Ridgway, Colorado
May 15
A sometimes artist and photographer, sometimes I write too.  


Editor’s Pick
MARCH 8, 2011 3:31PM

Edit To One

Rate: 38 Flag

this is my favorite one, I think

Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias. Larger view here.


A short narrative and a continuation of thoughts On Photography

A cold front blew in this past weekend. It's not uncommon to get freezing weather in March in north Texas, but we're closer to the inevitable descent to Hades than we are to the outdoor air conditioning we enjoy in the too-short winter season. 


I had arranged with a local friend and OS member Julie Delio to meet her for a photo shoot. But Saturday was below freezing and the wind was blowing. She and another friend decided to brave the flailing elbows of octogenarian mall walkers instead of suffering the elements on a nature trail.


Julie had suggested we gather ourselves and our gear at a trailhead for the Trinity Trails system in Fort Worth. She had participated in the Cowtown 10k the previous week and on that same part of the trail was delighted to discover a nesting site for Great Blue Herons. The big birds, with a wingspan of six feet, and standing nearly four feet tall, are supposed to be good luck when you happen to see one. I was all for it. Plus, Julie is fun to hang out with.


We delayed our rendezvous until the next day, and Sunday started out freezing but turned into a gorgeous day with little wind. We didn't have far to walk. Herons nest in colonies, sometimes more than a hundred pairs if the ecosystem can support them. This herony, as it's called, was much smaller. There were a dozen or so nests at the tops of the pin oaks and cottonwoods. 


They're not clever nest builders, instead opting for function over form in the large stick platforms. It's amazing that the fledglings can maintain their balance on such a humble home, especially when the parents come to feed the huge babies and crowd the seemingly too small square footage.


precarious platforms

Precarious platforms. You'll have to view this in a larger size to see the five or six nests and that there are two herons in the shot. 


The shot above was taken from a distance of about 100 yards to illustrate a couple of points. It's not a terrific photo—but you can get an overall sense of what we came to see. You can see the deciduous oaks haven't yet leafed out, though there's a pretty redbud in the lower left that has begun to bloom. The herons build their nests at the top of the trees for easier takeoffs and landings, especially when the foliage is complete, thus they're somewhat vulnerable to predators as illustrated in the next two shots. 


You'd think that a bird that large, with an obvious deadly weapon in their dagger-like beak, wouldn't have to worry about predators, but they do have to be careful. Red-tailed hawks are a particular menace. The hawks break the eggs and also raid nests for the chicks when the parents are away. 


red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk Buteo jamaicensis. Larger view here.


We saw this fellow strafe the nests. He flew well above the tree line, but once he hunched his shoulders and drew in his wings in that classic preparation for dive bombing, the herons also recognized that threat and they scattered. Two of the herons remained, which indicated that they were guarding their clutches of eggs. The hawk bumped the head of one heron, and simply flew off, unable to unseat the protective mother. 



Two remained. Larger here.This shot is just after the hawk buzzed the nests. Most of the them took off and circled the herony, alighting again after a few moments. 








Thoughts on Photography, a chapter 2, I suppose

One lesson I've learned is a process called "Edit To One." I think the process helps all photographers regardless of the skill or artistic level. In my previous post On Photography, I mentioned that we can never be that other person—that other photographer. And we shouldn't try to be. In the same vein, the Edit to One lesson is all about comparing yourself to yourself.


This process applies to those occasions when we are "out on a shoot." We have a project or destination in mind and we end up with a lot of photos within a fairly narrow time frame or subject matter. It occurs when you get back to the place where you can look at all the photos from that shoot.


The Edit to One means that we must choose just one photo that is the best one in that project. It's hard. Don't ask anyone else what they think, because they don't think like you do. The other person is not the one composing or framing or any of the other myriad choices you make. It's you. Select just one photo. One. 


You might say to yourself, "Oh, but this one and this one are worthy of display, if not to the accolades of those who might view it, at least I like that one and that one and that one." It's hard to release your favorites into that category of "also ran."


But really, there is always one photo that is just a little, or even much better than all the others in the shoot. On our Great Blue Heron excursion, I took 140 photos. That's not really a lot. It would have been easy to take 500. Part of the result in this process is that you're taking fewer photos. That's ok. It means you're making deliberative, thoughtful decisions. The one at the top of this post is the one I selected for my Edit To One choice.


The process is this: after you've selected that one photo, why did the others not make that coveted designation? What about each of those other shots, looking at them one by one, that made them fall short of the mark. Is the focus off just a bit? Could the composition have been better? Did you make the right choice on depth of field, f/stop, speed, ISO, light direction, etc., etc.


