Flight Photography is About a Lot More than Sharpness … « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Flight Photography is About a Lot More than Sharpness ...

What’s Up?

On Saturday I went to Gatorland to work with Ron M. Owen, a preacher now living in Orlando. He was born in Winter Haven, FL, just up the road form Lake Wales. In short, Gatorland was pretty lousy and working with Ron was pretty wonderful. Many of the easy and accessible Great Egrets had relocated. There was a single killer breeding plumage Snowy Egret but it stayed buried in a bush. There were some decent but difficult chances with tiny chicks: Snowy Egret and Great Egret/ But Murphy’s law of Nests was in full effect: every nest had just one stick too many the ruined the shot. Our best chances were with a single Snowy Egret who flew back and forth across the moat to gather nesting material. That gave a a great chance to discuss bright white exposures and to practice our flight photography skills.

On all IPTs and In-the-Field Sessions folks are invited to send five images for my short critique. He sent five along with this note via e-mail:

Artie, I’ve attached 5 images. The cormorant is a boring shot, but the sky was what it was. After I got home, I realized the ‘clumpy’ white flowers and the bare stick/branches sticking up all around the birds ruined any shots of the displaying egret. I welcome your thoughts/comments/criticism. As I said in my text, I really enjoyed the time with you, and hope for another chance coming up. All the best. ron

Last week I met a lady photographer down by the lake at ILE. Her name is Kathy Chaffins and she is from Kentucky visiting family.I gave her a card and suggested that she visit the blog. She did and saw the offering for Sandhill Chicks and Colts Instructional sessions. We met on Sunday morning. Kathy was using one of the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 for Canon with a 7D Mark II. She knew how to move the AF points but did not know when or why to move them to improve the image design. She did not know that you could set Orientation Linked AF Point in the camera menu to Separate AF Pts: Area+pts so that the camera would remember the different settings when you turn the camera to vertical or back to horizontal.

She usually worked in Av or Tv mode but did not have a good grasp of getting the right exposure. She did not realize that when working in manual mode you could use the analog scale on the right side of the 7D II to determine the exposure compensation (EC). Her camera had blinkies turned off. She needed lots of help and proved to be a bright and eager student. First we fixed all of her menu items. We set center Surround for horizontal and upper center surround for vertical. Then we got her working in Manual mode noting the values on the analog scale, checking the histogram and for blinks, and moving the AF point around the frame.

While making sure that her gear was working properly I got to handle her rig and noted that it was quite heavy and that AF was quite sluggish. I suggested that she consider getting her hands on a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens either new or used via the BAA Used Gear Page.

After our sessions she said that she was worried that I would be teaching over her head but was thrilled with everything that she learned and thanked me for the lessons. On Monday she e-mailed:

I really enjoyed our session yesterday and am looking forward to utilizing your suggestions. Next year when we come back maybe we can schedule another session. I will keep in touch. Kathy

IPT Updates

I was glad to learn recently that Dan Tishman will be joining six others on the DeSoto IPT — that leaves one slot open. And #3 just signed up for the UK trip; that leaves only two openings on what will be an amazing trip, and will likely be my last trip and likely the last Dunbar gannet boats trips — Gordon is getting old. 🙂

Despite lots of recent interest I still need three folks for the Galapagos trip. Please shoot me an e-mail to learn about the huge late registration discount on the Galapagos trip.

  • The 2019 Fort DeSoto Spring IPT/THURS 18 APRIL through the morning session on SUNDAY APRIL 21, 2019: 3 1/2 DAYS: $1549. Limit 8/Openings: 1. Meet and greet at 7PM on the evening of WED 17 APRIL. Free morning session on WED 17 APRIL.
  • The New, Expanded 2019 UK Puffins, Gannets, & Red Kites IPT. Thursday June 27 (from EDI) through Tuesday, July 9, 2019 (on the ground; fly home on Wednesday July 10.): $9,999. Limit 5 photographers/Openings: 2. This trip is a definite go.
  • The GALAPAGOS Photo Cruise of a Lifetime IPT/The Complete Galapagos Photographic Experience. July 23 to August 6, 2019 on the boat. 13 FULL and two half-days of photography: $14,499. Limit: 13 photographers/Openings: 3. Please e-mail to learn about the huge late registration discount for this trip.

