Tern/Gull Pile Photography Tips/Part I: Flight. And Doing Everything Perfectly Right is Always a Plus. « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Tern/Gull Pile Photography Tips/Part I: Flight. And Doing Everything Perfectly Right is Always a Plus.


On Wednesday evening I enjoyed some more dime-a-dozen crane silhouette photography down by the lake and had lots of action on Thursday morning as well. That with a handsome Osprey on The Perch (but not for long!) and lots of foraging Cattle Egrets. I began adding images to the 5D Mark IV User’s Guide and enjoyed a cold, slow, half-mile swim. The air temperature was fine with no wind but the pool was 70.5 degrees. Brrr.

I was glad to learn on Thursday that the sale of Mike Newman’s Canon EF 100mm f2.8/L IS USM macro lens in like-new condition for only $599 is pending (as of the first day of listing).

Once again we ask that you use the BAA Amazon link below for all of your online shopping needs.

Right now two folks are signed up for San Diego #2 with two more interested; San Diego #1 has been sold out for some time. IPT #2 represents an amazing opportunity to enjoy some great bird photography with the spectacular breeding plumage Pacific race of Brown Pelican and to learn from possibly the finest bird photography teacher to ever walk on the planet (he said with all modesty …) This IPT is the first to offer a free morning session the day before the IPT starts. I hope that you can join me.

Yesterday’s Blog Post

I’d still love to hear a few more blatantly honest opinions on yesterday’s image.

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$300 off on the Canon 100-400 II!


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The Streak

Today makes one hundred forty days in a row with a new educational blog post! This one took about two hours to prepare. With all of my upcoming free time (or not …), the plan right now is to break the current record streak of 480 … Good health and good internet connections willing.

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Amazing 5D Mark IV Bundles and Deals


Booking.Com came through for me twice again recently with both the DeSoto Fall IPT and next July’s UK Puffins, Gannets, and Bempton Pre-trip room reservations. And all the rates were great. If you’d like to give Booking.Com a shot, click here and you will earn a $25 reward. Thanks to the many who have already tried and used this great service.

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. Those might include system, camera body, accessory, and lens choices and decisions.

This image was created at Fort DeSoto on the late morning of December 4, 2017 with the hand held Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens (at 100mm) and my favorite B-roll photography camera body, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. ISO 800. Evaluative metering +2 1/3 stops off the gray sky: 1/2000 sec. at f/6.3 in Manual mode. AWB. 11:38am on a cloudy bright day.

LensAlign/FocusTune micro-adjustment: -2.

Center AF Point/AI Servo/Expand Rear button AF on the sitting photographer and re-compose. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Photographer working tern/gull pile

The Situation

My first location was pretty good in early morning light with an adult and a first year Yellow-crowned Night Heron. My next location was fair to good but certainly not great. I said to Anita North (pictured above), “Let’s take a long, exploratory walk with just the 100-400s. Don’t forget to take our 1.4X TC.” Part of my motivation was to check things out but it was the clouds moving in from the east that sealed the deal. Had it been a clear morning, I would have left the beach at nine am. We walked and walked and were just about to head back to the car when I spotted a small group of terns and gulls resting on the beach. “Let’s go,” I said and we did. We got into position low and slow. In the B-roll image above that I made when the flight photography had petered out after two good hours, Anita is doing lots of things right. She has gotten quite close to the birds without disturbing them. The wind coming over her right shoulder. What little directional light there was was coming over her left shoulder. She is holding the lens well out on the barrel and she is exhibiting perfect knee-pod form. Her 1.4X teleconverter is in a vest pocket. My great preference when headed out for a hand holding session with the 1-4 II (without a tripod) is to unscrew the lens foot with the Wimberley P-10 lens plate (reversed for better balance when on a tripod) and place it in a corner of my Think Tank rolling bag (that stays in my vehicle covered up by my security blankets).

This image was also created at Fort DeSoto on the late morning of December 4, 2017 with the hand held Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens (at 400mm) and my favorite flight photography camera body, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. ISO 800. Evaluative metering +2 1/3 stops off the gray sky: 1/2000 sec. at f/6.3 in Manual mode. AWB. 11:29am on a cloudy bright day.

LensAlign/FocusTune micro-adjustment: -5.

Center AF Point/AI Servo/Expand shutter button AF was active at the moment of exposure. The selected AF point (as seen in the the DPP 4 screen capture below, was squarely on the tern’s face.

Click on the image to enjoy a larger version with more detail.

Royal Tern, winter plumage adult carrying baitfish

Tern/Gull Pile Photography Tips: Part I

1-Understand what a good situation is. On a sunny day that means that both the wind and the sun should be at your back. On a cloudy day the wind needs to be at your back, and if the light shows any direction at all, it should also be at your back (or close to it). Do understand that when conditions are bad that making a single good image will be either difficult or impossible.

2-Hand holding for incoming flight is much better than working off a tripod as it is easier to acquire the birds in the frame and to track them in flight. Sitting is better than kneeling is better than standing so that you do not cause an incoming bird to abort. And by shooting up (rather than down) you can often eliminate background birds that are already on the beach.

3-Approach the birds low and slow. At popular beaches like DeSoto the terns and gulls are often quite tame and thus quite approachable. Remember to keep the wind behind you so that the birds are flying and landing toward you.

