Tim Boyer Photography

Small Groups, Cool Birds in Fun Places, Create Award-winning Images!

How & Why Sandhill Cranes - Evening Flight

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer2 Comments

I created this image on November 11th, 2006 at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  Even eleven years later it is one of my favorite images. This was my first visit to Bosque, and I was mesmerized by the abundance of wild birds. There were tens of thousands Sandhill Cranes, and Snow Geese, thousands of ducks, and large flocks of blackbirds - Yellow-headed, Red-winged and Brewer's all mixed together. And then, of course, there was the light. Magical sunrises and sunsets. The sun would burst over the horizons in reds, oranges, and yellows. There was an intensity and clarity to the morning light as well. Each sunrise brought thousands of Snow Geese blasting off into the sky. The sunsets were equally as dramatic, actually a photographers dream, lots of close birds and incredible light.


I can tell you the technical aspects of how I captured this light, and the movement of these cranes very easily. The camera was set to 1/20th of a second at f/4, and ISO 800 on a Canon 600 mm f/4 IS lens with a Canon EOS 1D Mark II, with no Exposure Compensation.  But camera settings only tell us part of the story.

In 2006 the main roosting ponds by the highway were closed, drained dry. So, we had to be a little more creative in where we were going to spend the afternoon and evenings photographing Cranes and Snow Geese. The Evening Flight image was created on the third day of scouting and watching the cranes behavior in the late afternoons and evenings. So, we knew what time they would leave the cornfields, and exactly where we should be standing so we could photograph them as they flew by at eye level. I can't say that I visualized this image before I created it, but I knew the kind of image I wanted to create.


I knew I wanted to capture motion in the image or to give the illusion in a two-dimensional photograph the feeling of movement. I also wanted to create a mood and effect of a painting. The slow shutter speed of 1/20th of a second blurred the bird's wings, and panning with the birds, matching their speed helped blur the cornfields and distant mountains. An aperture of f/4 also helped blur both layers of background, the cornfields, and the mountains. The indirect, scattered light was a result of the sun going behind some mountains to the West, so there were no shadows. The panning motion and slow shutter speed and soft scattered light also create a softness to the image, which also adds to the mood of this image.  All of these things together create an image that I still enjoy looking at and studying.

Bosque del Apache NationalWildlife Refuge is a special place, the light and birds mixed with good access make for memorable shooting experiences.  The roar of the Snow Geese blasting off in the mornings is an experience in its self. Planning your shots or thinking about what you're trying to do and what kind of image you'd like to make will always help the result.

Thanks for stopping by,


Let me know what you think about this post, and if there's  one of my images that you'd like the backstory on, please let me know by commenting below.