Plus Four Stops off the Light Grey Sky? No Way! And Photographing from the Stern of an Expedition Ship

What’s Up?

I am somewhere in South America. I hope that you are well. Jim and Jen are at the office most days to help you with your mail order needs and Instructional Photo-Tour sign-ups. I still need folks for San Diego, Japan, Galapagos, the Palouse, and the Bear Boat (Grizzly Cubs) trips. Among others 🙂 Please e-mail for couples and discount info for all of the above. Click here for complete IPT info.

I will have intermittent internet access for the rest of my South American adventure. I get back home late on December 25, 2016. Best and great picture making, artie


Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of the folks whom I see in the field, and on BPN, are–out of ignorance–using the wrong gear, especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads… Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail.

The Streak: 408!

Today’s blog post marks a totally insane, irrational, illogical, preposterous, absurd, completely ridiculous, unfathomable, silly, incomprehensible, what’s wrong with this guy?, makes-no-sense, 408 days in a row with a new educational blog post. As always-–and folks have been doing a really 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. And please remember also that if you are shopping for items that we carry in the new BAA Online Store (as noted in red at the close of this post below) we would of course appreciate your business.


giant-petrel-_a0i2179-southern-ocean-falklands-south-georgia

This image was created while photographing on the stern of the Sea Spirit with the hand held Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM lens and the fast, rugged Canon EOS-1D X Mark II.) ISO 1000. Evaluative metering +3 2/3 stops off the light grey sky: 1/1250 sec. at f/4 in Manual mode. AWB.

Center AF point/Manual Selection/AI Servo Shutter Button AF as originally framed was active at the moment of exposure (as is always best when hand holding). The selected AF point just caught the bird’s undertail coverts. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #1: Southern Giant Petrel dark morph

Photographing from the Stern of an Expedition Ship

Seabirds often follow ships at sea. I find that the stern is usually the best place to work from though on occasion the bow or the sides of the ship can be productive as well. Keep your eyes open and note the sky conditions, the light angle, and the way the birds are flying. Photographing seabirds in flight from the stern (or from anywhere else) on an expedition ship is always a huge challenge. The ship is almost always rocking and rolling. The action is usually not constant. It can be cold and even wet. If it is sunny and clear, it is almost impossible to avoid harsh shadows on the birds. Hand held intermediate telephotos or telephoto lenses are best. One thing is for sure: the more time you spend trying the more chance you will have of producing a special image …

On the Sea Spirit, many folks used the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens successfully. I brought the 400 DO II specifically to use while photographing from the ship for two reasons:

  • 1-The extra stop of speed allowed me to save one stop of ISO.
  • 2-As the birds rarely fly very close to the ship, I knew that adding the 1.4X III TC would give me extra reach.

Tips

During navigations from one location to another, keep your flight lens handy with fresh batteries and a clean card in the camera. I kept mine on the floor in the library of the Sea Spirit along with my heavy coat, a woolen watch cap, and my gloves. If action developed I could be on deck in less than two minutes without having to run back to my cabin.

The more time that you spend on deck, the more chance you have of creating a single good image. That should come as no surprise, but I will say that the number of folks out photographing decreased steadily over the 2 1/2 week trip … Photographing from the deck of an expedition ship that is underway can be hard work.

Plus Four Stops off the Light Grey Sky? No way!

You are correct. I actually used plus 3 2/3 stops off the light gray sky to create both of today’s featured images (on different days). But plus four stops off the light grey sky makes a much better title. When photographing birds in flight against grey sky backgrounds most folks will underexpose their images by two to three or more stops. With the black seabirds I went as much as 3 2/3 stops over the meter reading off the sky to ensure lovely underwing detail and reduce the noise in the dark areas. For birds with lots of WHITE feathers like Black-browed Albatross or the whitest of white seabirds, the Snow Petrels, I’d go with about + 2 or plus 2 1/2 stops off the light sky, and about plus three stops for the intermediate phase (grey) giant petrels.


white-chinned-petrel-_a0i3803-scotia-sea-north-and-west-of-south-georgia

This image was also created while photographing on the stern of the Sea Spirit, this one with the hand held Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 1.4X III,, and the fast, rugged Canon EOS-1D X Mark II.) ISO 1000. Evaluative metering +3 2/3 stops off the light grey sky: 1/1250 sec. at f/4 in Manual mode. AWB.

Center AF point/Expand/AI Servo/Shutter Button AF as originally framed was active at the moment of exposure (as is always best when hand holding). The upper assist point was on the bird’s face. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #2: White-chinned Petrel

The White-chinned Petrels

Being smaller and longer-winged, the White-chinned Petrels fly faster than either species of giant petrel. They generally stay farther from the ship. And they often fly off the bow where photography is more difficult than it is from the stern. On our navigation from South Georgia to the Falklands roommate Kevin Watson and I found ourselves alone on the stern. There was only one bird, a White-chinned Petrel. But for whatever reasons, it flew close to the ship and stayed with us for about half an hour. I was thrilled to create my best ever image of this challenging seabird.


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DPP 4 Southern Giant Petrel dark morph Screen Capture

DPP 4 Southern Giant Petrel dark morph Screen Capture

It is pretty obvious that I did not do a very good job of getting the AF point on the bird’s eye, face, neck, or upper breast. If I had, I might have cut off the end of the bird’s far wing 🙂 IAC, I used techniques from APTATS II to easily reposition the bird in the frame. You can learn advanced Quick Masking and advanced Layer Masking techniques in APTATS I & II. You can save $15 by purchasing the pair.

Note the almost perfectly neutral RGB values for the sky: R: 247; G: 248; B: 249. Note that despite working at an exposure that was 3 2/3 stops above that above the light grey sky that I still needed to add 1/6 stop of exposure (+0.17) during the RAW conversion in DPP 4. Mostly importantly, note that there is almost no data on the RGB histogram in the first box, the one on the left that shows the dark tones. This indicates that I have maximized detail in the dark areas of the image, i.e., the bird. The worst case scenario would be that the dark tones are pegged against the left-hand axis of the histogram. As always, expose to the right. With this image I needed to take extreme measures–+3 2/3 stops off the grey sky–to ensure that I exposed well to the right with lots of detail in the dark tones, even those that look BLACK.

Please Remember to use my Affiliate Links and to Visit the New BAA Online Store 🙂

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 New BIRDS AS ART Online Store, especially the Mongoose M3.6 tripod head, Wimberley lens plates, Delkin flash cards and accessories, and LensCoat stuff.

As always, 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 please remember that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail.

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, and for everything else in the new store, 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 those who will be visiting the New BIRDS AS ART Online Store as well.

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Typos

In all blog posts and Bulletins, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors. Just be right 🙂

2 comments to Plus Four Stops off the Light Grey Sky? No Way! And Photographing from the Stern of an Expedition Ship

  • avatar James Saxon

    Merry Christmas and have a safe trip home. Welcome home to the USA.

  • avatar David Policansky

    Thanks, Artie; Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, and welcome home. I never tired of photographing from the deck of the Sea Spirit, even when all those kayaks blocked most of the view and access from the stern. Great images and great tips, as usual.