I had a comment posted on one of my photos, and I’ve been meaning to follow up on it. With the weather outside, it’s a good day to do some catching up.
This photo is incredible! I have a 40D and shoot a lot but don’t think I could have gotten this kind of sharpness and the highlighting on the subject, especially considering that it was moving and you presumably couldn’t get that close to it.
What kind of lens were you using? Tripod? Photoshop techniques?
This photo was shot handheld with my D30 and the 100-400 IS, my standard setup for wandering around.
Down at Morro Bay harbor, there’s a fish cleaning station. As you might imagine, when the fishermen are cleaning, this can attract a number of gulls, but there’s also a group of pelicans that have figured out that this is free-meal city.
The result for photographers is that you have really good, close access to these birds because they are habituated to humans. I was generally no more than 8-10 feet away, and these shots were taken at betweeo 100-150mm at F5.6 in aperture mode.
It’s not really a good situation for the birds, because this level of habituations isn’t healthy. Beyond the problems of becoming dependent on humans for food, this lack of wariness for the birds can lead to everything from dog attacks to being hit by cars, because without some fear of humans, the brids simply don’t think to stay out of harms way. Their aggressiveness — literally coming within a foot or two of the fisherman, sometimes inches — is risky, too. The fishermen we were watching used a hose to discourage the pelicans, but stories of more drastic action (including cleaning knives) appeared when I discussed this with the Morro Bay photogs. There aren’t many good answers here, but perhaps cleaning stations like this need canopies or some other covering to restrict access to these begging birds.
This isn’t necessarily a good situation for the fisherman, either. As you can see from, the Brown Pelican foot is webbed, but still has some pretty significant claws as well. Not something I want landing on my shoulder…
The repeated attempts by the birds to snag lunch and the fisherman to make them leave is what set up this shot. I realized the pelicans were flying away, circling around and coming back in for another try. That gave me the ability to set up anticipating that flight. I had a choice between good light or a clean background, and I decided to shoot for the light and blur out the background as well as I could. Looking at the results, that was the right choice, the texture in the features is very good and the pelican stands out from the background well.
Post-processing? Very little. This shot basically made itself. I might have darkened the background a bit, but that’s pretty much what I started with.
Pelicants are one of the birds that first attracted me to birding — I remember a trip back in the mid-90′s where we were in Arcata near the harbor watching the Pelicans fish and thinking what awesome birds they were. Many years later when I started birding Pelicans were an early interest, and I still photograph them at any opportunity.
That led to this series of photos, which I’ve set up as a slideshow. At Shoreline lake one morning, there were some brown pelicans fishing. When I watch birds, one of the things I enjoy is studying their actions and behavior. With these birds, it was fun to watch their fishing and flying habits. When a pelican takes off from the water, they start by flapping the wings, but they also push off with their webbed feet. Two or three of these “hops” happen before they have enough speed to leave the water, and then the landing gear come up.
When they’re fishing, they’ll take the hops, and if they see a fish or something in the water, suddenly abort the takeoff, pull in the wings and flip foward into the water beak first. If they don’t see anything after a few hops, they’ll stop. This is a lower-energy fishing style than they’ll use other times when they’ll take off and fly across the water about 15 feet up looking for prey, then tuck the wings and dive in beak first after it.