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Posts tagged “Black Skimmers

Galveston FeatherFest 2016

FeatherFest in Galveston, TX was held this past week and it was a great success.  This was my fourth year being a photography event leader with four classroom workshops and three field trips this year.  Had lots of fun and got to meet some great people with several repeat photographers from previous years.  Thanks to everyone that participated.  Special thanks to Scott, Julie Ann, Barbara, the liaisons and all of the volunteers. They made the leaders days go very smooth.

The weather didn’t fully cooperate but the birds sure did.  I was amazed at how well the field trips went with the cloudy and sometimes extremely windy weather.  I’m hoping that everyone on the field trips had a good time and got some great photos.  Can’t wait to do it again next year but my ‘ol body needs a little rest first.

Shore Bird field trip on Friday

On Friday, we had a great time with photographing shore birds on Galveston Island.  Since it was cloudy when we got to the jetty on East Beach at sunrise, I encouraged the group to take blurred photos.  The usual flock of black skimmers launched for us several times, providing lots of practice for birds in flight and blurred photos, some of which are shown below.

We stopped at the east end of the island to see a few boring Avocets, some other shore birds and a cooperative Reddish Egret, which is always a good time.

We then headed to 19th St. pier to check out the Pelicans near the fishing boats.  There were lots of photo op’s of the pelicans and a lone Black Crowned Night Heron.  The colors of the Brown Pelicans were amazing but I ended up converting the photo below to B&W based on the texture of their perch and their wings.

Taken with Canon 1DX with Canon 100-400 II, handheld

Black Skimmers:  Shutter priority, 1/10 sec @ F 16, ISO 400, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation

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Black Skimmers:  Shutter priority, 1/10 sec @ F 16, ISO 400, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation

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Willet:  Aperture priority, 1/500 sec @ F5.6, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure

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Brown Pelicans:  Aperture priority, 1/1000 sec @ F9, ISO 800, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation.  Converted to B&W using NIK Silver Effects Pro (which is now free!!)

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Ground Level Photography field trip on Saturday

On Saturday, it was off to Bolivar Flats for some good old fashion down and dirty bird photography using ground pods.  Even though it was supposed to be low tide, the high winds from the south drove the surf to near the shore line.  However, there was a flock of Avocets right next to the parking area and we enjoyed some great photo op’s.  After about an hour, we got up (thankfully from my body’s perspective) and went down the shoreline to another group of Avocets and Royal Terns.  We laid down but there was a ridge of seaweed blocking the view of the birds.  We were cutting off the legs of the birds in our photos.  With no other good option, we practiced doing some belly crawling to try to get on a higher section of sand adjacent to the water, with limited success.

The shooting wasn’t ideal so we headed back to our original location as there were no other birds in sight down the shoreline.  Unfortunately, the Avocets spooked and flew away before we could get into position.  I instructed the group to lay down and wait for them to come back as it was a good location, considering the conditions.  The Avocets didn’t come back but a Reddish Egret ended up landed right in front of us.  It was very sweet.  He put on a very good show for us, although he was too close for me at times at 700mm, which is a good problem to have.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head

American Avocet:  1/640 sec @ F9, ISO 800, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation

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Reddish Egret:  Aperture priority, 1/1000 sec @ F7.1, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure compensation

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Reddish Egret:  Aperture priority, 1/500 sec @ F11, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure compensation; full frame shot

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Reddish Egret:  Aperture priority, 1/640 sec @ F11, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure compensation

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Ground Level Photography field trip on Sunday

It was obvious going into the weekend that Sunday was going to be challenging with the weather forecast of storms all day.  Got up at 3:30 a.m. to check the radar with no rain in the Galveston area, which was very good news.  However, it was raining off and on during on my drive to Galveston.  Made the 6:00 a.m. ferry and met the group on the Bolivar side.  I was hoping for the best based on Saturday’s outing but it was very windy (20 to 30 mph), which is usually a kiss of death at Bolivar Flats for birds being along the shoreline.

