Elkhorn Slough - Pelicans


The Art of Seeing


Lesson Info

Elkhorn Slough - Pelicans

I'm going to get serious out comes the big daddy this is my five hundred f four nick or which you know I can hand hold for a short amount of time but then I like to brace it your elbow my knee but really I'm much better off mounting it on my tripod we spotted a group of pelican sitting on the levee and I'm going to try and figure out how we can get close to them when I approach wildlife I tried to figure out before I make my move what I want to see in the background because once you get close you can't back out so easily anymore when I'm looking at the pelicans in front of us what do we see behind him doug see the highway sees the martian sky the sky no worries you know the highway maybe not so much yeah of course the highways there but you know we don't necessarily want to see it in our pictures and also see some buildings on the right hand side so we definitely don't want to see the buildings so that kind of determines our approach we can come very close to the levee here but then we...

're going to spook the other birds we don't wanna spook parts we don't do that so maybe we need to go a little bit farther towards the middle of the slough and then the approached him not like and what that's going to do is it'll show the pelicans all in the same depth of field which will look I think a bit better technically and over who some of them are going in the water older heads a rough so we better get into shooting position because something may happen there it's not something that we did sometimes they are just getting ready to move so so another settling back in that when their heads are going up it really means they're alert so just a comment about myself you can you can hear that I'm totally focused on the birds you know I pay attention to their body language and better they're reacting to our approach I'm not thinking about the camera not thinking about pictures yet I first want to kind of come up with the right approach that keeps the situation stable and want to find the right background the camera the camera details come later on let's see if he succeeded no no it was very quick with react I think we should prepare ourselves for a take off there so keep the shutter speed high at least five hundredth of a second and do a last check of all your other settings now we've got a nice position here see that if we float a little bit more toward stone we're all going to see them lined up we're still little bit diagonals but the backgrounds very nice so and you concede it some of them are preening nice behaviour there's one swimming in front cool so I'm looking for you know a nice pattern here and I'm looking for a background and I'm looking for no problems in the foreground so I did pretty well here it's not a great image but I'm making the most of the situation and this I didn't quite see this purchase came swimming in then I was too focused on all the others here are you also when you're setting up the shot trying to figure out exactly the light direction you want on your subjects yeah it's a combination in this guy self what's the best approach that we can you get close without spooking the birds and taking into account the background and you know that is primary and I haven't even talked yet about the current because the tide's coming in tights going out so you know those are the considerations that our primary and then I take the light as it comes yes uh the boat is moving how do you prevent this from um blurring your pictures the bird is moving on and how do I prevent about the boat is moving on the boat is moving very slowly on dh john the border is very calm we had a fantastic day there was no wave action there is almost no wind so if you keep a shutter speed of at least five hundred of a second year all right a respectful distance and uh so we're able to get a nice frame at the whole flock in but melissa I've got another present for you okay which is a tell extender this is a two times tell extend their it doubles the focal length of any lens stitches that it that it matches wit so you can keep the lens on the mon apart yeah we're going to take the camera off the lens and then we're going to put the tele extender on between the lens and the camera these are lightweight units that should be in every photographer's back I'm seeing that the pelicans are relaxed you know they're hunched down there preening and we've gotten quite a bit closer so in wildlife photography you have to be opportunistic then situations present themselves you go for it there's all these animals and they're surrounded by human activity so here we have a decision to make do we want to show the pelicans with the buildings in the background that gives us a sense of the human context men in which they exist or would you rather show the birds by himself what would you like to do I'd rather show the birds by themselves okay how about you doug okay okay then there is a way to do that how would you do that uh open up your aperture indeed you can open up your aperture of and you open your appetite your your depth of field doesn't extend this much and then at least the buildings are blurred in the background but there's something else you can do you can change your vantage point yeah you can change your physical vantage point and then perhaps we can eliminate the building's old together just go a little bit lower and see what a difference that makes oh yeah so just by sinking through your knees see now the buildings were gone this is a classic example of what of us referring to in the course of the art of seeing how important it is to be aware of your physical vantage point go higher go lower depending on what the effect is you want to achieve what is the relationship you want to achieve between your subject and contradictions are unconcerned they continue to preen and that means that we can come even a bit closer when you give animals time they get used to you and they go back to what they want to do and that is the game I like to play I show myself I show that I mean no harm and then I tried to get close enough so that I can do what I want to do without bothering them because our vantage point is low we're able to keep the agricultural buildings out of our shot anything that creates an interesting focal point for the viewer so and anything that's a repeating pattern is nice like great now I'm seeing six milligan's old preening their backs that's a nice frame so this is shoving a five hundred millimeter lens fight open um this part has me a little bit but I can easily cropped