American Bittern western Maine

Critique Style Requested: Standard

The photographer is looking for generalized feedback about the aesthetic and technical qualities of their image.


This was a “lifer” for me. I was on the lakes edge watching 2 Belted Kingfishers swooping down on something in the grass and all I saw was a log sticking out of the weeds but then it moved. I said Bittern… I watched it remain steedy in it’s unique pose but then with a slight move of its head looked up at me. I took many typical photos but I liked this one with its face on eyes looking at me. He stayed for some time, enough for me to take pictures. My camera was set on “A” which I never do but went with it. I did not know how long he would stay. The 2 birds took off when they saw me so I think that kept him in place. What a joy to see one rather close for such a long time.

Specific Feedback

I did not crop, but did look at exposure setting appeared okay?

Technical Details

not my typical settings for birds but I am glad to have see him
Nikon D500, Lens 500mm, F5.6
AP - Spot meter
1/50 sec, hand held
F5.6, ISO 800

Hi Norma, nice job to spot and photograph such an elusive subject! I like the head on look also with the two eyes staring me down. A fine catch for sure and great that there is some separation from the BG for the head and neck.

The bird seems pretty sharp for 1/50s hand held but I think the bird would be sharper with a faster shutter (using higher ISO). There are programs available now which allow for shooting higher ISOs and do a great job cleaning up the noise and maintaining detail. I use DXO Pure Raw 3 but photoshop ACR also has a denoise function which should work very well. My understanding A mode for Nikon is aperture priority which also lets you set the ISO. So perhaps experimenting with higher ISOs to get your shutter speed up for situations like this would help.
I think toning down some of the whites on the chest would also help.

Thanks for sharing. I have zero bittern images so this is a treat to see.

Allen, thank you so much! This is exactly the kind of technical info. I am looking for. I thought so too about the AP setting ISO. I do have DXO but struggle with it sometimes. I have it set for my Nikon full frame and it does work well. Yes I am aware of the photoshop denoise function so I do have that option and will go for the higher ISO. I think always grabbing my Nikon with my fixed lens and alway shoot M 5/6 shutter speed 1000, keeps me in a comfort zone. I think with the Bittern, I put it on auto for fear I would lose the photo op. This technical information is so helpful and appreciated.

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Nice job, Norma. Allen covered the technical aspects well. The only thing I’d suggest (and I don’t know how the D500 is layed out) would be to put the iso adjustment on a dial or button where it’s nice and handy. Aside from ridiculous situations, that’s what I’ve been using for most of my exposure adjustments now that the noise software is so good. You do have to be aware of where it’s set so you don’t get too carried away, but in general it works.

Have you tired a vertical crop on this image? I think you have more vegetation than needed on the sides and it would be more impressive vertically.

Thanks Dennis, I will try the vertical crop and post it. My go to settings are usually Manual mode keeps the shutter speed and fstop at what I set and adjusts the ISO according to the range I set in my menu options. I do have the ability to set-up special settings with an easy to get to button. I will try that too. Appreciate all your good suggestions.

Wow, a nice catch and pose of that Bittern Norma; I have yet to see one so thanks for that. I would have loved to get a nice image of the kingfishers too; they are so hard to shoot and my current shots are just so so. My initial reaction to your photo was that it was perfect for a vertical crop, on the right or left of course. Thanks for sharing!

My first reaction was what a perfect camouflage. I agree that the vertical crop would be advisable. I have a question regarding manual metering when you are risking movement on the part of the subject or camera shake is a possibility when hand holding. I have been putting my ISO on auto and setting the shutter speed much faster. Topaz Denoise does a great job with the noise. Is that a viable option?

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Hi Barbara. Yes. Quite a few good wildlife and bird photographers use that technique. If you go that route you will sometimes need to dial in exposure compensation to handle tough lighting conditions because even though everything else is in manual, the auto iso means that the camera is setting the exposure-not you.


Hello Barbara, thank you so very much for giving me your good advise. I will change the crop to vertical. I can honestly say this was a very lucky momement for me. I watched him until he decided to move on and when he flew away he wa so small. He moved so slow ike a sloth. Thankfully I had 2 cameras with me and the one set on AP captured the better images as he was not in flight.

You are welcome. Thanks for sharing this moment with us.

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I need to learn how to do that because I like to use auto ISO when there is a breeze, and I hope to freeze the action. Thanks @Dennis_Plank .