The first challenge hit when we turned onto the road to the beach and found that it was flooded.  Put my boots on and walked the road with Kevin and confirmed that there was only a few inches of water on the road.  We found the second challenge when we got to the beach and found that the beach was flooded and we couldn’t make it to the “flats”.  What could have been a major bust turned out to be a great outing with finding a couple of Oystercatchers, several Avocets and a Reddish Egret along the shoreline near the entrance to the beach.

We geared up and got down and dirty with our ground pods.  Always leery of getting too close and spooking the birds, I kept the group back a ways to start.  We then ended up belly crawling closer pushing our ground pods along in the sand.  I could tell that Kevin was really getting into it as he ended up in the water ahead of the rest of the group.  We eventually caught up with him and enjoyed some good shooting.

Then the third challenge hit when someone pulled up in a car with two kids and walked very close to the Reddish Egret to collect shells along the beach.  Some people have no clue.  The Terns scattered but luckily, the egret didn’t fly away.  I’ve learned over the years to not get too angry at clueless people but to take advantage of the situation.  Seeing that the Egret was more interesting in feeding than people, I got the group up and we shifted to be closer/more in line with where the egret was feeding.  It was a very good move as we were able to get very close to him and he ended up walking right by us at one point.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head

American Avocets:  1/640 sec @ F9, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation

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Reddish Egret:  Aperture priority, 1/1000 sec @ F11, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, + 1 1/3 exposure compensation

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Reddish Egret:  Aperture priority, 1/800 sec @ F11, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, + 1 1/3 exposure compensation.  Full frame shot with being cropped to vertical format.

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Black Skimmers at Dow Plant

Made my first trip to the Dow Chemical plant in Freeport, TX last weekend for their annual open house to see some of the 2000 Black Skimmers that are nesting in the middle of their plant.  They have one of the largest nesting colonies along the gulf coast and they have done a great job of maintaining the nesting area in an old parking lot in the plant since the late 1960’s.

http://www.naturephotographers.net/articles0503/kac0503-1.html

It’s not an ideal set up for bird photography but it was very cool to see that many Skimmers in one location and get a few photos.  They apparently started nesting late this year with all of the rain in SE Texas so there were very few chicks to be seen.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on tripod with Wimberley II gimbal head

1/4000 sec @ F8, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation

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1/2000 sec @ F9, ISO 800, evaluative metering

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1/500 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 1/3 exposure compensation

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1/640 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 1/3 exposure compensation

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1/8000 sec @ F8, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation

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FeatherFest “Birds Eye View” Field Trip to Bolivar Flats

Took a group of willing photographers from Galveston’s FeatherFest to Bolivar Flats on Friday morning for some down and dirty action while taking photos of shorebirds on my “Birds Eye View” field trip.  Several members of the group had never been to Bolivar before so it was going to be a treat if the weather and birds cooperated.  The weather forecast was bleak up until the morning of the shoot.  Instead of forecasted thunderstorms, we were met with clouds, waves, light winds, temps in the low 70’s (deg F) and very high humidity.  Along with lots of gnats.  It didn’t look very promising when we turned onto the beach as there were waves and no sandbars or birds in sight until we got to the parking area.   Spotted some birds further down the shoreline so my hopes were raised.

We started out at the first small sandbar sticking out from the shoreline to practice the technique of getting down low and eye level with the birds.  There were several ground pods being used in the group along with a few tripods.  There were a few Willets, Terns and Sanderlings in that area but nothing overly exciting.  Spent a few minutes there and moved on down the beach to try to get close to a group of Black Skimmers.

Aperture priority, 1/400 sec @ F 5.6, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation

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There were lots of  Skimmers hanging out at our next stop.  We got as close as I felt that we could without spooking them and ended up with some good photo op’s of the Skimmers taking off and landing back at the same location.

Aperture priority, 1/3200 sec @ F 5.6, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation

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Further down the beach, I spotted a Reddish Egret standing near the shoreline.  We made him our next objective and got into position, hoping for some fishing action.  He then just basically stood there on one foot looking around and occasionally squawking.  After a while, I mentioned to the group that we could stay and wait for him to move or go back to the Skimmers.  He then quickly took off and headed back up the beach past the Skimmers.  My initial reaction was that he took off because I stated talking.  However, he ended up flying off to confront a White Morph Reddish Egret.  Reddish Egrets are very territorial and don’t like company when feeding.

