How I Got The Shot – Blackbird Portrait

I am starting a new series here at Picture Methods called – “How I got the shot.” A few times each month, I’ll post a picture and discuss some basic things about how it came to be. I got the idea from questions I’ve received over the last few months about various images. Hopefully everyone will find something they can take away from these posts.


I went to Viera Wetlands just north of Melbourne, FL. This is a water treatment facility with adjacent park that attracts birds all year.

Spring is a great time to visit and you will see many species here, although climate change has reduced the concentration of birds over the years. 30 years ago, the Wetlands were the biggest body of fresh water in the area, but now the water is widely dispersed and so are the birds. Nevertheless, it’s always worth a stop if you’re in the area.

On this day, I found a very cooperative male, red-winged blackbird.

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While the red-winged blackbird is an incredibly common bird, that doesn’t mean that it’s common to find one on a nice perch, with a blue lake background, in nice light – with beak open – singing – as is the case here.

All birds’ lives matter and you’ll never see me pass on photographing a “common” bird. To me – there’s nothing common about any of them. I was excited to get this opportunity.

The Viera Wetlands is circled by several dirt roads. You can drive around looking for birds and then stop when you find something that interests you. In situations like this, your car acts as a blind (or a hide as the Brits call it) and as long as you don’t drive fast, or make sudden movements, the birds will be quite tolerant of your vehicle. Step out – and that is a different situation.

Kirk Window Mount

I usually travel with this device when I think I might visit places like Viera Wetlands. The Kirk WM-2 Multi-Purpose Window Mount allows me to mount a ball head or a gimbal inside the car, providing stability and comfort as I shoot out my window. On this occasion, I used the UniqBall UBH 35XC Ball Head with X-Cross Clamp mounted on a riser. (I usually use the 45XC which is beefier, but it’s too large for use in a car and on the window mount. In this use case, the 35XC works fine.)

I spotted this bird, got the car on sun-angle, and looked for a good background. Inching the car along, I waited until the lake was behind the bird, shut off my car engine (to avoid vibration) and went to work. For 20 minutes this little guy perched and sang. It was great. There was good light (essential when photographing birds that have predominantly black feathers) and a good background.

I wanted to capture the bird while he sang. I love the song that the male makes so I waited for a sign. Red-winged blackbirds sort of yawn right before they launch into their song – if you know this, it makes it easier to make an image during the song so you get the beak open. Then I let go of 10-fps bursts to find the image I wanted.

My gear for this shot and capture data is listed below.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 X, Olympus 300 f/4 Pro IS Lens with Olympus 1.4 teleconverter – 840mm EFL – Kirk Window Mount –  – ISO 400 – f/5.6 – 1/800th second.

I finished the image using Luminar Flex.


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