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Smokin' Redwing © Marie Read

With vivid scarlet wing-patches and dramatic “song-spread” displays, the male Red-winged Blackbird is a welcome harbinger of spring. It’s also a perennial favorite with bird photographers, making it hard to come up with a photo that stands out from the crowd. So to be different, I chose to photograph the bird backlit, by pointing my lens toward the sun, rather than having the sun behind me.

The further one moves away from standard front-lighting, the more the image changes from a typical documentary shot to an abstract rendition of the bird, the most extreme being rim-lighting in which the bird is outlined by the light, as it is here. Plus the redwing takes the artistry a step further – as it blares out its loud conk-la-reeee call, its steamy breath is made visible by the backlighting, looking like exhaled smoke!

Not an easy shot to get. In fact I spent every morning for more than a week at one particular pond, waiting for the right combination of elements to occur: the bird on a suitable cattail and turned toward, not away, from me, the angle of the sun low enough, the background shaded, the temperature cold enough that the breath was visible, the exposure set so that highlights weren’t burned out. I’m still not done with this subject, though … on the next sunny morning I’ll be out there again enjoying the challenge!

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