Photography gives you many gifts if you are willing to recognize and accept them. Catching that once-in-a-lifetime shot is a combination of honed skills, planning and, sometimes, just pure luck.
I would like to say this image of cardinals in the snow was a result of great skill and planning. Truthfully, though, it was neither. I was actually home sick with bronchitis on this particular day when I looked out to see a group of some 20 cardinals swarming around a feeder in my backyard.
What a gift to watch them for a few minutes and then realize this could be a really nice shot. Undeterred by the fact that I felt horrible, I piled on several layers of warm clothes and grabbed my camera, tripod and three rolls of Velvia slide film. As we all know, most snowfalls don’t last long in Tennessee, so I needed to get outside before the birds left and the snow melted (both were gone by afternoon).
My perch for the next hour would be a plastic milk crate on the hill just behind my house. Being up the hill gave me a higher perspective to shoot somewhat close to eye level with the birds. This allowed the background to be a hillside of blurred trees rather than a distracting white sky.
This image was shot nearly 15 years ago on Velvia. Shooting on film meant you had to figure out the exact exposure and hope you captured the moment. There was no preview screen to see what you were capturing and no endless number of images you could shoot on your media card. In film days, you pretty much got what you shot and couldn’t significantly alter it.
This particular image certainly required patience. I had only three rolls of 36-exposure film, and that was it. With an ASA of 50, Velvia required a slower shutter speed, but the trade-off would be a very sharp image with rich reds, both characteristics of the film.
The slower shutter speed worked out well. It was fast enough to catch the stationary birds and slow enough to show the motion of flight for the one cardinal on the left of the frame.
All told, I spent about an hour, shooting one image at time and waiting for the cardinals to land in the best composition. The patient sitting in the freezing cold finally paid off when the two landed near the center of the frame. I thought I had the shot, but I had to wait another day to get the processed slides back. What a gift when I saw this image on the light table for the first time!
“Cardinals in Snow” by Robin Conover
Canon EOS, 70-200 mm, 2.8 L USM lens, Velvia slide film, ISO 50, ƒ5.6 at 1/125 sec., Bogen tripod