A Free-to-the-World Update of the San Diego Site Guide: Photographing Birds at La Jolla (and elsewhere) in the Rain. Part I « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

A Free-to-the-World Update of the San Diego Site Guide: Photographing Birds at La Jolla (and elsewhere) in the Rain. Part I

What’s Up?

I photographed in the rain for more than two hours on Monday morning. I got wet and I got some great images. I meet the San Diego group at 7:30pm on Wednesday. There is some drizzle in the forecast. See below to learn about photographing in the rain. Anywhere.

After four days of working with the Fujifilm gear, I decided to leave it in the hotel room and get back to photographing with the gear I know best, Canon. It took me a while to find the shutter button …

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of 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: 424!

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, 424 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.

This image was created at La Jolla, CA with the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mountedCanon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 1.4X III, and my favorite bird photography camera, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. ISO 1000. Evaluative metering probably -1/3 stop as framed: 1/125 sec. at f/5.6 in Manual mode. Cloudy WB.

Three AF points to the right and two rows up from the center AF point/AI Servo Expand/Rear Focus AF as framed was active at the moment of exposure (as is always best when hand holding). The selected AF point was just in front of and just below the bird’s eye. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Brown Pelican (Pacific race) in rain

Photographing Birds at La Jolla in the Rain

Like most folks, I hate photographing in the pouring rain. I do that only very rarely. It is ugly, it is not fun, and it puts your gear, especially your digital camera body, at risk. If the rain is so hard that it puts my gear in jeopardy, I simply quit photographing.

Some folks believe that when you are photographing in the rain that the colors pretty greyed out, that the low light levels cause problems, and that visibility is limited. All of those are to some degree misconceptions. With digital capture, you can render lovely, vibrant colors in any weather in any light. With modern digital cameras, high ISO photography can yield spectacular results. By converting my Canon images in DPP with Arash’s suggested noise reduction values and following that up with NeatImage noise reduction noise is not really a significant issue any more. I have a really nice ISO 16,000 humming bird image from Peru that I need to share with you here at some point. While visibility is somewhat limited in the rain the birds that you should be photographing will be at relatively close range so being able to see them should not be a problem.

In my 33 years of photographing in San Diego in winter I have lost only 1 1/2 days total to pouring rain. That was on consecutive days on a 5-day IPT quite a many years ago. San Diego had 90% of its annual rainfall in 36 hours … I never trust the weatherman and I rarely even check the forecast. If worse comes to worst, worrying about the forecast will not change anything so why bother? The forecast for Monday morning—bad on me for checking it—was for the rain to start at 5am and to continue all day. So I delayed the start of my day and wound up missing a spectacular sunrise … I arrived at about 7am and found about a dozen pelicans on the cliffs. About a dozen more than there had been on Sunday morning. There were two photographers there. As detailed in the San Diego Site Guide it is vitally important to stay well back and to move very slowly with great care in the early morning as the birds are particularly skittish at that time. On the way down the steps I was thinking, those guys are really close to the birds. When one of them stood up much too quickly, eight of the birds took flight …

Within minutes of my arrival it started to drizzle.

As my gear was not in danger, I started to photograph. While checking things out, I put a woolen watch cap over my camera. After a while I headed back to my vehicle and within minutes was at my favorite rainy day pelican spot. I put a towel over the lens controls and switched to a dry watch cap for the camera. I keep the watch cap over the camera body most of the time. When I want to make a few images, I remove the watch cap with my left hand and hold it over the camera. A plastic bag or even a motel room shower cap can do a decent job of keeping the camera dry. While it is important to keep the camera relatively dry, do remember that today’s modern digital bodies have great weather sealing. Unless they get drenched they should be fine.

I have tried samples of all the fancy rain covers but never found any of them convenient to use. I did purchase and do own two simple yet effective rain covers from PhotoSharp. I lost the one for my 100-400 II and am positive that I brought the one for the larger telephotos to San Diego, but I cannot find it 🙁 Just call me Mr. Well Organized …

I do know a way to keep your gear 100% dry all the time: don’t go out. But do remember that the best images are often made in the worst weather. I love unsettled weather. With clouds we can photograph virtually all day long. And clouds may give us some nice sunsets and a nice sunrise at Santee …

Back to Monday morning. At one point it quit drizzling and rained fairly hard for only a few minutes. I kept photographing as above without any problems. And I created some really cool videos of a preening pelican. I kept the watch cap and the towel in place while the video was running.

One thing that I should have mentioned specific to La Jolla: Once the ground goes from damp to wet you need to be extremely careful as the mud is super-slippery. Once I was standing behind my tripod with good hiking boots on. I simply started to slide downhill slowly and inexorably. Once it got slippery on Monday morning I simply left for a better, less slippery location.

