Sunday, August 25, 2019

A private pelagic trip

I organized and led over 160 pelagic trips from Oregon in 20 years starting in 1994. Recently, I heard from a former regular passenger, Kit, that she was visiting her son in San Diego. Kit's son has a boat and she wanted me to plot out a course and help with bird ID. And she invited Marlene to come with me. Sounds like fun!

So it was I found myself aboard the vessel Reel Science on July 21.

Marlene and Kit
Marlene (left) and Kit (right) on the flying bridge.
We got a fairly late start, with some family and friends arriving later than others. By 9:00 am, though, we were underway and looking at birds on the bait docks. That included this Great Egret.

Great Egret

We escorted through the bay by a Bottlenose Dolphin.

Bottlenose Dolphin

As we were going out, the aircraft carrier Nimitz was coming in!

Aircraft carrier Nimitz

Just offshore, we passed the USS San Diego.

USS San Diego

Nearing the Nine Mile Bank we found a large pod of Common Dolphins. This one made quite an impressive leap!

Common Dolphin leaps from the water

Soon we spotted Black Storm-Petrels. This is one of my better shots of this bird that doesn't approach too near the boats.

Black Storm-Petrel

Another view.

Black Storm-Petrel

The dark under wing linings of this black-and-white murrelet confirm its identity as Craveri's Murrelet.

Craveri's Murrelet takes flight

There were many small patches of kelp paddies floating offshore. Nearly each one had an accompaniment of Red-necked Phalaropes, just back from nesting in the Arctic.

Red-necked Phalarope on kelp paddy

Closer to shore a Brandt's Cormorant flew near the boat.

Brandt's Cormorant

Brown Pelicans were also common near shore and in the bay.

Brown Pelican

Elegant Terns were our companions throughout the trip.

Elegant Tern
Marlene found a comfortable perch to enjoy her day at sea.
Point Loma
Passing out San Diego Bay in the morning always starts with a view of Point Loma
Sailboat silhouette
Sail boats in San Diego Bay
Sail boats in San Diego Bay
What a fun day. Thanks Kit!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

What are the best camera settings for pelagic bird photography?

On my Canon EOS 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm 4.5-5.6 IS lens, these are the camera settings I start with at the beginning of the pelagic birding trip: Manual mode, shutter speed of 1/1250, an aperture of f/7.1, exposure compensation of plus one full stop, Continuous focus mode called AI servo, Auto ISO, Evaluative metering, and autofocus mode to 1 point AF. Of course, all my bird and wildlife photography uses RAW format and Automatic White Balance.

Over the years I've struggled to find the best camera settings for pelagic bird photography. I've finally settled on what works best for me for photographing birds from a boat at sea. Those are listed above. Now I'll tell you why I like them. I also found some recommendations from others that I'll share when they are different from my settings. Then I'll give you a great tip I received that helps me instantly dial in all the correct settings.

Note: This post assumes intermediate or advanced knowledge cameras and photography in general, and rather intimate knowledge of the settings and menus on your personal DLSR camera with telephoto lens. Your camera's user manual is your friend.

The reasons for my settings

Every camera/lens combination is unique. I have the older Canon 100-400 lens. It is a bit soft in focus when it is wide open. It takes sharper photos when the aperture is 7.1 or higher. The image stabilization will let me take hand-held photos down to 1/400 of a second or slower. Sometimes. But I find that 1/640 is as slow as I should go with a stationary bird, hand-held, on land. On a boat? Better get it up to 1/800 or higher. 1/1250 seems ideal for most of my photography. For fast-flapping birds, 1/2400 will freeze most wings. But I want to keep ISO to 1000 or under. The closer to ISO 100 the clearer and sharper will be my photos.