Aperture priority, 1/500 sec @ F 9, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +2 exposure compensation

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We got up and heading back up the beach towards the Reddish Egrets.  The White Morph was dancing around fishing so I focused on getting close to him.  We ended up with some great photo op’s as he was very close to shore and catching lots of fish.  Some of the group stayed with the other Reddish Egret and had a similar experience.

Aperture priority, 1/1250 sec @ F 11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation

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It turned out to be a great morning at Bolivar despite the cloudy weather.  The group had a good time and hope that they got some great photos.  Didn’t get them quite wet or dirty enough but they got a good taste of the possibilities at Bolivar Flats.  Thanks to everyone who signed up for this trip and to Chris for helping me out.  I’m looking forward to next year already.

Also, special thanks to Julie Anne Brown and her team of volunteers for all of their hard work to pull off another very successful FeatherFest.  They do all of the hard work and I get to take people to play in the sand.

Aperture priority, 1/1000 sec @ F 11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation

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In the Skimmer Lane

Calm winds and low tide equaled some good low-level photo op’s at Bolivar Flats yesterday.  Met up with a couple of other photographers, Matt & Susan, and hit the sand bars.  Started out getting some Avocet silhouette shots and then moved west.  Picked a good spot and ended up directly in the flight path of more Black Skimmers than I’ve seen for a long time.  They kept coming flying right towards us in waves.  My camera did a good job of keeping the birds in focus for the head-on shots.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head

1/500 sec @ F8, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation

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1/500 sec @ F8, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation

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1/400 sec @ F5.6, ISO 4000, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation

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My 2014 Favorites

As 2014 comes to a close, I wanted to share some of my favorite photos from this year.  It was challenging for me to get out and shoot on a routine basis but ended up with some photos that made it worth while.

Highlights in 2014 included seeing the Sand Hill Crane migration in Nebraska, leading successful workshops and field trips at Galveston’s FeatherFest, getting published again and finally upgrading to a pro series camera.  Now that I have all of the tools, just need some more trigger time to further develop my skills.

Thanks to everyone around the world that checked out my blog and especially to those who left some comments along the way.  Appreciate your support.  Looking forward to more wildlife photography in 2015.

Great Egret from High Island’s rookery

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Sandhill Crane from Nebraska

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White Morph Reddish Egret from Bolivar Flats

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American Oystercatcher from Texas City Dike

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Reddish Egret from Bolivar Flats

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American Avocet from Bolivar Flats

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Graphic of where people were from that visited my blog in 2014

Blog Hits 2014

 


Skimming into 2014

My last outing in 2013 was filled with silhouettes of Black Skimmers on the Gulf of Mexico at Bolivar Flats.  Calm winds and calm water had the skimmers out in force.  Took these before the sun came up in aperture priority with ISO cranked up to 800 to get some decent shutter speeds.

It was a great ending to 2013.  It has been a very challenging and rewarding year for me.  Photography highlights included a great trip to California to photograph sea otters, leading workshops at Galveston’s FeatherFest, teaching private lessons, getting some future opportunities and spending quality time in nature along the gulf coast.  Thanks to everyone who stopped by to check out my blog.  Hope that everyone has a fun/safe new year and a great 2014.

Taken with Canon 7D and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4x III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II head

1/800 sec @ F5.6, ISO 800, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation

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1/640 sec @ F5.6, ISO 800, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation

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1/640 sec @ F5.6, ISO 800, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation

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Blurred Wings over Waves

Caught these Black Skimmers as they went behind some waves in the Gulf of Mexico.

Taken with Canon 7D and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II head.

1/80 sec @ F5.6, ISO 500, +2/3 exposure compensation

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Skimmers in Action

Here are a few more action shots of Skimmers trying to catch fish.  Easier said than done sometimes.

Taken with Canon 7D and Canon 500mm F4 IS II lens mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head

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The Hunt

It’s always interesting to watch Black Skimmers flying with their beaks skimming in the water.  What’s more fun is to try to capture the action when they try to catch a fish.  They will be flying along and all of a sudden their head will snap down when they feel a fish hit their beak.  Grabbing the fish can be another story.  Good times.