Lastly: No matter how many decades you have been photographing, it is practically guaranteed that at some point during a rainy photo session, you will inadvertently point the front element of your lens into the wind, thus exposing it to a least a few raindrops. I did that twice on Monday morning. A single raindrop on the front element can ruin every image. As soon as I saw what I had done, I grabbed my cleaning kit, took out a dry undershirt, pointed the lens away from the incoming raindrops, and polished the front element dry.

I normally keep two old cotton athletic style undershirts in a sealed gallon plastic bag. On drizzly days I try to remember to bring two extras, sometimes in a second plastic bag. Why? Once one gets wet it is useless. The rest of my cleaning kit is made up of a soft paint brush to get sand off or dirt off my gear, some Q-tips to clean the viewfinder, and a bottle of LensClens. Once the front element of your lens needs a real cleaning, remember to put the few drops of LensClens onto the undershirt; never put the fluid onto the lens. I also use the LensClens to clean the external surfaces of my camera bodies and the screen of my 15″ Macbook Pro with Retina Display.

The San Diego Site Guide

Site Guides are the closest thing to joining an IPT that you can experience without actually signing up. And they cost only fifty bucks; a lot less than an IPT! In The San Diego Site Guide, I share everything that I know about the five killer photography spots within 20 minutes of downtown San Diego. Learn where and how and when to photograph the amazing California race of Brown Pelican; Marbled Godwits against bright buff backgrounds; Wood Duck and Ring-necked Duck at point blank range; and a variety of stunning gulls (including Heerman’s, Western, and California) both perched and in flight. You will learn where to go on what wind and what tides are best for each coastal location. As usual, I have held nothing back. The Fort DeSoto and Bosque Site Guides have received nothing but praise from the more than 500 photographers who were able to visit these sites for the first time as if they had been photographing them for a decade.

The San Diego Site Guide (8936 words, 38 color photographs) is available right now. It will prove most useful to folks visiting in the colder months, but many of the locations are productive in other seasons as well, especially spring.

Note: The Brown Pelicans, the big attraction in San Diego, have their bright red bill pouches only in winter, so this guide–though useful at other times of year–is most valuable to those visiting at that season. This guide is in PDF format and is delivered via email.

You can learn about all the BAA Site Guides here.


DeSoto in spring is rife with tame and attractive birds. From upper left clockwise to center: breeding plumage Dunlin, dark morph breeding plumage Reddish Egret displaying, breeding plumage Laughing Gull/front end vertical portrait, breeding plumage Laughing Gull with prey item, Laughing Gull on head of Brown Pelican, screaming Royal Tern in breeding plumage, Royal Terns/pre-copulatory stand, Laughing Gulls copulating, breeding plumage Laughing Gull/tight horizontal portrait, Sandwich Tern with fish, and a really rare one, White-rumped Sandpiper in breeding plumage, photographed at DeSoto in early May.

Fort DeSoto Spring IPT/April 19-22, 2017. (meet & greet at 2pm on Wednesday April 19 followed by an afternoon session) through the full day on Saturday April 22. 3 1/2 DAYs: $1599. Limit 10. To save your spot, please call and put down a non-refundable deposit of $499.00.

I will be offering small group (Limit 3) Photoshop sessions on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning if necessary. Details on that TBA.

Fort DeSoto is one of the rare locations that might offer great bird photography 365 days a year. It shines in spring. There will Lots of tame birds including breeding plumage Laughing Gull and Royal and Sandwich Terns. With luck, we will get to photograph all of these species courting and copulating. There will be American Oystercatcher and Marbled Godwit plus sandpipers and plovers, some in full breeding plumage. Black-bellied Plover and Red Knot in stunning breeding plumage are possible. There will be lots of wading birds including Great and Snowy Egrets, both color morphs of Reddish Egret, Great Blue, Tricolored and Little Blue Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and killer breeding plumage White Ibis. Roseate Spoonbill and Wood Stork are possible and likely. We should have lots of good flight photography with the gulls and terns and with Brown Pelican. Nesting Least Tern and nesting Wilson’s Plover are possible.

We will, weather permitting, enjoy 7 shooting sessions. As above, our first afternoon session will follow the meet and greet at 2pm on Wednesday April 19. For the next three days we will have two daily photo sessions. We will be on the beach early and usually be at lunch (included) by 11am. We will have three indoor sessions. At one we will review my images–folks learn a ton watching me choose my keepers and deletes–why keep this one and delete that one? The second will be a review of your images so that I can quickly learn where you need help. For those who bring their laptops to lunch I’d be glad to take a peek at an image or three. Day three will be a Photoshop session during which we will review my complete workflow and process an image or two in Photoshop after converting them in DPP. Afternoon sessions will generally run from 4:30pm till sunset. We photograph until sunset on the last day, Saturday, April 22. Please note that this is a get-your-feet and get-your-butt wet and sandy IPT. And that you can actually do the whole IPT with a 300 f/2.8L IS, a 400 f/4 ID DO lens with both TCs, or the equivalent Nikon gear. I will surely be using my 500 II as my big glass and have my 100-400 II on my shoulder.


