I hadn’t been out shooting with Ryan for a long time. You know how it is…life gets in the way. So on Friday we headed down to Crex Meadows near Grantsburg, Wisconsin for a little “target practice.” Sandhill Cranes stage here in late autumn to fuel up for their next stage of migration. The cranes feed in area corn fields during the day, but return to roost in the safety of Crex Meadows marshes just before sunset.

When Ryan pointed out the rising moon, I knew what photo I wanted. It’s easy to get cranes flying in front of the moon…The hard part is getting enough depth of field for both to be in focus and yet have enough shutter speed to stop the motion of the flying cranes. So I stopped down to f16 and set the shutter speed to 1/500 and set the ISO to “Auto.” You need a fair amount of light to do this so it must be when the moon is rising before the sun sets but before it gets too high in the sky. Also the cranes need to be not too close and not too far away. It all came together in this shot, though the ISO did have to range up to 1250.

The trip was mainly about just getting out with a buddy…We both have more crane photos than we can count…We’ve been to Crex many times and also spent a glorious five days in New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache, a major wintering area for Lesser Sandhill Cranes (and they are even more tame than these Greaters).

Long story, short, I have some very nice Sandhill Crane portrait shots (sharp, beautiful light, etc) So, with the pressure off, it was time to experiment. And this may be my favorite photo from the entire trip (all 6 hours of it!). I slowed the shutter to 1/15 of a second and panned with the flocks as they came in to roost. I cropped it and converted it to black and white. It is the “essence” of crane flight. I love the abstract flow and motion, and the way you can almost see and feel their wings flapping. We joked with Sridhar, a fellow wildlife photographer from Minneapolis, about our mistakes becoming “fine art” photography…but this one was intentional…I promise!

A line of Greater Sandhill Cranes coming in from the west, flying through a streak of color as the sun set.

Top: Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f/16 at 1/500 second at ISO 1250, tripod
Middle: Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f/32 at 1/15 second at ISO 100, tripod
Bottom: Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens and 1.4x teleconverter; f/8 at 1/200 second at ISO 500, tripod

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