Here's one that I liked a lot:


Great Blue Heron

Larger here


It's a nice shot. The framing and composition are what I wanted, and actually follows the Rule of Thirds in a way that is more than subliminally pleasing—there's something about negative space that enhances the focal point even further. But there were some choices I could have made that would have made the picture just a little better. There's a setting on the lens I was using, the Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 zoom with the TC1.7 telecoverter attached to get a little further reach. The actual focal length was 340mm. There's a setting on the lens to allow for vibration reduction—VR—and it has a specific capability for panning. That means that it compensates when you have to move the camera and lens in either a horizontal or vertical pan and makes the image tack sharp if you've made the right decision on all the other variables. Taking photos of birds in flight is fairly difficult to get razor sharp focusing. And since I was using a monopod, it's common practice to turn off the VR setting, that's especially so if you're using a tripod. When using a monopod or tripod the lens tries to compensate where none is needed and it actually makes for some fuzzy edges at times when VR is on and it's not necessary. 


But in the excitement of having the heron fly near us, close enough to be able to get a decent shot, I just didn't think to turn on the VR and then turn on Active VR, which is the setting that helps with panning. There's also a setting on the camera body for Continuous Shooting, instead of Single. That setting allows for much more motion to be taking place and the computers inside the camera adjust to keep the main component in the framing choice always in focus.


What I learned from that is to try to be a bit more anticipatory. I need to look at the settings on the camera and on the lens given where I'm standing and what might reasonably be expected to happen. In the next photoshoot that is similar, I need to spend a few minutes preparing the camera, but also preparing my brain to accommodate those expectations.


The reason the image at the top of the post is the selected favorite can be summed up quickly. The heron's serpentine neck is nicely spaced between the branches, which didn't occur on the other shots that were similar. The focus is tack sharp. My stance location was good to get the light slanting in from the side to show off the shoulder and leg coloring. The bird's head was positioned just right to see the rat tail plumes that come off the top. And finally, it shows a quirkiness of the bird's morphology. The eyes are positioned on its head so that it can see forward and downward at the same time—I think that's an evolution that enables better hunting results when they're wading in creeks and swamps. All of those elements combined, and especially it being a well focused shot, to make it the Edit To One choice.


Here are three similar shots that were close, but didn't make the top shot:


Great Blue Heron


Great Blue Heron


Great Blue Heron


In the first two of the three, my placement—where I put my feet—was not good enough. The foreground branch was too busy in front of the wings. I think they're nice shots to show a heron as it's landing, but there are distractions. The third of three is similar to the top shot, and was taken close to the same viewpoint, but the depth of field setting was a bit off, rendering the background sky a bit too dark, the branch near its head was too close, and the attitude of the head wasn't as good as the top choice to enable you to see the thin head plumes. The lesson learned here is to work quickly, but even a slight change in viewpoint location will help with side light enhancement and composition. Don't be afraid to move slightly to get a better view—compose with your feet.


I also like this following shot because it shows some interesting things—the wing pose when arresting flight, the leading edge flaps that look like thumbs and the size of the feet compared with the tiny talons. But it's out of focus and there are too many branches in the way. In fact, the auto-focus hit the branches in this shot and rendered its head slightly out of focus. 


Great Blue Heron


That's it for Chapter 2 in what might be a continuing series On Photography. The purpose of Edit To One is to get you thinking, and to get you thinking before you head out for the next shoot. If it means you take fewer photos, don't worry. I think you'll find that the ones you do take you'll find that you're happier with the results.


I'm sure when I'm out and about I'll see or do something that will smack me in the head so that I'll think "Oh, I need to explore this further" or it's something that I can share. My inspiration for Edit To One comes from my most trusted resource on the web for photography—Thom Hogan. As far as I know, he coined the phrase, though he could have learned it from his mentor, the great wildlife and nature photographer Galen Rowell.


Before we leave the Great Blue Herons, here's a link for you birders out there. John James Audubon illustrated the New World birds in his epic Birds of America. His rendition of the Great Blue can be found here. If you move your cursor over the image, you'll see details that are just amazing. 









I did have another favorite, but it was not a heron shot. I included it in the Edit To One process, and I still think I made the right choice with the image at the top. Yeah, yeah, there's some poetry.




weightless in wind

with no control

pierced by a thorn

body and soul


pining for winds

turmoiled increase 

captured beauty

awaits release


a freshened air

and off it goes

through new layers

the forest grows



all photos copyright © 2011 by barry b. doyle · all rights reserved





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Amazing photos of an amazing subject!
Incredibly educational and generous, as always. (Even the "lame poetry"!)

