Self-Inflicted Travel Adventure & White Sky Flight Lessons

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This White-fronted Goose image was created with the Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2 stops: 1/1250 sec. at f5.6 in Av Mode. The amount of underwing detail in this image is amazing, and I love the arrangement of the birds. Learn more at “White Sky Flight Lessons” below.

Self-Inflicted Travel Adventure

I was supposed to fly this morning, Tuesday February 22 from Klamath Falls, OR to Portland to connect with my American flights to Orlando: PDX to DFW to MCO. I had purchased separate tickets for the Klamath Falls legs from United Skywest. I called them last night to confirm my flight and was told that I was not on the passenger list. I managed to find the confirmation code and after a few moments was told that I had a reservation for the March 22 flight. Ooops. The February 22 flight was sold out. I went to Google Maps and checked out the driving time from Klamath to the Portland Aiport: 5 1/2 hours. I was in bed before nine and set the alarm for 3:45 am. I woke for good at 2:48 am and was in the car headed north on Route 97 with a very few snow flurries in the air at 3:49am.

As I approached the turnoff for Route 58 which would take me to Eugene and Interstate-5 North, it began to snow a bit more, but still there was only a dusting on the road. I did not know that 58 would take me over a 4,000+ foot high mountain pass. Can you say “Snow Area” and “Chains On”? A torturously slow hour and a half driving through a white out found me descending 6 and 7% downgrades on a slippery one lane road covered with an inch of snow. Lots of fun. I drove carefully and was not tired at all. Once I got off the mountain the sky began to lighten and the snow mercifully turned to rain.

After a thirty minute nap in the car a final 90-minute driving leg got me to the gate at 11:00am for my 12:35 flight. I am glad that I woke early. And I am glad that I am a lover of what is. (Byron Katie: www.THEWORK.com)

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This image of a single Tundra Swan in flight was created with the Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2 2/3 stops: 1/500 sec. at f5.6 set manually.

White Sky Flight Lessons

Some folks never photograph birds in flight again white sky backgrounds, much preferring blue skies especially if there are a few puffy white clouds around. With the advent of digital, I quickly came to love photographing birds in flight on cloudy or overcast days. It is much easier to reveal underwing detail when photographing birds in flight in these conditions and the soft light often gives the images a lovely peaceful mood

For the image of the single swan above I added tons of light (2 2/3 stops) because the sky was totally white and there was zero light; it was as if I were working in a huge soft box. With the opening White-fronted Geese image, I added only two stops of light because there was some directional light; there were no shadows but you could tell where the sun was. With the image below of there was actually a hint of sun breaking through the clouds. I started by adding 1 2/3 stops of light but a check of the histogram revealed more than a few flashing highlights so I cut back to +1 stop. The exposure compensations above should work well in the described conditions with the Mark IV as well as with Mark III and 7D bodies. Folks using pro-sumer bodies like the 50D and the 40D, earlier Canon pro bodies like the Mark II series, and Nikon bodies will do well using about 2/3 to a stop less plus compensation than detailed above.

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This image of a group of Tundra Swans in flight was created with the Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1 stop: 1/1600 sec. at f/9 set manually.

The final lesson here involves photographing groups like those in the first and the third images above. If you wait until the arrangement of the flock is absolutely perfect (as I often do), you will often miss making some great images. At Klamath, I decided that if I had a group of birds flying toward (rather than away) from me, I would make a series of images without any great concern for the arrangement of the birds in the flock. I easily removed a single out-of-formation bird from each of the group shots in Photoshop and was very pleased (as well as a bit surprised) with the pleasing arrangement of the birds in each image.

Shopper’s Guide

Below is a list of the gear that I used to create the image above. Thanks a stack to all who have used the Shopper’s Guide links to purchase their gear as a thank you for all the free information that we bring you on the Blog and in the Bulletins.

Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens Right now this is my all time favorite super-telephoto lens.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera bod.y And this is the very best professional digital camera body that I have even used..

And from the BAA On-line Store:

Gitzo 3530 LS Tripod This one will last you a lifetime.
Mongoose M3.6 Tripod Head Right now this is the best tripod head around for use with lenses that weigh less than 9 pounds. For heavier lenses, check out the Wimberley V2 head.
Double Bubble Level You will find one in my camera’s hot shoe whenever I am not using flash.
Delkin 32gb e-Film Pro Compact Flash Card. Fast and dependable.

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6 comments to Self-Inflicted Travel Adventure & White Sky Flight Lessons

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Thanks all for your kind words. Katie, the road was not beautiful with a dark night and white out conditions :)

  • Thank you for the excellent exposure lesson, and the swan images are just beautiful.

  • avatar M. Bruce

    Thanks for the insights into tackling the white birds-white skies dilemma. I’ve never pushed exposure quite that far but I will keep it in mind next time. Your results certainly demonstrate the accuracy of your approach.

    Last month I spent five days in the Klamath/Tule Lake region, which remains one of my all time favorite places to photograph a stunning variety of birds, especially in the winter when the eagles are abundant. The emotional aspect of watching hundreds of thousand of Snow Geese lifting in near simultaneity is, as Julie Bonney mentions, well beyond words or photographs. It drove me nearly to my knees – and is one of my top ten life experiences.

  • avatar Katie Rupp

    Artie, having lived in Oregon and traveled throughtout the state for work, I know that road and can visualize your adventure; suffice it to say, it’s absolutely gorgeous in the spring and fall.

  • avatar Julie Bonney

    It’s wonderful to see the images that you created while in Klamath Falls, and feel very fortunate to have been one of the participants on Sunday morning. Being new to photographing birds, I truly gained valuable information from you which I look forward to using in the near future. I must say that during one blast off I had to put the camera down and enjoy the birds in flight. The experience brought tears to my eyes. What a glorious site.

  • Some very nice images Artie and I very much appreciate the information about shooting against a white sky.