Species New to Science: Crowned Pelican! And Incredible 1000mm Sharpness and 5DS R Feather Detail at 1/100 sec. « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Species New to Science: Crowned Pelican! And Incredible 1000mm Sharpness and 5DS R Feather Detail at 1/100 sec.

What’s Up?

Yesterday was pretty much a photographic bust for me. Thanks to BPN-friend David Salem we went to a new spot near Patrick’s home in hopes of photographing the courtship rushes of Western and Clarke’s Grebes. Patrick and David had killed there last week but Saturday was a different story. The were fewer birds and little activity. It was not until I was packing up that two grebes rushed right at Patrick doing their incredibly loud mating dance rush. With his hand held 600 II/1.4X III TC/5DS R combo he nailed a few frames with 61-point Automatic Selection AF.

I am working on this blog post early on Sunday morning. We are heading back to the same spot in less than an hour in hopes of better luck.

The Streak

Today’s blog post marks 130 days in a row with a new educational blog post. As always–and folks have been doing a great job recently–please remember to use our B&H links for your major gear purchases. For best results use one of our many product-specific links; after clicking on one of those you can continue shopping with all subsequent purchases invisibly tracked to BAA. Your doing so is always greatly appreciated. Please remember: web orders only. Please remember that if you are shopping for items that we carry in the BAA Online Store (as noted in red at the close of this post below) that we would appreciate your business πŸ™‚


This image was created on the afternoon of Friday, March 11, 2016 at La Jolla, CA with the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 2X III, and the Canon EOS 5DS R. ISO 800: 1/100 sec. at f/8. AWB. Fill flash at -2 stops with the Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT, the Canon OC-E3 Off Camera Shoe Cord, the Canon CP-E4 Compact Battery Pack, the Mongoose Integrated Flash Arm, and a Better Beamer.

Center AF point (by necessity)/AI Servo Expand/Rear Focus AF as originally framed was active at the moment of exposure. This is a very small crop after leveling, mostly from our right. The selected AF point fell on the area right between the bird’s eyes. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Pacific race of Brown Pelican with crest raised

The Situation

The situation on my first afternoon in San Diego was pretty much the same as the situation on my first morning in San Diego on the January 2016 IPT visit: 80% chance of torrential downpours with high winds. You can read the whole story in the Sometimes When It’s Supposed to Suck, It Doesn’t… blog post here.

In any case, the weather forecast was indeed horrific. None-the-less, Patrick and Bryan and I decided to head to the Scripp’s Institute Pier in hopes of some clearing and a spectacular sunset. As soon as we got on 52 East the skies opened up. For several moments the visibility was zero: I slowed to 5mph on the freeway. When we arrived it was dark and dreary and raining; we never got out of the car. We imagined seeing some slight clearing to the west but after a half hour we decided to pack it in.

Hey, I’ve got an idea. We can head to the new pelican spot that Pat and I discovered during the January storm; the winds were the same, fierce from the west. My reasoning were that we could be only a few feet from the vehicle. When we arrived the pelicans were there in force; we would wind up seeing more than 200 that afternoon, most at from close to point blank range. The problem is that it was raining pretty hard. That did not stop me. I set up the 500 II with a rain cover, put a wool hat over the flash, and a wool hat over the camera. The two pansy-asses, Pat and Bryan, went across the street to sit in a nearby cafe and enjoy cups of tea and coffee (respectively) while waiting for the rain to quit. What can I say? I just love photographing birds in the rain with flash.

The rain stopped in minutes and Patrick and Bryan joined in the fun.

I was photographing tight pelican head portraits with the 500 and the 1.4X III TC when I noticed a bird with its crest fully raised. Now I have been viewing and photographing pelicans in La Jolla for well more than two decades but I have never seen a pelican with its crest raised; the problem was that the bird was at the bottom of the cliff about forty feet from us. I was so amazed by its hairdo that I went back to the car for the 2X III TC. Bingo.

We were amazed when the western sky did actually clear a bit; for a few moments the sun actually came out; Patrick and Bryan were doing hand held pelicans in flight with their big telephotos, Pat with the 600 II, Bryan with the 500 II.