Herons are so magnificent - I envy you for getting so close.
Wow eh wee wow. You already got a ER room visit.
You always remember to take the dang camera cap off too.
Thinking people think you deserve a EP @ Open Salon. Mike.
IF we had One Open Mike Night You can sing sweet birdsongs.
You seem to have no camera shy dilemma. Bird no need enema.
You deserve more than a bowl of wiggling jello for these shots.
No sit under a shady Willow Tree if you have clean clothes on.
One of the two most stimulating and enlightening posts I've read today, thank you. I love your edit to one concept, and will follow it from now on more conscientiously. That you took only 140 shots instead of 500 was a blessing in disguise, in a way. I find myself - an amateur with one camera - taking far too many pictures of the same subject, and find that the more shots I have, the more difficult becomes the 'edit to one' decision. Now I have some solid guidelines to keep in mind.

Do I need to comment on the final photo and the poem? They stand on their own - magnificently.
I take lots of pictures, but I am so not a photographer. I admire you for your craft....I love checking in to see your latest creations. I am not a birder, but I am enchanted by all the birds that gather in the trees right outside my window and door of my apartment here in Oaxaca every morning year round....lots of hummingbirds flock to the hibiscus. If both you and your wife are birders, just one more reason to visit Oaxaca:)
These are things I'm sort of stumbling on along the way. (btw, how impressive would video of the strafing have been??) Positioning is a pain to think about but something I'm becoming more conscious of.

And I still cannot bring myself to take a zillion shots. I'm a one take, one shot kinda guy even though I know in my head it's better to take multiples and pick out the best. Maybe I think about the resulting chore of that too much.

Again, thanks for the insights of how you work. Every bit gets logged into my databank. I'd also be interested in parts besides the mechanics, e.g. keeping an open mind on what pictures to take. I know on one shot of Algis's I thought to myself: "I'd never have thought of taking that shot." I find it tough granting myself that freedom.
The Great Blue Heron is a favourite bird... if one can have such a thing. Spectacular. We get the solitary Grey Heron around the lake. Barry, thanks for keeping the bar up around here.
teendoc, thanks so much. I hope people go over to your latest post, found here to see your own fabulous photo skills.

Jeanette, it was wonderful to get close, but with a 340mm lens, it was better for them to be a little distant. I got to the base of some trees carefully walking to not disturb them too much for some shots, and then thought it would be better to be more distant. Thanks for mentioning the lame part too.

Art, always a pleasure to receive one of your stream of consciousness nuggets. Thank you friend.

Fusun, you're too kind with your wonderful comments. Thanks.

oaxacan, hope to make it down there at some point, I know it's a photographers paradise.

Harry, it's a hard balance to find for oneself. I often think I need to take more shots from one viewpoint and vary some settings a little bit...some of that decision to take fewer comes with time and experience, but I'm sure there's so many I've lost by not taking a few more. Thanks for your words.

Scarlett, lovely compliment, thanks so much.
When I get home from work and see that you have posted, I know that I will feel renewed in no time.~r
These photos are incredible. I liked the narrative as well. Really good post.
I really admire the sharp focus you get. I am really going to have to get comfortable with a tripod.

Thanks for this and all your instructional posts. I especially like seeing what you found wrong with one you eliminated.
Thanks for letting us into your process. I like process. I believe in it, too.
Joan, a lovely comment, thanks so much.

Rei, thanks for stopping by. I like it when the words connect.

kh, it is all about learning from the reject pile.

Hells, me too, me too, and thanks. I'm so glad you've come back to OS. The winter sabbatical has ended.
thanks for more detailed photography info that i'll save for the day i push myself up to taking real photos. gulp. and for the herons, birds we never see here. your lead shot is gorgeous, and i like the solo flying one, too. in the larger version of that shot, the sunlight coming through only two of the wing's edge feathers is magical and the arrow-straight horizontal line of the bird just gets me. lovely lovely stuff, barry.
Wonderful work, Barry. I don't know if some of this artistry can ever be taught. Kudos!
Excellent work and good didactic too. It often happens to me too to find a good shot that does not fit with the general theme. At my sister in law's wedding, my best picture is of the make-up artist's brushes (sorry Chrissy). In fact, it happens to me so often that I have started producing greeting cards.
Thank you again for the post. xxx m.
I feel so fortunate to be able to take your photography lessons and (hopefully) apply them in my world of amateur photography. I completely understand the "edit to one" yet rarely do I edit as I go. I would like to cut down the number of photos (particularly of sunsets) and not fill my computer's memory up with so many shots. Thank you Barry...and your photos are magnificent.
I am absolutely stunned. Your knowledge and ability humbles me.
Candace, you too, are too kind. But I admit that I'm delighted when you comment. Thanks

Catherine, I really think that if I can do it, that anyone can learn as well. I think artistry is involved, and while some of that is intuitive, that's a learned paradigm too.