out I can just about shave that off really look for an image that is contained in and by itself neo eight eight eight friends to you do you ever use photo shop to take out any of the images that make it not perfect like the birds on the edge there are the other one that was swimming in earlier you know I take out incidental things like little spots a little tweak here and there but I don't delete kind of substantial elements from you know from from an image and you know there's been of course since the advent of photo shop there's been a vigorous debate in the photographic community about the ethics of applying photo shop on dh originally invented this when this is all new everybody started experimenting we were seeing double triple rainbow you know the craziest things I think gradually especially among nature photographers who really believe in documenting what is out there I think the golden rule is as my friend the late great gail unravel once said if you feel comfortable disclosing what you did to the image then you're on safe ground if you'd rather not tell what you did to the image then maybe you need to rethink it so the leading thing seems to be more accepted than adding elements because then you're really doing something that didn't occur there you could argue that if you delete things from your image basically lee you're just refining what you can already do with your optics and get your vantage point these pelicans were very trust a little busy but that one is definitely a nice character by himself he's beginning to preach oh yeah he's gonna be our guy see that nice blue background so at first we did a shot of the whole flock now we're getting a little bit more ambitious the birds are used to us we can get a little bit closer so now we're going to start looking for individuals and that young one is so isolated from the rest of the flock that we can see and by himself he's standing on that slightly higher part of the levee so the background this totally smooth interesting game we're playing here yeah the original prote the original approach kind of a successful and and then he kept circling around and very using the tide too flotus past the bird's time and again so we didn't even have to use the engine on dh you conceive it every approach were able to cut the distance a little bit to the point that we're now doing practically framed feeling shot melissa but I would do is maybe uh open your aperture a little bit because that'll make the background smoother he's not going to take off any time soon yeah he's very stable she's not showing that he is the survivors is a screening nice perfect screening his breast feathers the lightest perfect the sun is behind us catch light in his eye he's not even looking at us sitting down in the both filling my friend doesn't just help with the perspective it also makes the birds feel more comfortable that dust and if a profiling ourselves five six feet standing up what makes this situation interesting to me is that it's not a portrait anymore were actually documenting some behavior this is what bert spent a lot of time doing keeping their plume itch waterproof center then they dive into the water they're not getting cold so no I'm seeing an adult there a little bit to the left also isolated from the rest of the flock so now we can do a complement to the portrait of the young one preening and we see we see two adults next to each other nice down is just yawning when I get a little bits to almost had it animals it becomes really important to pay attention to any sign of disturbance but in this case the other totally relaxed so the background is something I constantly scrutinized because we do have some of these buildings there so I try to keep my aperture as open as possible so I met five six now with this lens you can go to yeah six three that is nice too but what makes an ordinary picture a good image is the expression so find the individual that you would like to work with and then you look for just a bit of a different posture you look for an expression in the face I'm also seeing to pelican still holed up here who won is taking off your clothes you're now because of us this is beautiful seaver drifting out of the good light sound no see now it's becoming backlight you see the shadows air getting harsh and it's not nearly as beautifully rendered anymore that goes back to the question that you ask barbara the you know the strategy is to get close don't spook the birds but then gradually you become a critical off you know what the lighting is actually doing to the subject so we found out that the prison area when we were a little bit further upstream there was the sweet spot movie could be close and get the sun a little bit more off to decide instead of shooting against it so yeah yeah yes front lighting enhances colors side lighting enhances tech here which could be nice to backlighting enhancer shapes but I would say in this situation we want to see all the colors on the pelicans so we're going to circle around and do this all more time how are you doing doug good so I was wondering over the course of the day how much shooting were you doing in auto focus versus manually focusing good question I think virtually all of this was in order focus because it was a pretty predictable subject auto focus has come a long way yeah there's still some limitations if you shoot a small birds in flight it happens very easily that the auto focus mechanism of your lens is just trying to find something to hold onto and it shoots all the way to infinity um I shall no reason to get into manual mode here because you have you ever had a pair up in their perpendicular angle to the birds the birds were very big that was an easy solution literally just came in on lana's well from lawrence thank you for asking that so but you have to work with your video camera and your lens in order to make the most of the auto focus mechanism you know a a shortcoming that often see involved life photographs that people sent me for review is that the animal is sitting that center in the frame which is a consequence of the order focused focused on the center of the frame so the compositions become more interesting than you put the animal someplace else in the frame on dh the fastest way to accomplish that by and still use auto focus is you focus on the subject you lock in your order focus there's a button on the back of your camera and then you recompose fall hard holding the autofocus and then you shoot now people have noticed franze that you're not using a hurt on your five hundred millimeter lens is that because the light