A Last Amazing Note

I was amazed that there were still so many pelicans and that most of them were still showing wonderful color. I had assumed that by mid-March that the pelican photography would be headed downhill…


Tight 100% forehead crop of todays’ featured image at 800 pixels wide from the unsharpened TIFF file

1000mm Sharpness at 1/100 sec.

What can I say to the non-believers? Fine feather detail with the 5DS R is far beyond anything that I have ever seen.

And there are plenty of 2X TC non-believers as well. What can I say to them? Here’s the image.

The craziest part of the whole story is that my tripod was not firmly seated. I had lifted the front leg over a 3 1/2 foot tall fence to get a bit closer to the subject and the legs were resting on ice plant and soft earth. I have been stating for pretty much two decades that with practice, folks should be able to consistently create sharp images with a 2X TC and an f/4 super-telephoto lens at shutter speeds down to 1/6 sec. With my tripod on somewhat shaky footing the sharpness of today’s image impressed me.

Image Question

What factor in the equation led to increased sharpness?


San Diego offers a wealth of very attractive natural history subjects. With annual visits spanning more than three decades I have lot of experience there….

2017 San Diego 4 1/2-DAY BIRDS AS ART Instructional Photo-Tour (IPT) JAN 11 thru and including the morning session on JAN 15: 4 1/2 days: $1999.

(Limit: 10/openings 8)

Meet and Greet at 7:00pm on the evening before the IPT begins; Tuesday 1/10/17.

Join me in San Diego to photograph the spectacular breeding plumage Brown Pelicans with their fire-engine red and olive green bill pouches; Brandt’s and Double-crested Cormorants; breeding plumage Wood and Ring-necked Duck; other duck species possible including Lesser Scaup, Redhead, and Surf Scoter; a variety of gulls including Western, California, and the gorgeous Heerman’s, all in full breeding plumage; shorebirds including Marbled Godwit, Willet, Sanderling and Black-bellied Plover; many others possible including Least, Western, and Spotted Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Black and Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Plover, and Surfbird; Harbor Seals (depending on the current regulations) and California Sea Lions; and Bird of Paradise flowers. And as you can see by studying the two IPT cards there are some nice bird-scape and landscape opportunities as well.

With gorgeous subjects just sitting there waiting to have their pictures taken, photographing the pelicans on the cliffs is about as easy as nature photography gets. With the winds from the east almost every morning there is usually some excellent flight photography. And the pelicans are almost always doing something interesting: preening, scratching, bill pouch cleaning, or squabbling. And then there are those crazy head throws that are thought to be a form of intra-flock communication.

Did I mention that there are wealth of great birds and natural history subjects in San Diego in winter?


Though the pelicans will be the stars of the show on this IPT there will be many other handsome and captivating subjects in wonderful settings.

The San Diego Details

This IPT will include five 3 1/2 hour morning photo sessions, four 2 1/2 hour afternoon photo sessions, four lunches, and after-lunch image review and Photoshop sessions. To ensure early starts, breakfasts will be your responsibility.

A $599 non-refundable deposit is required to hold your slot for this IPT. You can send a check (made out to “Arthur Morris) to us at BIRDS AS ART, PO Box 7245, Indian Lake Estates, FL, 33855. Or call Jim or Jennifer at the office with a credit card at 863-692-0906. Your balance, payable only by check, will be due on 9/11//2016. If we do not receive your check for the balance on or before the due date we will try to fill your spot from the waiting list. Please print, complete, and sign the form that is linked to here and shoot it to us along with your deposit check. If you register by phone, please print, complete and sign the form as noted above and either mail it to us or e-mail the scan. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me via e-mail.

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To show your appreciation for my continuing efforts here, we ask, as always, that you get in the habit of using my B&H affiliate links on the right side of the blog for all of your photo and electronics purchases. Please check the availability of all photographic accessories in the BIRDS AS ART Online Store, especially the Mongoose M3.6 tripod heads, Gitzo tripods, Wimberley heads and plates, LensCoats and accessories, and the like. We sell only what I have used, have tested, and can depend on. We will not sell you junk. We know what you need to make creating great images easy and fun. And we are always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail. I just learned that my account was suspended during my absence; it should be up and running by Monday at the latest.

