Great egret fishing
Florida has two common native egrets: the great egret(similar in size to the great blue heron but solid white) and the snowy egret(similar in size to little blue and tri-color herons but solid white). Egret will be found the same areas as herons and share similar habits. The best opportunities for egret photography also coincide with that of herons.
Snowy egret on beach
This post will focus on some of the fundamentals of wildlife photography, applicable to all animal subjects. Keeping these basic guidelines in mind while taking wildlife photos will make for more “ooh’s and “ahh’s” from people looking at your shots. These rules apply just as well to general photography.
Great egret with a large fish for breakfast
Control the background as much as possible. Think about the background before releasing the shutter. Are you trying to show the egret in its natural environment with everything sharp and recognizable or do you want an isolated portrait against a plain background? Quite often both types of shot can be achieved by simply changing the lens aperture to control depth of field. Shadowed areas and bright sky also make effective dark or light backgrounds. The background is a choice by the photographer and moving the camera even a few inches or changing the aperture can have a huge impact on the final image.
Snowy egret against a dark backgound of shadowed, out-of-focus foliage
Use a tripod, or at least a monopod, whenever possible. Carrying a tripod everywhere can seem inconvenient but the improvement you see in your final images will convince you. A tripod allows(forces?) more careful framing of the subject(try to avoid objects jutting into the frame and distracting bright spots near the edges). Tripods permit more careful evaluation of depth-of-field for exactly the effect you are trying to achieve. Slow shutter speeds are not a problem when small apertures are needed for maximum depth-of-field. Just as important as anything else, maximum image sharpness is only possible when the camera is mounted on a tripod. Image stabilization, whether in the lens or in the camera body is a big help when hand-holding but cannot replace a solid tripod.
Snowy egret with back-lighting and out-of-focus water in the background
Pay attention to the exposure histogram. Make sure not to overexpose the highlight areas, especially when shooting white subjects like Florida’s egrets. If needed, and if a tripod is used, two or three frames can be exposed at different exposures and then combined during post-processing to keep all shadow and highlight details. At least be aware if your camera cannot capture the full contrast range of the image and make a conscious decision about where it is better to lose detail.