The 23-Minute Window

Early morning light illuminates the wings and bodies of this flock of shorebirds.

Most photographers are familiar with the “Golden Hour”, that time before sunset and after sunrise when the warm, low-angled light of the sun makes almost everything you see seem magical, intense and beautiful.

Well, during a recent photo trip to Florida this year, I spent five mornings in one particular quadrant of the Merritt Island NWR near Melbourne, FL. It didn’t take long to notice that the most interesting light of the morning in this area only lasted about 25 minutes or so.

Being in the best position with a suitable subject during this brief time took some planning. My assistant would drive me to a suitable stretch of open water just as the sun was coming up and I would get out with my gear and look around from behind the car (a great blind, if you didn’t know). I could then direct the car to move along, if needed.

Once “the place” was found and the birds started to come in, I could slowly come out from behind the car-blind and approach to a good position.

It was only a matter of time before these Least Sandpipers came along in a flock and landed near me. They would periodically take off as a group and fly around the water to land in a different spot, and that’s how I caught this image.

A little planning, the right time, and the right place all came together with this shot. The fact that you can improve your chances of catching a nice image by being aware of a few things like the nature of light, the behavior of your subject and how best to approach is one of the reasons I love what I do. You can sometimes make your own luck, and that’s pretty cool.