Capturing Wildlife - Correct Exposure on Dark and White Birds


My approach to photography is to keep it simple while maintaining control of my camera. On average, an adult brown pelican requires about 2/3 to 1 stop more light than the white-feathered egret. To go from brown to white and back to brown, I prefer to change only the shutter speed within a 1/1000 to 1/2500 range. I set my aperture and generally keep it at that setting throughout the shoot. Most of the time, I am photographing more than one bird in a frame and will use f8 or f9 to get the depth of field needed. I adjust the ISO accordingly so that I have a shutter speed no slower than 1/1000. Because the brown pelican requires more light, the shutter speed will be slower than when I expose for the white egret, so I want to make sure I have a fast enough shutter speed all the time.

I start by exposing for either the white bird or the brown bird. Once I have the correct exposure for that bird, all I need to do is adjust the shutter speed for the other bird. For example, my settings for the brown pelican might be ISO400, f8 and 1/1000. If I shift my attention to the white egret, all I need to do is adjust the shutter speed to 1/1600 or 1/2000, depending on the lighting situation. I simply keep my finger on the shutter speed dial as I look through the viewfinder, ready to change the exposure as needed. You could accomplish the same thing by using aperture priority, but remember you have to first correct your exposure by using exposure compensation (white birds generally require about +1 stop). Now you can go from white bird to brown bird without manually adjusting the shutter speed. Either way, it's so easy!

Thanks for looking on and if you are interested in receiving tutorials in Photoshop or individualized workshops in the field, please check out my website and feel free to contact me at