I am not a fan of winter. I can do without the extreme cold temperatures and snow shoveling but there is one part of winter I actually look forward to, photographing the american goldfinch. Yesterday it was 73 degrees here and this morning it was 30 and I woke up to a skiff of snow on my lawn. Yes, winter has arrived.

A couple of days ago, however, when the temperatures dictated short sleeved shirts and shorts for most people I found myself on Farmington Bay WMA in search of birds to photograph. I wasn’t having much luck until I came across a few american goldfinches fussing over some dried sunflowers.

american goldfinch
An american goldfinch tossing a seed hull.

The brilliant yellow of the summer plumage american goldfinch is one of my favorite sights in the bird world but I also love the more subdued colors of the winter plumage offered by the goldfinch this time of year, especially when I can catch it with a soft background in morning light.

Photographing birds in a natural setting is a take it as you get it kind of deal. Admittedly I do have mixed feelings about these shots of this american goldfinch. I love the colors and the birds poses but I tend to like images with less or no distracting objects in the background such as the vertical sunflower stalk. Well, maybe I am fussing over small things like these goldfinches were fussing over their morning meal.

american goldfinch
A portrait of an american goldfinch sitting on a sunflower.


Photographing birds, or anything under natural light for that matter, offers some unique challenges. One of them is the amount of light available from the sun and what camera settings are available to catch the light and still offer a fast enough shutter speed desired to stop any unwanted motion. If you look closely at the tail of the birds you can see some slight blurring on the tails of the american goldfinch due to a very short depth of field. The trade off for the outdoor photographer who loves the early morning light is to open up the aperture to allow more light in, thus keeping the shutter speed higher to stop any possible action. This does affect the depth of field of the shot, especially when shooting a big lens, which inherently has a shorter depth of field anyways.

american goldfinch
An american goldfinch feeding on a sunflower.


The upside is a short depth of field blurs the background so even things like unwanted vegetation is blurred giving more attention to the subject. The only trick is to find the happy medium for depth of field and shutter speed. It is a bit easier on stationary objects such as a posing american goldfinch but for moving objects it can be a bit trickier because of the higher required shutter speed to stop the motion.

american goldfinch
A winter plumage american goldfinch.

Well, winter is here and it’s time to go find some winter birds to photograph. I can honestly say I am already looking forward to march when the snow and cold temperatures start to retreat and birds such as the tundra swan make their yearly spring migratory appearance but until then I have goldfinches, house finches and many other birds to keep me company until old man winter gives way to the warming sounds of springtime singing blackbirds and meadowlarks.

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