Super-Cheap Indian Lake Estate Sandhill Crane Chicks and Colts Sessions

Join me at ILE most any but Thursday for the next two weeks to photograph silly tame Sandhill Crane chicks and colts. Best news: there is a third pair on eggs that might be hatching very soon.

Morning Session — 7:30-9:30am: $150.00
Add an hour of image review and Photoshop and brunch: $100.00

Lodging in my home is available most nights. If you are interested, please get in touch via e-mail or call my cell at 863-221-2372. Limit three, likely: 1.

Cheap Gatorland Sessions

Join me at Gatorland in March or early April as below — it was great both days last weekend. You will learn a ton. Including the simple trick that enabled me to create today’s featured image while nobody else could … Really.

If you are interested, please get in touch via e-mail or call my cell at 863-221-2372. Limit three.

Friday or Saturday Morning Session — 7-10am: $200.00
Saturday Morning Session with a working lunch including image review and Photoshop: $300.00
Saturday Afternoon session — 4pm til closing: $150.
Full day with the working lunch: $450.00.
Sunday morning session 7-10am: $200.00.
Sunday morning session with a working lunch including image review and Photoshop: $300.00

Save $100 by creating your own mini-IPT by combining a Full day Saturday session including a working lunch with a Sunday morning session with a working lunch. Limit: three photographers, likely 1. Only $650 for a ton of learning over two days. As I said, cheap!


BIRDS AS ART is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Money Saving Reminder

If you need a hot photo item that is out of stock at B&H, would enjoy free overnight shipping, and would like a $50 discount on your first purchase, click here to order and enter the coupon code BIRDSASART at checkout. If you are looking to strike a deal on Canon or Nikon gear (including the big telephotos) or on a multiple item order, contact Steve Elkins via e-mail or on his cell at (479) 381-2592 (Eastern time) and be sure to mention your BIRDSASART coupon code and use it for your online order. Steve currently has several D850s in stock along with a Nikon 600mm f/4 VR. He is taking pre-orders for the new Nikon 500 P and the Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera body.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of photographers 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. Those questions might deal with systems, camera bodies, accessories, and/or lens choices and decisions.

This image was created at Gatorland on Saturday, March 13, 2019. I used the hand held Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens (at 400mm) and the beyond remarkable Sony Alpha a9 Mirrorless Digital Camera. ISO: 400. Highlight metering with faint Zebras: 1/2500 sec. at f/5 in Manual mode. AWB at 9:27am. The RAW file was converted in Capture One and optimized in Photoshop.

Click on the image to see a larger version. Center Zone AF.

Snowy Egret in post-breeding plumage with twig for nest

Flight Photography is About a Lot More than Sharpness …

We stayed with the bird pictured above for more than an hour as it flew from right to left angling away from us (no good), grabbed a twig, and flew back right at us across the moat. Ron send me his best one; it was very nice. He made it with the old Canon 300mm f/4L IS lens, an old close focusing favorite of mine. (A few used ones have sold on the BAA Used Gear Page. Amazingly, it is still being manufactured: Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM Lens.

SONY autofocus absolutely killed. I have no clue as to how it focused on the eye every time without fail. Even when there was a stick blocking the bird’s face. We had many, many chances to make the shot. With the fast frame rate of the a9 I made about 80 photos, all sharp. But I kept only two …

Flight photography is, however, about a lot more than sharpness. So why did I delete 78 sharp flight images? Here, in no particular order, are the reasons.

  • 1-I panned too slowly so that the bird was too far to my right in the frame.
  • 2-I was too greedy and clipped a wingtip here and there.
  • 3-There bird was holding a large stick that blocked our view of the its face and eye.
  • 4-I shot too soon so that the bird was well off sun angle.
  • 5-I shot too late and the bird was either past sun angle or already in the nest bush.
  • 6-The positions were poor with one wing sticking right at the camera.
  • 7-There were distracting reflections of palm trees in the backgrounds.