is predominantly behind you or is this a regular practice dear I'm embarrassed uh that's that's indeed the good observation it's ah it's indeed because the light was coming from the back I didn't feel it was necessary and I had a really long hood on a really long land shade on on that land so that makes it kind of unreality especially when they're in the zodiac which was a little bit cramped with the four of us there so but I use it religiously than when I'm shooting against the sound and you know one of the drawbacks off zoom lenses even that the superb optical technology of today is that they're more prone to flaring down a fixed focal england uh my life shots when you fuck er photograph did you try a picture you tried teo do the odd number birds the concept of having a hot number birds okay your question is you do I count the birds and make him odd or even in my composition I am usually too busy to look for balance in the composition overall toe actually countem but that's a good question and I think you could do it either way sometimes symmetry is nice and that leads you to save all it's the even number of birds and sometimes you want a little bit maurin regularity and then I go for yeah for the odd number but I take it as it comes size up the individuals that yeah that are isolated enough from the others that will make a nice portrait but maybe you can also look for a combination of two I spot a couple off bird sitting together that would make a nice pair even though they're not really appear theyjust end nice together so especially away from the center of the flock is where we can find out so we've done the whole flock we've got some nice individuals what can we do next we want to challenge ourselves a little bit every time you want to find something new ya so you don't repeat yourself just a detail here I mentioned that I'm bothered by cameras traps this is what I use you can not see it very well but this is a camera strap that that I can you put on the camera and then most of the strap I can uncle very easily so I still have something dangling but it is less bothersome and you know the rest of the strap is in my camera back and uh before we do that maybe we could take a quick look at what you've what you've got to let me come over with you doug but let's see what we've got to oh you got the hair into good yeah this is a little better but the compositions a little pinched at the bottom yeah I'd like you to okay so you shot a lot of radicals here see that's nice now that bird is all by itself what I'm learning from seeing these frames is how hard it is to come up with a balance composition when there's a whole flock of them because there's always one bird sticking in there sticking out of the frame on duh so I'd go for simpler is better next time we float past him so I had to shoot him really fights so you get all of them in or come really tight so you just see one or two that looks nice see that's that juvenile dove a screening yeah and I like that you put him all the way in the corner it's a more dynamic composition and definitely what we did when the be shut down really low that makes a big difference we're literally eye level that the birds and that's a good principle being idle ivan animals is my mantra you've got the same issued that doug has here it looks a little busy birds doing different things and yet you don't see the end of one bird or the beginning of another one young we can crop that as a vertical that's not that scene this poor balance then let's carry on c it's not bad this strong shadows that looks nice that's that's a nice pair yeah but yeah yeah parts of the bird are outside of the frame which is the downside of using a fixed focal length lynch that is where doug is at an advantage cassie consume in and zoom out so I think what we've learned is how important it is to determine your subject before you get too close on dh we're going to start looking for birds that are a bit more isolated from the others which will find on either side of the main part of the flock should be do not let's approach him one more time there's uh cormorants too so that's another possibility to include a cormorant in your composition because those are smaller and by implication and make the pelicans look even bigger because they are big birds tells brown pelicans she does to adults they're if they stay where they are now we're going to be happy and also that one on the right all by itself clean foreground background you know you don't want to have to change your settings anymore so I met four hundred eso I'm at zero compensation expose you compensate see that that I cup that I have on the back of my camera it's ah it's designed for people wearing glasses but you know I think anyone should consider having one like that uh the other thing that's worth pointing out this you notice that mon apart that melissa's using there it has a minimalist swivel head on it that only tilt up and down that that's only need for ramana path keeps it very light so that's the perfect gadget for using in an open boat or in an open safari vehicle or when you're walking around in approaching you know birds or other animals on foot soon I mean on dh medium frame rate um oh now they're sitting together well we'll take it as it comes a bit of a pause between the between the approaches so take some time to look back at my settings to make sure that I'm still into reflections in the water very nice to see that that is like a little bit more habitat no so it's a little bit different from the portrait's we did before okay very nice very nice number four is lining up great great great says gorgeous now the other one is laundering off now we have three pelicans and two cormorant come on number four show your face yes yes yes this is gorgeous word you have we've done maybe a dozen passes pasties bert and then suddenly it really begins to click they're all lined up in a way I really like the fact that those cormorants are becoming part of the group it just adds a little bit ah little bit more variety so now we're almost perpendicular to doom so our depth of field will be optimal and I'm watching the background as we are floating past him keep triggering the frames keep looking for their postures in their expressions and just pick off the frames beautiful beautiful you can yeah that's my shutter going off in the background and noticed that I'm not putting my finger on the trigger and I'm letting I'm not letting it drip because I would end up there dozens and dozens of different frames that look almost exactly alike I'd rather keep looking through the viewfinder and