Hamerkop in silhouette

Caption: Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) in silhouette against cloudy sky, Weenen Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Photographing birds against a bright sky often confuses a camera’s light meter. In most cases the bird only fills part of the frame, with the sky dominating, so the meter is easily fooled — it tells the camera to expose for the bright sky, not for the bird. The result is a subject that’s badly under-exposed, too dark and, at worst, merely a silhouette.

You can get around this by using spot-metering, or exposure compensation where you tell the camera to over expose by one or more stops. This will make the subject lighter and bring out the detail. The sky will be over-exposed with blown out highlights, but that’s fine — it’s not the subject of your photo.

In the above example, the hamerkop was perched on a branch above me against a bright, lightly overcast sky. However the hamerkop has such a distinctive outline that I didn’t bother trying to adjust the exposure, opting instead to photograph it as a sihouette, particularly as the shape of the branches provides additional interest.

The photograph below was taken from the same position, but has been cropped to show more of the bird, particularly the outstretched leg and foot detail as it walks along the branch.

Hamerkop walking along branch, in silhouette

Camera: Canon EOS 1D Mk II; Lens: Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 USM; Focal Length: 400mm; Shutter speed: 1/5000; Aperture: f/5.6; ISO: 400.

See Hamerkop Pair for more about this bird with its distinctive, hammer-shaped head.

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