Northern Giant Petrel Large-in-the-frame or Habitat Shot… « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Northern Giant Petrel Large-in-the-frame or Habitat Shot...


I left Charleston at 5:00am and after catnapping briefly south of Orlando and running several errands in Lake Wales was in the house at 2:50pm. Jim kindly had lunch waiting for me. I spent the rest of the day answering e-mails and doing some writing.

This blog post, the 131st in a row, took about 1 1/2 hours to prepare. It should be published automatically at 3:00am on Monday morning.


This image was created at Salisbury Plain, South Georgia with the tripod-mounted Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 1.4X III (at 135mm), and the Canon EOS-1D X . ISO 1600. Evaluative metering at zero: 1/250 sec. at f/5.6.

Center AF point/AI Servo Expand/Rear Focus AF on the adult’s eye and re-compose. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #1: Northern Giant Petrel with chick on nest/wide habitat shot

Surprise Miracle on Salisbury Plain

Northern Giant Petrel nests in many locations on South Georgia. Many of those are off limits to visitors. In places you severely are restricted from approaching a nest. Because of severe weather delays due to high winds on our crossing from The Falklands we missed our scheduled landing at Salisbury Plain, one of several hard-to-believe King Penguin nesting sites in South Georgia. Our expedition leader was able to make a deal with another so that we were able to land at about 4:00am. And we needed to be off the beach by 8:00am.

Advance crew member landing parties land before any of the trip participants to make sure that things are do-able and safe and to stake out a path through the furs seals. As I made my way up the beach I was astounded to see a completely unperturbed Northern Giant Petrel sitting on both its nest and a small white chick. Talk about striking it rich. As our path was within scant yards of the nest all the photographers needed to do was walk slowly and stay a bit on the quiet side. And that is exactly what we did.


I optimized a much tighter image of the adult with the chick and was sure that I had posted it to the blog or in a Bulletin. A search of both turned up nada. If you know the whereabouts of that image, please post the link.

Small In-the-Frame Habitat Shot

To create Image #1 I zoomed well out and carefully framed the Elephant Seals and King Penguins in the background taking care not to cut any animals or birds in half with the frame edge while maintaining clean lower an upper frame-edges.


This image was created at Salisbury Plain, South Georgia with the tripod-mounted Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 1.4X III (at 240mm), and the Canon EOS-1D X . ISO 1600. Evaluative metering +1 /3 stop: 1/125 sec. at f/8.

One row down and four AF points to the left of the center AF point/AI Servo Expand/Rear Focus AF as framed was active at the moment of exposure. The selected AF point fell on the the adult’s neck well below the eye and just forward of the feathers of the upper back. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #2: Northern Giant Petrel with chick/tight

No Time Like the Present…

I decided to post the large-in-the-frame version here as well. It brings up lots of good questions:

#1: Which image do you like best, the habitat shot or the tight shot? Why?

#2: Why was f/8 needed for the tight image?

#3: Are the two exposure the same?

#4: Why +1/3 stop for Image #2 but zero for the first image?

#5: Which image was created first, #1 or #2? (You need to know me to get this one right….)

#6: What do I like least about Image #2?

#7: Why did I choose the exact same line of sight for both images?


All of the images on the card were made on South Georgia. This remote wilderness island offers both spectacular scenery and hordes of tame wildlife and birds. From top left clockwise to the center: Southern Elephant Seal, courting King Penguin pair, King Penguin abstract, Grey-headed Albatross, King Penguin rookery on Salisbury Plain, Macaroni Penguin head portrait, King Penguin molting Okum Boy, Macaroni Penguin pair, King Penguin preening, Southern Elephant Seal yawning, the view of Gold Harbour from a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross nest.

Click on the image to see an extra large version.