then just discreetly click it there's it's a pretty static situation if there are behavior going on then I might consider just rattling off more frames per second but it's not necessary here so leonard let's continue apertura been main flock because we might be able to see a takeoff and uh but this is beautiful hey that was it that was it huh so so phil's just alerted us to the possibility that uh those pelicans may finally be ready to go go off to the bay to start fishing said their heads are coming up a bit so let's be aware of that and start thinking of how we would have captured this then they take off so high shutter speed a thousandth of a second if you can and be prepared to track along with him it's almost ideal because if they did go over the border you have a very clean foreground a very clean background yeah see that's what is going but he's going out the back side and what the hope to see is one coming towards us we're backing up a little bit so that we don't become an obstacle that prevents him from taking off in our direction he's doing a low fly by uh says come on time to go I'm not so sure phil you know it looked like there was yes sometimes soon they're going to go yeah they're definitely when they start doing that gape you know they're getting the fishing gear into uh into condition yeah well just do another overflowed by it's an amazing what can we do different this time listen what have you not done yet that you would like to try I'm getting used to using actually just the prime three hundred and usually I use zoom all the time so like you said having the flexibility on that is a little bit different for me for shooting you have to adjust your composition more quickly and but the quality of the images you'll be amazed oh yeah well I mean I can already tell him just on the lcd tio okay let's focus on the ones on this on the individuals on the left here because we've got this one nothing that sky in the background that looks very nice he sticks his this song when you use the auto focus how many focus points do you use for wildlife in this particular shoot typically used kind of the other vitus focus point area fifty one in my in my case and I just keep marveling at how this situation kept extending itself it's it's quite unusual you're more typically the birds will stay there for a while and then they take off it of us by now if his mid morning and indeed these pelicans to go fish most of them had already taken off on our after sunrise we were very lucky you were being very selective in in your shutter clicks do you brackett sometimes uh in these situations yeah sometimes I bracket my exposure but not in this case because the lighting situation was uh was quite simple the sun in my back there was not a lot of contrast between the subject and the background so I did check my history graham periodically and that's confirmed too that I had no problems that's the history graham getting pinched at the higher end or lower and so no reason to rattle off more frames soon as you asked that pam d j carroll asked exactly the same fashion online thank you just for one minute be even better but it's hard to tell a pelican what to do just preening look at that gorgeous plumage oh yes now now then he's preening that wing see that beautiful stuff a little a couple of things from this encounter with these brown pelicans first of all how important it is to give animals time to get used to you yeah we didn't push him we started looking for patterns first we did pictures of the whole flock and we learned that it's not so easy to come up with a balance composition then you've got a whole bunch of bird sitting together so we started to look for individual birds off to the periphery and we started looking for them before we even came close to them centered by the time we came close we knew who we wanted to write the other thing we learned to us how important the background thiss you know we've got those agricultural buildings in the background which exists there but you know we decided what we really want it was a picture to pelicans by themselves so we went down low instead of standing up in the boat we crouched down and it made a big difference it made our background much cleaner and then then the opened up our aperture ah background became blurrier so we had a really smooth transition from the subject to the background then we started looking for interesting juxtapositions melissa got some nice frames with to pelican screening at the same time and then the last thing perhaps the most important one is you know we did it again and again and again you know instead of saying okay we got a picture of these pelicans now let's go do something else we did the same thing and we learned every time we floated past him I was seeing something different and my pictures became better when it comes to photography when you think you have your shot that really means do it again because your image will become even better I spotted a group of harbor seals hold out on the shoreline we're going to approach him and we're going to do it very carefully marine mammals a very sensitive to movement so we are going to move very quietly and we're going to keep a low profile we're going to sit down in the boat so that the look more like reported about then if we're standing up which really profiles us as human beings first we're going to give him some space and then see how they react and I'm not even thinking about taking pictures yet I just want to make a connection with the animals first and then we'll start looking at the light what is the best angle where can we best be and then we'll take it from there

Class Description

Join world-renowned National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting for two days of instruction and inspiration that will change the way you look at photography and what you can do with your own camera.

With experiences from three decades of work in wild places – from the Amazon to Antarctica, Frans will introduce you to new ways to capture the wonders of the natural world with a camera. His class includes presentations about creative ideas and technical skills, and also features landscape and wildlife photography instruction during special field workshop sessions at prime photographic destinations along the California coast — Frans’s home ground for the past 30 years. The course will conclude with a critique of images submitted by viewers.

If you’re passionate about nature photography and want to improve your own photographic vision, you will be inspired by this unique course from a master photographer and teacher.