White birds on overcast days

Netra and I spent the last day of 2023 on the Central Coast, looking for the occasionally present Black-necked Storks. While we never saw these stunning storks that day, we did come across a number of egrets feeding in shallow water around Tuggerah Lake. The egrets being white made perfect subjects on this overcast day making for lovely white on bright tonal shots.

A beautiful Little Egret as it hops across the surface chasing fish, Netra expertly exposed the bright tones, making a wonderful image.

Let’s face it, most photographers would love to have perfect light for every image, irrespective of time of day. However, that is not something that’s achievable, because we are limited to the gorgeous warm light of the early morning or late afternoon to achieve that level of warmth in our images. Once the sun rises high enough, the light becomes too harsh to work with or the light disappears at nightfall.

Another one of Netra’s stunning shots, an Eastern Great Egret swallowing a small Yellowfin Bream.

The harsh light of a sunny day does not do light colours any favours. It is difficult to expose a white egret (for example) without risking the blowing of the white plumage and it also creates ugly and heavy shadows. For white subjects, one must severely underexpose to obtain a half useable image.

However, when the day is overcast and the sun is gone, you can photograph white or light subjects all day, because of the light being soft and diffused by the clouds eliminating harsh shadows and it makes photography a breeze. The only things to be mindful of are that you may want to use higher ISOs than what you are comfortable with, and/or slower shutter speeds. In these conditions, we would still rather be out shooting wildlife than sitting in front of the TV.

While not white, this Bar-tailed Godwit, a migrant from Siberia, is still a gorgeous subject. I was laying on my belly 15m away while Netra watched from afar.

Don’t be afraid of high ISO. With proper digital exposure even high ISO images can be wonderful additions to your image files. Shoot to the right (histogram) and enjoy the capabilities that modern DSLR and mirrorless cameras offer.

Netra’s image of a beautiful Royal Spoonbill preening not even 20m from her.

In perfectly lit conditions you have a small range of angles from which you can make pleasing images, otherwise the light may not hit your subject the way it would be best. When it’s overcast, that flat light gives you a couple of hundred extra degrees of angles from which you can shoot without worrying about the light, as it’s even, across the frame irrespective of your position. This is a huge advantage! Exploit this opportunity with every subject! I know, when we are out, I would much rather a cloudy day than sunny; anytime!

One of my images of the same bird showing the fine actions of feather preening.

Exposing black and white subjects becomes much easier when it’s overcast. Given the limited dynamic range of our camera sensors, these are ideal conditions that make it possible to nicely expose for both tones in one image.

Another stunning shot from Netra, perfectly exposed whites on a white background. Courtesy of an overcast day. We love days like this!

Overcast days may also bring precipitation with them, so that also adds some more drama into your images. Don’t hesitate to get out in all conditions and make the best of every shooting opportunity.

I took this image on the second last day of our O’Reilly’s Photography Tour last October. You can see the rain streaking down in the image. A wonderful opportunity to create different images. Again, not a white bird, but illustrative of wet conditions. Great for taking photos.

The moral of the story is, you need not be afraid of a cloudy sky, a bit of rain even, and, most importantly, using high ISO to capture some unique images. We can teach you all these things in our upcoming workshop in mid-March.

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