I would of course appreciate your using our B&H affiliate links for all of your major gear, video, and electronic purchases. For the photographic stuff mentioned in the paragraph above we, meaning BAA, would of course greatly appreciate your business. Here is a huge thank you to the many who have been using our links on a regular basis and visiting the BAA Online store as well.


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21 comments to Species New to Science: Crowned Pelican! And Incredible 1000mm Sharpness and 5DS R Feather Detail at 1/100 sec.

  • avatar Warren H

    A quick question: When you say “Fill flash at -2 stops” in the photo description, I assume you are working in ETTL with -2 stops of Flash Exposure Compensation. Do you ever use manual flash? (I realize that is a whole topic of its own…)

    I would think Manual mode on the flash would be a difficult challenge since it usually is a “trial and error” process and a wild bird just may not stick around for too many “trials” with a flash going off from a relatively close distance!

    Thanks and I’ll keep buying from your link and your used pages.

    Sorry Warren, I missed this πŸ™

    Yes on the -2 on the flash in ETTL mode, and yes I use Manual Flash but not often any more. See the section on Flash Simplified in the CD book, ABP II.

    best, artie

    ps: Thanks for using the links!

  • avatar Ron Gates

    I’ve seen some amazing images from you in the past but I think this is one of the best…most interesting. I agree with so many of the other posters. Top notch. Although I have to say I’ve got a similar image of my ex-mother-in-law that might match it. πŸ™‚

  • avatar Paul Mckenzie

    Hey Artie, this is one of your very best. The crested feathers remind me a bit of some of the Whooper Swans only these are way better. Not sure if it was by design but the light area in the background tapering to dark around the corners really helps to make the subject pop. Having rear focus AF active at the moment of exposure would have helped with sharpness.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Paul. The light toned area was just a wave breaking in the right place… a

  • Don’t know if you see this cause its a little late…but,
    you mentioned you protected your flash from the rain
    with a wool cap.

    How did you exactly do that?

    When it comes to rain, I’m protected as far as the body
    and lens, but I’ve never been quite sure on how to protect
    the flash.

    What part exactly needs the protection…or is it everything,
    minus the flash itself?


  • avatar Joe Subolefsky

    Artie nothing to do with sharpness but does the 5DS-R have in-camera HDR like the 5DIII?

  • avatar Cris Hamilton

    Hi Artie,
    Love the brown pelican with the crest raised. Way to go on that!!!! Curious how you go about protecting the flash in the rain – after you take the wool cap off.

    I would agree with Doug, that you braced the setup with your body.

    Wishing you the best on your surgery tomorrow.


  • Flash can be a factor of sharpness but anyway this image is REALLY stunning! Awesome! I just love it! Well seen and very well done!

    You should present it to the BBC contest. Very original. Congrats!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Yves and agree. I like it so much that I am not entering it in the Nature’s Best contest this year. Why? If it is honored I cannot enter it in the BBC competition next year… I have high hope for it there πŸ™‚


  • avatar David Peake

    Flash makes the difference.
    The flash hits the subject for only a very small portion of the total exposure time, illuminating the subject very sharply while the ambient light fills in the background for the full duration of the exposure.

  • avatar Doug

    Have you micro-adjusted your lenses with your new 5DSR cameras?

  • avatar Eric Washburn

    The distance.

  • avatar Kerry Morris

    I will say the shoe cord, because then you’re not touching the rig and potentially adding to the instability of the soft sand/iceplant.

  • avatar Warren H

    I was also going to say flash!

  • avatar Jordan basem


    • avatar Nikhil

      I don’t think a fill flash can freeze motion in this case and from the looks of it there seems to be enough ambient light.

      The only thing I can think of is burst mode with proper teqniquie.

  • Image Question

    What factor in the equation led to increased sharpness?

    Placing your left arm over the top of the 500, slightly pressing
    down, with your 5DSR firmly against your cheek to help
    create more stability.