The Southern Ocean

South Georgia Expedition Voyage

I’ve been blessed. I’ve now made four trips to the Southern Ocean, three expeditions that visited the Falklands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic Peninsula, and one to the Falklands and South Georgia. Each was a truly amazing experience. South Georgia has been the star of the show each time: rugged snow covered peaks, tame and abundant wildlife including Southern Elephant Seal and Southern Fur Seal, and penguins: more King Penguins than you could ever have dreamed of. Gentoos. And my favorite, the golden-yellow spaghetti-topped Macaronis. With four trips to South Georgi under my belt, I have a pretty good idea about how to make great images at each of the iconic landings. In addition, we should have some pretty good flight photography sessions from the stern of the ship. I would love the chance to share my knowledge with you.

Going Light

On my recent trip, I found myself going with shorter lenses and lighter gear than on any previous Southern Ocean Expedition. In part that was due to the crop factor of the 7D Mark II, in part because going light makes life (and landings!) much easier. I made many landings with just the 7D II and the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS. I refined the way that I got my gear safely from ship to shore. Lots more on that here soon.

Cheesemans’ Well Deserved Kudos

I know from personal experience that if you are a photographer who is going to invest in Southern Ocean voyage, you will want to put your money on Cheesemans’. No other tour company goes as far out of their way to ensure making every possible safe landing. And no other tour company will have you spending more time on land. Michael Viljeon from South Africa was aboard the Ortelius on a Southern Oceans voyage that preceded the Cheesemans’ trip that we were both on. As we headed back to Ushuaia, he said, “The folks that ran that first trip were pathetic. Too rough. No landing today. Surf too high today. No landing. Wind wrong direction. No landing. Cheesemans’ routinely and safely gets folks on land in conditions where the leaders of other tour companies do not even bother getting out of their bunks.”

Here, from the” Way to Go CES! (Cheeseman’s Ecology Safaris)” blog post here, is one of my favorite Cheesemans’ stories:

The landing at Bailey Head, Antarctica, was especially rewarding to me as I had been sitting in a zodiac 100 yards off shore on my 2007 trip when the zodiac in front of mine swamped and the captain of the ship called off the landing…. Early that day it looked as if my weather Karma might not be working. Ted’s “Good morning shipmates” was followed by the news that we would not be able to land at Bailey Head that morning as the swell was too big. The beach there is sloped tremendously and the sea strives to pull the zodiacs back into the ocean before folks have gotten off with their gear. Tom Murphy had said to me several days before, “We will get you on the beach at Bailey Head.” Ted concluded his morning greetings by saying, “We are sending out a scout team to see if landing is possible.”

After breakfast I was thrilled to hear Ted’s voice again on the PA, “We will be landing at 8am.” Afterwards folks noted that it was the calmest landing ever at this amazingly beautiful spot. My good weather Karma (courtesy of late-wife Elaine) had come through one last time. Along with St. Andrews Bay, it was one of my two favorite super-great once-in-a-lifetime days of the trip. And we even got to enjoy three additional hours at Hannah Point, Antarctica before calling it a wrap and heading for the feared Drake Passage. All thanks to Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris.

Why Sign Up Through BIRDS AS ART?

If you have been thinking and dreaming of finally visiting South Georgia, this is the trip for you. Quit dreaming and act now. Though I will not be an official leader on this trip, those who have traveled with me know that I cannot help but teach. I will make pre-trip gear recommendations. I will hold informal pre-landing briefings. In the same vein, everyone will receive a free copy of our Antarctica Site Guide once they are paid in full (July 2, 2015). I will be available on the ship to review your images,, answer questions, and conduct informal over-the shoulder Photoshop sessions. And best of all, everyone who signs up under the auspices of BAA are invited to tag along with me on the landings where I will be glad to offer invaluable in-the-field advice. And the same goes for the ship-board birds in flight and marine mammal photography opportunities.

Do join us. To learn how to be part of the BAA group please e-mail me with the words Antarctica/Extended Expedition BAA Info Please cut and pasted into the Subject line.

Important Notes

#1: If you fail to e-mail me as noted directly above, and register directly with CES you MUST let them know that you would like to be part of the BIRDS AS ART group.

#2: Joining the BIRDS AS ART group as above will not cost you one penny.

The Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris South Georgia Expedition Voyage

An in-depth Adventure aboard the Ortelius: October 29 to November 17, 2015

From the CES website:

We are very excited to be able to bring this special in-depth expedition to you. This is a product of years of experience leading voyages to South Georgia and a passion for everything found here. Our itinerary is specifically designed to take advantage of the vibrant early season on South Georgia when snow blankets the mountains and early summer brings special wildlife treats seldom experienced. We will explore vast colonies of King Penguins, elephant seals in their peak of breeding activity, and colonies of Wandering, Gray-headed, Light-mantled, and Black-browed albatross. This cruise allows us many days to explore this truly unique island, the crown jewel of the Antarctic. The landscape filled with expanses of glaciers pouring into the sea provides rare beauty and photogenic impressiveness that words cannot convey. We will enjoy about nine days in the midst of the most beautiful and wildlife-rich island on the planet! Exceptional leadership expertise will enrich your experience throughout the voyage. Our priority on this special expedition is to give you the maximum time possible in the field so you can explore at your own pace during a special time on South Georgia. Come explore South Georgia with us!

I can personally attest to the accuracy of everything above. 🙂


This could be you! Pat Lillich and King Penguin in snow. There is a much greater chance of snow in October than in December/January and for photography, fresh snow rocks!

More CES Kudos

From multiple IPT veteran Alan Lillich who (along with wife Pat) was in the BAA group on a 2012 CES voyage with me:

Start with some of the world’s best alpine landscapes, add an overwhelming abundance of tolerant wildlife, and finish with tour operators who put you there and give you the freedom to explore. It doesn’t get any better.

The Pull is Too Strong…

The pull is too strong. I need to go back. And I am. Do join me for an unparalleled wildlife and scenic photography experience. Please e-mail for additional information.


I’d be glad to answer all of your Southern Ocean/Falklands/South Georgia/Antarctica questions. Please leave a comment if you’d like to learn more.

23 comments to Northern Giant Petrel Large-in-the-frame or Habitat Shot…

  • avatar Mal Graham

    #7. I agree with David. Not exactly the same line of sight; you’ve moved to the right for the tighter shot so those two blades of grass didn’t obscure the front of the bird?

    #2. I feel like a little more space below the chick would make it feel more balanced. The little fella is getting squeezed from above by mum and from below by the bottom of the frame. 😉

    #1. I prefer the habitat shot. That’s the one that makes me want to get to South Georgia!

  • I personally feel that photographing birds requires discipline; to make it look good, when not in flight. You need to have loads of patience and don’t want to scare away your subject just when you get everything perfectly set! This is sheer class and professional work.

  • avatar Laura Benassi

    @1: Which image do you like best, the habitat shot or the tight shot? Why? I like the tight shot as it highlights the Petrel and chick. I barely noticed the chick in the habitat shot.

    #2: Why was f/8 needed for the tight image? For DOF, as chick is perpendicular to the mother, you are using a zoom and you are close to the bird.

    #3: Are the two exposure the same?
    yes, one stop each on aperture and speed.

    #4: Why +1/3 stop for Image #2 but zero for the first image? More white in the tight image so you need a bit more light to keep the whites from looking gray.

    #5: Which image was created first, #1 or #2? (You need to know me to get this one right….)
    Number 2 is the classical picture you take so I will guess the tight image was taken first.

    #6: What do I like least about Image #2?
    It is centered. I would crop a bit on the top and a very tiny bit on the right side.

    #7: why did I choose the exact same line of sight for both images?

    You liked the clump of grass which framed the Petral head and made it stand out more.

  • avatar David Policansky

    Hi, Artie. I’m answering without reading the other posts and answers. I love the images!

    #1: Which image do you like best, the habitat shot or the tight shot? Why?
    I like them both a lot but prefer the tight shot because it’s more dramatic and it displays the chick well. Also the adult’s tube nose, which gives the family its name.

    #2: Why was f/8 needed for the tight image?
    You wanted to get both the adult and the chick sharp and they really are 3-dimensional; in other words, not all in one plane

    #3: Are the two exposure the same?
    Yes; 1/125 @ f/8 lets in the same amount of light as 1/250 @ f/5.6.

