Why I take so many photos of herons

My fiancée has seen a lot of my photographs, and she has noticed that many of them involve birds that wade in shallow water and catch the fish that swim by.

More scientifically, she has noticed a lot of photos of birds in the genus Ardeawhich includes two species that I see a lot of here in Central Indiana.

Great blue heron
Ardea herodias, commonly known as the great blue heron
Great egret
Ardea alba, commonly known as the great egret or great white heron.

One time she asked me, “Is that your favorite animal?”

I don’t know that I have a favorite animal per se (with the possible exception of my pet cat Bandit). But here’s what I do know:

  • They’re beautiful, graceful birds. In a pond full of ducks and geese, a heron is the belle of the ball. If you see one in flight, it is a special treat.  Because they are skittish about humans, you might inadvertently cause it to take flight if you get too close.
Great egret water landing
The great egret comes in for a water landing.
  • They are nearby. Both of the photos above were taken at a park less than five miles from where we live. I usually find myself at this park at least once a week. So I expect to see either a great blue heron or a great egret when I go there…and I often bring my camera gear with me. My desk at work also overlooks a retention pond, and herons frequent that pond. So, I get lots of opportunities to photograph them.
Great blue heron
I shot this photo of a great blue heron through the window right behind my desk at work…on a Nexus 5 smartphone. As the saying goes, “the best camera is the one you have with you.”
  • They’re challenging to photograph well with my equipment. My “good” camera gear is more advanced than a typical point-and-shoot camera (and certainly more advanced than the camera on my smartphone), but it’s not the kind of camera or lens you would expect a professional wildlife photographer to use. I simply don’t have the budget for that since no one is paying me for these photos. So there are inevitably some compromises. Most significantly, I have a telephoto lens but not a supertelephoto lens, so my reach is limited. That makes it harder to extract fine feather details when the bird is out in the water, even after a lot of cropping. The other challenge is tracking them while in flight, as my camera and lens do not excel with autofocus tracking for fast-moving subjects. So, I can always see room for improvement in my photos…and since I’m photographing basically the same subject matter, I can easily see the impact of each setting I change or any other photographic decisions I make.

Disclaimer: Photos are copyrighted. Do not use without permission from the author.


TV manufacturers need to throw a lifeline to PC users

Dear TV manufacturers:

It’s time we talked about overscan.

Yes, I know why you do it. Yes, I even know why it’s necessary. But I need to be able to turn it off sometimes.

One of the early promises of HDTVs was the ability to connect a PC and use the TV just like you would use a monitor for your computer. If you bought a really big TV, you could use it as a really big monitor too.

All you had to do was connect your PC to the TV via a VGA/D-Sub input, and voilà! Your PC’s screen appeared on your TV. (You also needed an audio cable.)

But VGA is an analog signal, and it does not carry HDCP (high-definition copy protection) the way digital signals like HDMI and DVI do. And, of course, the picture quality from HDMI and DVI tends to be vastly superior to VGA. Many laptops today — including the one I own — don’t even have VGA ports anymore.

So if we’re connecting our PCs to TVs, we’re doing it via HDMI. We want to send 1080p or even 4K video output from our PCs to our televisions, but our televisions betray us with overscan. And most TV manufacturers won’t let us do anything about it.

So we’re stuck tweaking our PC settings to slightly lower resolutions to fit on the TV screen, and that often means text gets a little distorted…and thus a little hard to read.

There are a few exceptions. Sharp has a “Dot-by-Dot” mode on its TVs, and Samsung has a “Screen Fit” mode as well. But most manufacturers don’t have anything like this built into their TV sets, and it’s difficult to understand why that’s not standard on every TV manufactured today.

For the rest of you, please get on with it. And, for good measure, a firmware update for your existing sets wouldn’t hurt either.