Taken with Canon 7D and Canon 500mm F4 IS II mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head

1/640 sec @ F7.1, ISO 400, evaluative metering, 500mm

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Skimmer Close-up’s

Here are a few close-up Skimmer shots.  Close cropped these photos as the backgrounds were filled with distracting elements.

Taken with Canon 7D and Canon 500mm F4 IS II mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head.

1/640 sec @ F7.1, ISO 400, evaluative metering, -1/3 exposure compensation, 500mm

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1/400 sec @ F7.1, ISO 400, evaluative metering, 500mm

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1/500 sec @ F7.1, ISO 400, evaluative metering, 500mm

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My 4th of July Skimmer Fireworks

My 4th of July celebration started at sunrise this year instead of sunset.  Still had lots of sparks flying (lame analogy for Skimmers) in the pond at Bryan Beach.  Positioned myself this time at one end of the pond where they would fly directly towards me.  Also got some photos of other birds like Black Crowned Night Herons and Reddish Egrets which I’ll post later.

Taken with Canon 7D and Canon 500mm F4 IS II lens mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head

1/640 sec @ F4, ISO 500, evaluative metering

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1/400 sec @ F5.6, ISO 400, -2/3 exposure compensation, evaluative metering

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1/320 sec @ F5.6, ISO 400, evaluative metering

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1/400 sec @ F5.6, ISO 400, evaluative metering

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Black Skimmer Challenges & Rewards

The past couple weeks have challenged my patience and photography skills.  Headed to Bryan Beach last weekend in search for Black Skimmers after hearing that the water was drying up in the ponds, which helps to concentrate the fish and the birds.

One of the challenges at Bryan Beach is finding a place to park without getting your car stuck in the sand, which I’ve had lots of experience with over the past few years.  With my highly functioning brain waves, ended up getting stuck in the mud instead of the sand this time.  Saw some tracks where someone else had driven across what appeared to be dried out muck from the pond so I dove in and got stuck in the “wet” muck.  While sitting in the car with wheels spinning and contemplating my options, looked towards the birds in the pond and said the heck with my car.  It wasn’t going anywhere and the birds were begging to be photographed, which turned out to be easier said than done.

Experienced some of the most challenging shooting that I’ve seen while using my 500mm lens on a ground pod.  Even with using a gimbal head, there is a very limited range of motion available while lying down on the ground when shooting flying birds.  Skimmers fly with their beaks in the water to grab fish.  The challenges included acquiring the birds in the frame with the 500mm lens, getting them in focus while flying around other birds, getting a clean foreground/background and then getting the shot before running out of room to move the lens around.  Standing up would have been much easier but the shots wouldn’t have been as good.  There were hundreds of shore birds in this small pond so trying to get an isolated shot was almost impossible.

My 7D did fairly well but had some trouble with locking the focus on the quick moving Skimmers with the busy backgrounds.  Tried using different focus point options and ended up back with what I typically use, the single center focus point.  A 1D series Canon body would have fared much better but that is another expenditure for down the road, but a good excuse to get one someday.

The first day at Bryan Beach ended up with a couple of 32 gig cards full of skimmer shots, a very stiff neck and me calling a tow truck.  Almost had to call an ambulance after nearly having a heart attack when they told me that it would cost $150 to get may car pulled out of the mud.  Luckily a good Samaritan stopped by and pulled me out before I had to sell my first-born child to get out.  There are still good people out there and I’ve met lots of them in Texas.

Went back for two more days of Skimmer photography over the holiday, so more and better photos to come.

Taken with Canon 7D and Canon 500mm F4 IS II mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II head

Here is a shot that shows how congested the pond is just before sunrise.

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1/400 sec @ F8, ISO 400, evaluative metering, -2/3 exposure compensation

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1/400 sec @ F8, ISO 400, evaluative metering, -2/3 exposure compensation

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1/500 sec @ F9, ISO 500, evaluative metering

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1/500 sec @ F9, ISO 500, evaluative metering

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Skimmer Sushi on the Fly

Here are a few Black Skimmer shots from August at Texas City Dike.  The Skimmers were nesting and the action would start when one parent would bring fish back to the youngsters.  Took these out the car window in the early morning hours. Most are full frame shots.