4-For best results, your teleconverters belong in your pocket, fanny pack, or vest; AF is much faster and more accurate with the lens alone.

5-Unless you are young, strong, talented, skilled, and practiced you will do better with short lenses than with big, long, fast super-telephotos. My two favorite lenses for flight photography are the Canon 100-400mm II and the Canon 400mm f/4 DO II.

6-Get as close as you can without causing any of the birds to move away from you.

7-Understand that the folks walking on the beach and disturbing your flock of birds are the #1 reason that the birds are so tame. And if folks walk right along the shoreline and flush the whole flock that can actually be a huge plus if you are hoping to do flight photography. Why? Nine times out of ten the birds will return to the very spot that they just left giving you multiple chances to photograph the incoming birds. That is exactly what happened on the late morning of December 4, 2017.

8-If you are trying to create images of birds at rest (more on that in additional blog posts soon) and you see an oblivious person or an oblivious couple walking right at your flock and you would like to try to deflect them, here is the best strategy: wave gently at them and call out, “Good morning.” If they slow down or stop and are looking at you, motion them around your position by pointing and asking, “Can you please walk around us?” This is a far better strategy than screaming “Stop you a-holes! You are gonna scare our birds.” Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. If it does not work and they scare the whole flock, practice loving what is and just say “Good morning.” And then get ready for some good flight photography.

DPP 4 Screen Capture for today’s featured image

Click on the image so that you can read the fine print.

The DPP 4 Screen Capture

Doing Everything Perfectly is Always a Plus

So just what did I do perfectly? The exposure and color balance are perfect with the RGB values for the brightest WHITEs coming in at an almost perfect 246, 245, 246. And — amazingly for me — I got the selected AF point right on the bird’s face and tracked it successfully. Regular readers know that that is something that I do only rarely. After loading my 5D Mark IV ISO 800 recipe the only thing that I did in DPP 4 was to move the Brightness slider one half stop to the left to 0.05. Once I got the image TIF into Photoshop I did not do much. I selected the fish, feathered and saved the selection, put it on its own layer, and sharpened it with a Contrast Mask (Unsharp Mask at 15/65/0). I merged that layer, loaded the selection, and ran a Linear Burn on (again on the fish only). That made the fish’s belly too dark so I added a Regular Layer mask and painted away the dark belly.

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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….

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. You can do most of your photography with an 80- or 100-400 lens …

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 four 3 1/2 hour morning photo sessions, three 2 1/2 hour afternoon photo sessions, three lunches, and after-lunch image review and Photoshop sessions. To ensure early starts, breakfasts will be your responsibility. Dinners are on your own so that we can get some sleep.

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 is payable only by check. 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.

If In Doubt …

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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 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.

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

15 comments to Tern/Gull Pile Photography Tips/Part I: Flight. And Doing Everything Perfectly Right is Always a Plus.

  • avatar Jon

    Artie it’s my guess the lady with the zoom lens has it set at 400mm not 100mm

  • avatar Warren H


    Near the beginning of the post, you stated “Once again we ask that you use the BAA Amazon link below for all of your online shopping needs.” But I don’t see an Amazon link anywhere on the page. That is something I would like to know, because I do shop amazon from time to time for various things. (Like Christmas)

    Could you point me to this link. It is something your readers can do to help you without costing them anything.


    • Hi Warren, Thanks. I am seeing it in two places. Just above the first San Diego composite, and near the top right of the page just below the Photo Gear & More B&H logo link. If you cannot see them you might need to try a new browser.

      with love, artie

      • avatar Warren H

        Interesting. I switched to MS Edge I the one above the San Diego composite showed up, but not the one in upper right. May be an issue with pop-up or add blockers.

        I am just glad to know you have an amazon link!

  • avatar Therese Scheller

    Love the comment, “loving what is”. Great attitude makes for a great day (and life for that matter).

  • Hi Artie,

    I like your tips on the tern/gull photography, especially the recommendation about avoiding the a___holes in paragraph 7. I think in paragraph 4 you should use “faster” in “AF is much after”.



    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Dietmar, It is good to hear from you. Thanks for your kind words. My error has been fixed. with love, artie

  • Hi Artie,

    Thanks for the info. I have one question on todays Image.
    Any reason why you choose to stop down to f/6.3 instead of shooting it wide open at 5.6. I always thought that we need to shoot without stopping down for flight shots to get maximum shutter speed for sharp birds in flight images.


    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Krishna, It is a close call. The additional 1/3 stop of shutter speed will not make much difference nor with the additional 1/3 stop of d-o-f. Perhaps it is just a matter of habit. In the old days the lenses were all just a bit sharper when stopped down a bit from wide open …

      with love, artie

  • avatar Jim Howell

    These tips are possibly the most instructive aspects of the blog. Just one point – under “Tips Pt. I”, item 4 – should it read ‘AF is much faster’?

  • avatar Mike Cristina

    Hi Artie, per yesterday’s photo: It seems out of proportion to me. Almost like a caricature. Like when you shoot someone with a wide angle lens and their head is way larger than it should be. It’s actually a little unsettling to me. Maybe if it was shot from behind it would be more effective for me, seemingly more “in proportion”. Now, if that is the true proportion of a pelican’s head/neck to its body, then I just learned something. Mike:)