Pocket, ha! love that anecdote and congrats on using the whimsical talent on the cards.

Buffy, I can't tell you the number of shots I have of the sunset over the San Elijo Lagoon in Cardiff in north San Diego county. Slides and carousels and more slides. I know what you mean. Oh, and I have more than 20 TB (yes, Terabytes) of internal and external storage space for images and backups. I'm not immune. Thanks for your kind words.

Jim, (full disclosure to friends--Jim's a wonderful friend, though I never asked him to comment on my stuff) thanks for your kind words friend, but truth be told, I've seen some stunning stuff come out of your camera too. Now that you're here, you need to post some of your stuff too.
Herons are such funny looking birds when you see them out of water. I see those eyes in your photos and I think, 'this bird needs some water.' And seeing it balance on the end of a branch, reminds me that they are mostly made of air. Lovely.

I think I could use that edit-to-one motto not just for photography, but for my everyday life. I'm much too distracted of late.
Mary, thanks...hope it's looking like spring for you there, though I think another cold front just came through. It's coming. Love it when you stop by.

Marcelle, I agree, though I didn't really make that leap that you just did. I think that it very well could translate to other parts of our lives. Thanks so much for the insight.
Great and insightful post, Barry! What an amazing, if somewhat bittersweet treat to see that confrontation between heron and hawk. And I love the photos you showed.
I'm pretty sure I would take your 500th shot over most others. Simply striking and awesome. Love the buds framing the heron.
Thank you from all of us.
I'm really enjoying reading about the things you think about, for instance what you didn't like or being more anticipatory. Those are things I can really use just to take pleasure photos, especially the crazy cat leaping and attacking nothing in the air. (some day...)

Other than that, mostly I just want to relax and gaze at the pictures. Sometimes I'll look at one or more for a long time and just enjoy the looking, without thinking about anything. I really love photos of natures and food too, so it's a bit odd.

I remember the first time I came across one of your posts it was all photos of birds. I spent a very long time scrolling up and down. There is no other way to see these creatures up close, and even then they fly off. I feel very lucky to be able to look at photos of things and places right in front of me. The lens is an invention that truly opened up the world. The photographer is the one who shows it to me. The first one is truly wonderful, as was the last.
I always learn something from you of aesthetic and practical value. Edit to one is a maxim that makes sense, especially if one is taking tons of images. I have a pro down the street from me Barry. I hope to introduce you guys some day. He's very good, and he says I have to broaden my use of is obvious to him I overuse some of the popular functions, especially "sharpening."

I agree w you about the first image, and I am really grateful for your analysis of the photo. You make the merits of the image so bell clear, and we can compare and have the gratifying experience of a lightbulb coming on above our heads (now-a-days its florescent or an LED). Great piece by the way and congratulations on the Front Page time!
This was fantastic...all of it. -R-
Steve, thanks so much,'ll noticed I didn't actually get or show you any photos of the hawk divebombing the herons. I think I was in shock or awe and wasn't thinking about the camera at all...some photojournalist I would make.

Lea, you're always so kind and gracious, it was a perfect time to be there with a fun friend. Which you've just done with Nikki...two wonderful friends.

l'Heure, thanks so much. I think you were referring to that post of mine "To all the birds I've loved." Sort of a hokey title, but I enjoyed putting it together. Thanks for the kind words.

Gary, you're so perceptive. I'd love to meet your friend. Next time I'm accompanying the bride up to Chicago, we definitely need to get together. I'll rent a car and head west if you can't make it to Chicago.

Jonathan, thanks for stopping by.

You too Christine, thanks so much.
i think you explained it rather well. i had heard this rule back in the year i got my first camera, by a friend who is an amazing photographer. another rule of his: take a photo every day.

you are right, the top photo is best, but i am in love with the flying shot.
I would love to follow you around, see what you see, learn what you know....and maybe steal your camera before I went home. Seriously thanks for the photos and the lesson.
Barry: And thank you so much for plugging my latest shots in your comments! You are so my idol!
Damn, you're good!