Taken with Canon 7D and 100-400 lens


Freeport Skimmers

I’ve been in a major funk lately with no luck at Bolivar and Brazos Bend over the last couple of weeks.  Got a great attitude adjustment over the holiday weekend with the skimmers being back in canal along the road in Freeport.  It was a very busy weekend:  9 hours of driving, about 5 hours of shooting, 6800 total photos, 4 hours of sorting photos, 1700 first pass keepers and about 150 potential wall hangers, along with a sore butt and back due to sitting on the ground and shooting hand-held.  It will take quite some time to process all of the good ones so here are a few of my favorites so far.

All taken with Canon 7D and 100-400 lens, hand-held while sitting on the ground along the canal.

1/500 sec @ F. 5.6, partial metering, ISO 400, no flash

1/250 sec @ F. 5.6, partial metering, ISO 400, fill flash at -3 stops with better beamer

1/250 sec @ F. 6.3, partial metering, ISO 400, fill flash at -3 stops with better beamer

1/800 sec @ F. 5.6, partial metering, ISO 400, fill flash at -3 stops with better beamer

1/800 sec @ F. 5.6, partial metering, ISO 400, no flash


Skimmer Splashdown

This turned out to be one of my all time favorite Black Skimmer shots to date.  I have a habit of shooting slow shutter speed photos in the mornings when the lighting is not great.  My theory is that if I can’t get sharp pictures, why not shoot blurred shots on purpose?  In this case, I decided to stay in aperture priority mode and set the ISO on 400 to keep the noise down and live with the shutter speed that fell out from there.  In this case it was 1/50 sec.

I’m still not sure what this Skimmer was doing but he would fly back and forth in front of me and then splash into the water like belly flopping.  The water would splash everywhere and then he would keep going and shake off the water and then do it again.  Got this shot as he was just splashing down and the water made a great reflection.  I didn’t realize that I captured this shot unit looking at it on the computer.

Taken with Canon 7D and 100-400 lens, hand-held

1/50 sec at F5.0, ISO 400, + 1/3 exposure compensation, partial metering at 200mm, flash at -3 stops w/better beamer


Black Skimmer Silhouette’s

If you have seen some of photo’s over the past few years, you may know that I love silhouettes.  Comes with the territory of shooting at sunrise.  I’ll take the time to find and shoot silhouettes whenever/where ever that they pop up.  Found a bunch of black skimmers at sunrise doing what they do best – skimming.  It was partly cloudy and I had to wait for the sun to pop out between the clouds to get these silhouette shots.  I sat along the bank and waited for them to fly by in both directions.  Didn’t use the ground pod very much since the they were flying back and forth along a “ditch” filled with water and I didn’t want to limit my shooting in one direction.  I normally don’t like butt shots of birds (although I’m really good at it) but Skimmers can make even the going away shots interesting.  Ended up with quite a few photo’s over two mornings so more to come.

All taken with Canon 7D and 100-400 lens, hand-held.

1/2500 sec @ F5.0 at 200mm, + 1/3 exposure compensation, partial metering, ISO 400, no flash

1/5000 sec @ F4.5 at 100mm, + 1/3 exposure compensation, partial metering, ISO 250, flashed with better beamer

1/4000 sec @ F5.6 at 330mm, + 1/3 exposure compensation, partial metering, ISO 250, flashed with better beamer

1/4000 sec @ F5.6 at 330mm, + 1/3 exposure compensation, partial metering, ISO 250, no flash


Black Skimmers

I’ve been hanging out at Bryan Beach for the past few weeks trying to catch some Skimmer action like I got in 2009.  They finally showed up this past weekend and let me get a few shots before flying off.  They didn’t stick around long but I had enough time to get off a few passes of shots. 

It’s a challenge to shoot birds flying that fast with a ground pod while laying on your stomach.  I tried hand holding the camera with my elbows planted in the muck but that didn’t work any better.  Just had to shift the ground pod around as they changed direction.  I messed up by trying to use four focus points and lost the focus on several shots.  Finally woke up and switched to only single point focus which worked much better.  It was cool when they would fly directly at me.

Taken with Canon 7D and 100-400 lens on ground pod, no flash.