I will be sharing lots more on wing positions in future blog posts. See the Flight Poses and Wings Positions: Part I of Many blog post here.

High Level Question

You can see here that I was working slightly off sun angle with the sun coming over my left shoulder instead of over the top of my head. Why didn’t I move to my left so that when the bird was in the best zone I would have been right on sun angle?

Images and card design copyright: Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART. All of the images on this card were created on the 2018 UK Puffins and Gannets IPT

The New, Expanded 2019 UK Puffins and Gannets IPT. Seahouses, Bempton Cliffs, and the Dunbar, Scotland Gannet boat to Bass Rock! Thursday June 27 (from EDI) through Tuesday, July 9, 2019 (on the ground; fly home on Wednesday July 10.): $9,999. Limit 5 photographers/openings 2.

Join me in the UK in late June and early July 2019 to photograph Atlantic Puffin, Common Murre, Razorbill, Shag, and Northern Gannet, Red Kite, and more both in flight and at close range. We will also have great chances with Arctic and Sandwich Terns, both with chicks of all sizes; Black-headed, Lesser-Black-backed, and Herring Gulls, many of those chasing puffins with fish; Black-legged Kittiwake with chicks; plus Grey Seal. There will be tons of great flight photography. As on all IPTs, if you pay attention, you will learn a ton, especially about sky conditions and the relationship between light angle and wind direction and their effects on flight photography.

Why go all the way to Machias Seal Island off the coast of Maine, endure a two-hour boat ride, and have to photograph Atlantic Puffins from a cramped blind usually in bright sun (and well off sun angle) when you can hop a red-eye flight from Newark, NJ and be in Edinburgh, Scotland early the next morning. First we drive down to Bridlington for easy access to Bempton Cliffs where our primary targets will be Northern Gannet in flight. We will also get to photograph Razorbill, Northern Fulmar, Herring Gull, and Black-legged Kittiwake. While in Bridlington we will spend one afternoon visiting a Red Kite feeding station that should provide lots of flight photography action.

While in Bridlington we will staying at the Lobster Pot by Marston’s Inn, just fifteen minutes from Bempton Cliffs. After 3 1/2 days of photography at there, we drive down to Seahouses in Northumberland to the two lodges that will be our home base for a week. After a short boat ride each day we will have hundreds of puffins posing at close range all day, every day — usually in ideal cloudy-bright conditions. While we are in Seahouses we will do six puffin/seabird trips, all weather permitting of course; last year we did not miss a single landing. In five years we have averaged losing less than one half day per year to bad weather. We land at Staple Island in the mornings and then sail over to Inner Farnes for our afternoon sessions. In addition, we may enjoy a session or two photographing nesting Black-legged Kittiwakes at eye level from a rocky beach in Seahouses.

In Seahouses, we stay 7 nights in gorgeous, modern, upscale lodges with Wi-fi. They are beyond lovely with large living areas and lots of open space for the informal image sharing and Photoshop sessions. The bedrooms are decent-sized. Each lodge has one double bedroom and two twin bedrooms. (See the single supplement info below.) At the lodges we cook our own breakfasts each morning and prepare our own lunches to be brought on the six puffin boat trips. For dinners we will alternate cooking in the lodges with fine dining at several excellent local restaurants. We stay two nights at the Marston’s Inn in Dunbar. We will enjoy a fine-dining Thank You dinner at the Dunbar Hotel on the Tuesday evening before we fly home.

On the morning of Monday, July 8, 2019, the plan is to sleep late, pack, and head up to Dunbar Harbor, Scotland for lunch and an afternoon gannet boat chumming trip: flight photography until you cannot lift your camera. The next morning, Tuesday July 9, we will enjoy our second gannet boat chumming trip (both weather permitting). On both trips we will enjoy great views of the huge gannetry at Bass Rock. Included will be two nights lodging at the Pine Martin by Marston’s Inn in Dunbar. Very early on the morning of Wednesday, July 10, we will drive up to Edinburgh Airport so that everyone can make their flights home. No moaning please. You will need a flight that leaves at 8:30am or later. Not too much later is generally best. Note: this trip needs a minimum of four photographers to run.