I struggle constantly with that Edit to One thing. Sometimes I am successful, sometimes not. Well, to be honest, usually not. Ah well. :)
I just discovered your post at 12:55 A.M. So that I will fully enjoy and appreciate it, I am now saving it so that I can read it tomorrow. I must go to!
Beautiful photos. Herons are wonderful to watch. I occasionally see them here in Chicago, but I'm not in their favorite hangouts often enough.

Your description of the editing process is excellent. I think it's one of the toughest parts of creative work.
Absolutely fascinating! Your photos are stunning, especially the first one. I couldn't help laughing at the angle, though, because a few weeks ago in Jamaica I was staring up at a bird in a tree and it did its business right into my eye! I'm a little more cautious now when looking up at birds.
Photographer, artist, visionary, poet. The package. Especially loved the way you ended this post. The delicate heart shaped leaf and your perfect poem, expose the keen eye for perfection you find in nature. The icing on the cake.

The herons are amazing creatures, with secrets to share, yet never will. Loved this all, Barry. Thank you for another generous slice of heaven through the lens of your inner eye.
Hurry up, spring!!
There's an island in Lk Wausau which has a rookery of Great Blues.
It's almost comical to watch and hear them.
Since they have flat feet fi=or walking in the water, they sort of wobble in the trees.
The island is only about a mile from my house so, I always watch to see if they're here yet.
Two other guys who colonize entire islands are the cormorant in Lk Puckaway and scarlet tanagers on an island in Lk Tomahawk.
Birds are great and, since I'm a g9lfer, so are

Nice post, bbd
Great post, Barry. It's so interesting to see your process of taking photos and editing them down to one. I find myself doing the same thing when I take pictures for my food posts.

I notice that a lot of photographers write down all the details of what aperture, speed and focal length were used for each shot. Do you do this all the time, or just for the purpose of showing us how you do it?
Diana, I like that one too. I sent you a PM about it.

LSD, thanks for'll have to send a PM to Julie Delio whom I was with to ask her if it was efficacious at all for her.
teendoc, could do much better. xo

merwoman, I'm a slow learner, so don't feel bad. Thanks for the good bit.

Kathy, you're welcome.

patricia, hope you slept well.

bpb, thanks for grokking it, I knew you would.

Karin, ha! yeah, we learned that lesson under the bridge that has all those thousands upon thousands of mexican free tailed bats in the Congress Ave Bridge in Autin.

xjs, wow, I'd love to get the scarlet tanager on my life list. thanks.

Grace, there's no need to write down the details. All modern cameras write data to each image that can be retrieved in a number of ways. I use Aperture on my Mac (available at an amazing low price on the new AppStore application--$80 and I paid nearly $200 for my retail copy) and it manages my photo workflow. Part of that is showing you EXIF data. (EXIF stands for EXchangeable Image File format.) EXIF is meta data for all the things that happen and settings used at the exact moment the picture is taken. You can see an example of that in this screen shot of Aperture found here.

In the left hand column, you'll see time, camera, lens, ISO, focal length shutter speed, aperture, etc....everything. This is also helpful in determining what it was about the "Also Ran" photos in the Edit To One process.

There's also a free application (I think I read somewhere that you said you were on a Mac) called EXIF Viewer. It does the same thing, but only for .jpgs, not any other image file formats. You can see a screen shot of that app here.

Those two links are repeated here in case they don't embed:

hope this helps.
For those who asked and those who just wondered and those who really don't care, just hanging around Barry does NOT make you a better photographer; but watching what he does and asking him questions (while trying not to pester) does help fine tune your craft. Plus it's a helluva lot of fun.
aww Julie xo (there was no pestering, we were just talking).
Barry, I hope you'll keep these lessons coming with your photography - I couldn't agree more with the 'edit to one' lesson. I've clicked onto blogs with 'every shot on the roll', so to speak, published on the post. It drags down the load time to a choke, and the photos are no longer interesting after the first 10. I appreciate your demonstrating the reasoning behind your decision making because it speaks to the perfection you strive for, and present, in your work. It sets a bar for me.

If you ever get to the FL Keys, look up. The large water birds, often mistaken for 'eagles', build large stick nests on top of the phone poles still found along A1A and can often be seen in these perches looking out over the water. You would do them great justice if you would allow them to sit for you!
Amazing talent you have there and a treat to be in position to use that skill.
Wise and wonderful. You were right. That top heron shot stuns me with the majesty of our fellow earthlings. If it were 100,000 years ago I would be worshiping that creature in my panoply of gods.

Rated, Liked, Linked.
Many thanks, Barry.
Thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us. Beautiful photographs! Your "best shot" is my favorite of those shown. I love photographs of birds.