DeSoto in spring is rife with tame and attractive birds. From upper left clockwise to center: Laughing Gull in flight, adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, copulating Sandwich Terns, Roseate Spoonbill, Great Egret with reflection, Short-billed Dowitcher in breeding plumage, American Oystercatcher, breeding plumage Royal Tern, white morph Reddish Egret, and Snowy Egret marsh habitat shot.

What You Will Learn

You will learn to approach free and wild birds without disturbing them, to understand and predict bird behavior, to identify many species of shorebirds, to spot the good situations, to understand the effects of sky and wind conditions on bird photography, to choose the best perspective, to see and understand the light, to get the right exposure every time after making a single test exposure, and to design pleasing images by mastering your camera’s AF system. And you will learn how and why to work in Manual mode (even if you are scared of it).

The group will be staying at the Red Roof Inn, St. Petersburg: 4999 34th St. North, St Petersburg, FL 33714. The place is clean and quite inexpensive. Please e-mail for room block information. And please call Jim or Jennifer at 863-692-0906 to register. All will need to purchase an Annual Pass early on Tuesday afternoon so that we can enter the park at 6am and be in position for sunrise opportunities. The cost is $75, Seniors $55. Tight carpools will be needed and will reduce the per person Annual Pass costs. The cost of three lunches is included. Breakfasts are grab what you can on the go, and dinners are also on your own due to the fact that we will usually be getting back to the hotel at about 9pm. Non-photographer spouses, friends, or companions are welcome for $100/day, $350 for the whole IPT.

BIRDS AS ART Fort DeSoto In-the-Field Meet-up Workshop (ITFW): $99

Fort DeSoto Spring In-the-Field Cheap Meet-up Workshop (ITFW) on the morning of April 22, 2017: $99

Join me on the morning of April 22, 2017 for 3-hours of photographic instruction at Fort DeSoto Park. Beginners are welcome. Lenses of 300mm or longer are recommended but even those with 70-200s should get to make some nice images. Teleconverters are always a plus.

You will learn the basics of digital exposure and image design, autofocus basics, and how to get close to free and wild birds. We should get to photograph a variety of wading birds, shorebirds, terns, and gulls. This inexpensive morning workshop is designed to give folks a taste of the level and the quality of instruction that is provided on BIRDS AS ART Instructional Photo-tours. I hope to meet you there.

To register please call Jim or Jennifer during weekday business hours with a credit card in hand to pay the nominal registration fee. Your registration fee is non-refundable. You will receive a short e-mail with instructions, gear advice, and meeting place one week before the event.

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.


Be sure to like and follow BAA on Facebook by clicking on the logo link upper right. Tanks a stack.


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

8 comments to A Free-to-the-World Update of the San Diego Site Guide: Photographing Birds at La Jolla (and elsewhere) in the Rain. Part I

  • avatar Glen Fox

    Very useful information. I know you use “wooden Watch caps” for many purposes. I have no idea what you are referring to, and suspect I’m not alone. Can you clarify? THANK YOU!

  • avatar Wayne Lea

    Hi Artie. Did you ever answer the rockhopper penguin quiz?

  • avatar Tom Applegate

    The birds I saw were flying away. And none were landing.

  • avatar Jay Gould

    Hey Mate, while I do not comment very often, I wouldn’t miss reading your posts. Read 424 in a row and the streak continues. Good onya!

    Hate to look a gift horse in the mouth; where is the link for the SD update? Living in SD, when able, I use the guide often.

    Best regards; keep up the amazing education.


  • avatar Tom Applegate

    Photographing at the La Jolla cliffs two weeks ago, I found one photographer that was so close, that he must have been sleeping with the Pelicans. Another photographer walked up to me and asked what is that guy doing and I said he must be taking photos of their eyes. Must have said it to loudly because I got a bad stare. He was probably trying to get head shots but he had to be scaring the birds….. Another problem is that all day long the tourists are walking right out onto the rocks to get full body shots with there iPhone’s.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Tom, With all due respect, if the birds were not flying away they were not scared. My point was that you need to keep your distance early in the morning. After the first 45 minutes you can practically pet them if you stay low and move slowly … Do understand that the birds leave the cliffs between 8:30 and 10am or so even if nobody is on the cliffs.

      One of the reasons that the pelicans at that location are so tame is the folks with the i-phones 🙂 And the rest of the tourists.