Images and card design copyright: Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART. All images were created on the 2017 UK Puffins and Gannets IPT

The Details

This IPT is all-inclusive except for your airfare and alcoholic beverages. All ground transportation, lodging costs, meals, your National Trust membership, and all boat, entry, and landing fees are included. Weather permitting, we will enjoy three and one-half days (at least six sessions in all) at Bempton Cliffs, an afternoon with the Red Kites, six full days on the puffin boats, one amazing afternoon gannet chumming trip, and one spectacular morning gannet chumming trip. The trip cannot be finalized until I have at least six deposits as we will be renting a lovely 15-passenger bus with our private professional driver who happens to be my web-master, Peter Kes, who is also a skilled photographer and my co-leader 🙂

IPT Details

If you are good to go sharing a room–couples of course are more than welcome, heck, we actually need two couples — please send your non-refundable $2,000/person deposit check now to save a spot. Please be sure to check your schedule carefully before committing to the trip and see the travel insurance info below. Your balance will be due on February 28, 2019. Please make your check out to “Arthur Morris” and send it to Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART, PO Box 7245, Indian Lake Estates, FL, 33855.

Please shoot me an e-mail if you are good to go or if you have any questions.

Single Supplement Info

Single supplement rooms in Bridlington and Dunbar are available for those who register early. The cost of the single supplement for those six nights is $600.00. Single supplement rooms at the lodge may be available on a limited basis but only if the trip does not fill with ten photographers. The single supplement fee for those seven nights is $700. If you would like your own room in Bridlington and Dunbar, please request it when making your deposit and include payment in full for the single supplement with your deposit: $2,600.00. The single supplement deposits are non-refundable as I will need to make the reservations well in advance.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance for big international trips is highly recommended as we never know what life has in store for us. I strongly recommend that you purchase quality insurance. Travel Insurance Services offers a variety of plans and options. Included with the Elite Option or available as an upgrade to the Basic & Plus Options you can also purchase Cancel for Any Reason Coverage that expands the list of reasons for your canceling to include things such as sudden work or family obligation and even a simple change of mind. My family and I use and depend on the great policies offered by TIS whenever we travel. You can learn more here: Travel Insurance Services. Do note that many plans require that you purchase your travel insurance within 14 days of our cashing your deposit check or running your credit card. Whenever purchasing travel insurance, be sure to read the fine print carefully even when dealing with reputable firms like TSI.

I truly hope that you can join me on this exciting venture.

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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.

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11 comments to Flight Photography is About a Lot More than Sharpness …

  • Hi Artie, it would have limited the view of the far wing.

  • avatar John Patton

    Having shot at Gatorland I’m thinking your left side was against the railing.

  • avatar David Policansky

    Hi, Artie. I wasn’t there, and so I can only guess, but in the lovely image you posted the bird is flying toward the nest, which must be to your right. My guess is that if you moved to your left, the nest would appear in the image and make a good background less likely.

  • avatar Steven Schiff

    You said Kathy’s Tamron 150-600mm lens was “sluggish” to focus. How would you rate the focusing of the Nikon 200-500mm by comparison?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Quite a bit better with either the D850 or the D5, the only two Nikon bodies I’ve ever used. But initial AF acquisition (IFA) with the 200-500 is slower than with the 500 PF. IFA with the 200-500 is slower than with the 600 f/4 VR. All as expected.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Mike Cristina

    Hi Artie, I am actually looking into the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3. Do you think it would be inferior to the canon 100-400 with 1.4 extender?


  • You were on a peninsula and could not physically move any further to your left without going for a swim with your gear. I like the answer about angle showing more back of the birds head. But I think I’m right! Have fun.

  • Artie – I received my Nikon 500 PF last week from Bedford Camera and Video. I ordered it 12/28/2018. Got my hubby’s from them that day which is why I ordered ‘mine’ from them. LOVE it. Thanks for the suggestion on using them. This is our 3rd purchase and they have always been wonderful to work with.


  • avatar Mark Harrington

    The stick would block more of the head and neck.

  • avatar Elinor Osborn

    You would have more of the back of the bird’s head. With the head angled away more?