Capital Photography Center | Photography Classes in Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia and Online

Waterfowl In Winter

February 8, 2017 by Emily Carter Mitchell

While I wait for the bird migration season to begin and in particular, the thousands of Snow geese that arrive at Middle Creek, Pennsylvania, I decided to see what I could find closer to home.

The day promised to be sunny and it had been a little while since I’ve visited my favorite nearby tundra swan flock. Lifestyles of a nature photographer, leave the house while it is still dark outside to capture the sunrise.

When arriving at the community park on the Magothy River not a single swan was in sight. A little worried that they may have found sweeter water elsewhere, I waited for the sun to greet me and watched some mallards fly by.


As a birder, my ears are tuned into the slight sounds that birds might make in the distance. Whether it be a chirp or a chip, I can usually pick it up in the din of wind and what-not. It is true that sound carries better over the water and I first heard lots of Canada geese making a racket. But in all of that noise, the distinctive honk of a Tundra swan emerged giving me hope that they would come to the point for their breakfast.

Off in the distance I saw something flying low over the water. Joy oh joy, the day will be beautiful with a start of tundra swans arriving to join me with the rising sun.

The swans land in a difficult place to photograph first thing at sunrise. It’s on the western side of the point and the sun takes an hour to reach the area to brighten the way. The groupings spend time in the shade and dark and the urge to photograph is hard to keep at bay. I know the images won’t come out well and will be dark and shaded. Unlike like the ones I can get once the sun reaches them.
It doesn’t stop me from clicking though - just not as many as I would ordinarily.


I’ve learned that when they land they tend to have family disputes and this day was no exception. With lots of honks and wings flapping in the water, little spats popped up here and there. And then a huge fight ensued. One vicious and loud. Their friends watched on, photo-bombing many of my frames. But in spite of all odds, I managed to get some images that are worth sharing.


Editing these took a bit of creativity and work on my part to arrive to this lovely result. I used Lightroom for editing these images. Beginning with a tight crop I then began work on the exposure and white balance. When photographing sunrise, I like using Shade white balance as it saturates the oranges and yellows. Doesn’t work so well if you turn around though. The Auto White Balance adjustment worked out well in this case. The series was significantly underexposed so I increased exposure, added whites and reduced the shadows and highlights.

Next was to work on the tones on the birds and the water. Using the HSL panel, I desaturated the blues, aquas, yellows and oranges with the Saturation selection. I then went to the Luminance and slid the same colors to the right to lighten their tones. I then applied a SleekLens strong white vignette in their Landscape collection and adjusted the vignette size and shape. It took just a few minutes to make the adjustment to one image. I then copied the edits and then pasted them on the other images I wanted to share.


The tundra swans on the Chesapeake Bay are one of those winter marvels that fascinate me. In fact, wintertime is my favorite time for birding and bird photography. The birds are plentiful and are larger than the tiny warblers that migrate through in spring time.

Through Capital Photography Center, I am offering several outings to discover and capture wintering waterfowl. From Ducks in the Eastern Shore to Snow Geese in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the abundance of waterfowl is fascinating.

One of the largest migratory spectacles in our area is found at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Each year in late February and early March, thousands upon thousands of snow geese show up to rest in the lake and forage during the day in surrounding corn fields. The size of the flock can reach nearly 100,000 and the view is nothing short of spectacular.

As a group, they flush in en-masse. Rolling like a wave from the back to the front seeing thousands of geese fly up with their wings thundering is guaranteed to take your breath away.

Join me at the Snow Geese Class at Middle Creek in Pennsylvania on Saturday, February 25th, and witness and capture this amazing natural wonder! We will spend our time observing and capturing them staying through sunset.

After our Pennsylvania adventure, it’s off to the Eastern Shore of Maryland on March 4th to enjoy several varieties of ducks up close and personal. This photography class offers a unique opportunity to get gallery level images of ducks both in action and in portrait.

Topics include exposure settings to capture the birds in action, how to observe wildlife and discover their patterns and habits, framing compelling compositions and more.

Hope to see you there!