    #4: Why +1/3 stop for Image #2 but zero for the first image?
    I have to guess that the dark grey of the bird in the tight shot led you to add 1/3 stop.

    #5: Which image was created first, #1 or #2? (You need to know me to get this one right….)
    I’m assuming the tight shot, because it’s so dramatic and because it would suffer more if the bird moved than the wider shot.

    #6: What do I like least about Image #2?
    The feather under the adult’s chest? I first thought of the leg, but it frames the chick beautifully.

    #7: why did I choose the exact same line of sight for both images?
    Well, they don’t look exactly the same to me. It looks like you were more to the right in the tight image. Look at the vegetation with respect to the adult and you’ll see why I say that.

  • avatar Jake Levin

    Hi Artie! I’ll take a stab at your petrel questions:

    1. I prefer the tight shot over the habitat shot. I think the latter is a bit too busy; there’s so much going on that people might overlook the finer details, i.e. the chick next to the adult petrel, because they’re focused on so many other parts of the picture.

    2. If you shot wide open for the tight image, the chick and the green plants might have turned into blobs. The chick might have stayed sharp enough but the grass would lose definition.

    3. I would guess the exposures are the same

    4. Image #2 (tight shot) has much more white and grey in it that the wide shot, given that the bird is the main component of the picture, so the +1/3 compensates for the added whites.

    5. Was the habitat shot first?

    6. In image #2, the adult’s leg is in front of the chick’s body.

    7. The line of sight was kept the same because the bird was square to you, so all of him/her would be in the focal plane.

    No laughing at my wrong answers 🙂

    Take care,

  • avatar Matteo Bianchi

    I will try to answer to some of the questions.

    #2: Why was f/8 needed for the tight image?

    Because the depth of field was smaller, due to the different focal length, assuming that the working distance is the same.

    #3: Are the two exposure the same?

    The exposure seems to be similar in both the images, comparing the two birds.

    #4: Why +1/3 stop for Image #2 but zero for the first image?

    Because a large part of the first image contains grey or dark colors, whilst in the second ones the two birds fill most of the frame, and their plumage is grey or white. With the evaluative metering you need to compensate for that (even if the metering system of the 1dx is quite sofisticated and can detect also colors).

    #5: Which image was created first, #1 or #2? (You need to know me to get this one right….)

    Maybe the #2, to check the exposure on the white areas of the birds.

  • avatar Elinor Osborn

    #1: Which image do you like best, the habitat shot or the tight shot? Why? I like them almost equally except for answer to #6. I like seeing habitat and I also like up close photos.

    #2: Why was f/8 needed for the tight image? Your longer zoom used on it had less DOF so you needed to stop down to get enough DOF to keep the birds in focus

    #3: Are the two exposure the same? yes

    #4: Why +1/3 stop for Image #2 but zero for the first image? #2 has more light tones overall while #1 would average to 0

    #5: Which image was created first, #1 or #2? (You need to know me to get this one right….) #2 ?

    #6: What do I like least about Image #2? I’d like more space in front of the nesting bird

    #7: why did I choose the exact same line of sight for both images? to be parallel to the nesting bird and to have grass behind its head instead of a brown fur seal OR you didn’t want to move because of disturbing other photographers positions and might disturb the bird as well ?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      On #7, I was in the very best spot…. Feel free to refine your two-pronged answer.

      #6: I thought that you were gonna get it right but you did not….

      ps: Elephant Seals 🙂


      • avatar Elinor Osborn

        OK- I don’t know seals so just copied fur seals from the Surprise Miracle paragraph above. # 7 If you were in the very best spot, then parallel to the bird etc. must be it? #6 head angle is a little too much so bill tip is a bit unsharp ?
        How do you have enough time to teach us all by internet? I don’t have time to work on all these questions but do it anyway because I learn so much. THANKS

  • avatar chris billman

    Hi Artie…my guess is image #2 was second…you moved a step closed and the bird started to get up…

  • The first shot tells a story, but if the purpose is to tell a story, maybe have more depth of field, are those penguins in the far background?? I immediately thought “Oh Cool” when I saw the first shot and saw the environment the shot was taken in.
    The second shot is a very nice portrait type shot with lots of detail of the subject, and I like that a lot too. You can examine the features of these birds, such as the nostril on the top of the beak in both the adult and chick.
    I mostly like both shots together, for the story and the detail 🙂

  • avatar William Lloyd

    You shot #2 first, of course! I like both equally, for their different purposes.
    6 – you would have preferred the check was looking at the same thing as the adult, matching head angles
    7 – this position gave the fullest view of chick in nest

  • #1: Which image do you like best, the habitat shot or the tight shot? Why?
    I like the tight shot just because, well, I like tight shots 🙂

    I might’ve voted for #1 if the crop was just above the seals.

    #5: Which image was created first, #1 or #2? (You need to know me to get this one right….)
    Going by your first book, #1 came first. You took that shot first just in case
    something changed. This way you had at least something.

    #6: What do I like least about Image #2? Too centered?

    #7: why did I choose the exact same line of sight for both images?
    Seal poop…sorry, its the end of my midnite shift 🙂

  • avatar Gary Axten

    I think David nailed the questions, I also prefer the tighter shot, though the environmental one is interesting in that it shows the precarious nature of nesting on an island covered in large mammals.

    Incidentally, I can open the composite image above fine, but when I opened either of yesterday’s images they was darkened and displayed close in blue in the corner.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Almost nailed…. He did have one wrong but I am not saying which one :).

      Good point on the crowding down there….. Strange on the images. I will try to remember to check them today if I have time. a

  • avatar Stu

    Although I like the inclusion of the sea lions in the first image, I did not notice the chick. I was not studying the image.
    I think I would prefer a version of that image in which the top is very slightly above the sea lions. I consider that to be less distracting.
    Best wishes and thanks.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Stu, Thanks for commenting. I like the row of o-o-f King Penguins along the top. a

  • avatar David Peake

    Hi Artie,
    Prefer the tight shot. I like the way the birds stand out with more detail visible.
    F8 for the tight shot because you needed a bit more depth when zoomed in close.
    Exposures are the same. As expected.
    No exposure compensation firm image one bc scene looks fairly bright and evenly lit= smart meter. Second image is proportionally lighter than the first so the meter will give you a lesser exposure, but correct exposure for the bird should be the same in both images. So you added 1/3 over the meter to keep the exposures consistent.( or vice versa if the order is opposite to the order shown here)
    I think you created image two first. Tight shot followed by environmental shot.
    You like the arkward leg position and the unsettled wing the least.
    Same position for both images because you mention a narrow pathway and bodies everywhere so you were restricted to one location.
    And two images like this is good blog fodder. Maybe you had a blog post in mind.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Everything perfect but one. And I am not saying which one 🙂 later and love, a

      • avatar David Peake

        Hi Artie , looks like I need to come on an IPT real soon so I can get to know you better..

        • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

          Hi David,

          Great idea. We’ve had one Aussie on a Bosque IPT. And several have come on the Bear Boat IPT because you do not have 600 pound bears catching salmon Down Under 🙂 Or, you might want to sign up for both Bosque IPTs for next year. That would give you 3 1/2 days in between the two IPTs during which you could shoot early and late with us most days and just plain hang out. On the off days Denise and I always have the option to go back early or head down late :). Or to not go out at all. And, we rent some big glass, tripods and heads on that IPT.

          Either way, you be sure to bring Karen along.


          ps: just to clarify: whenever we do back to backs folks who sign up for both are invited to hang with us at no charge on the in between days whenever we do head out.

          pps: it would not make much sense at all to come all that way for 3 or 4 days of instruction.

          • avatar David Peake

            Ah , no 7 you liked the background so you stayed put.
            I have been reading up on all the trips …. And dreaming. You’re are right …. It makes sense to spend a bit more time after travelling so far.
            Our personal situation still balanced on a fine edge yet so I will keep you posted.
            Kind regards

            And you know that I am sending all available love, strength, and energy to you both. a