Do As I Say…. A weather story « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Do As I Say.... A weather story

Despite a somewhat scary weather forecast, I photographed this morning at Fort DeSoto Park south of St. Petersburg, FL with Chris Dodds ( and Linda Robbins, the Hummingbird Queen.  It was cloudy and dark so we were all using high ISOs and fill flash.  By about 9am a huge black cloud was creeping up on us from the west,  from out over the Gulf.  We knew that we would need to exit soon and quickly. After concentrating on our avian subjects for a while, we all glanced up at the sky just as we decided to high-tail it back to the cars.  We were stunned by what we saw.  Just offshore of the park was the strangest, most beautiful cloud formation that any of us had ever seen.  There were huge , angled, diagonal clouds that were oriented more vertically than horizontally.   They had white borders and were changing shape each moment.   They seemed almost alive, to be gaining strength with every passing seonnd.  We all thought that we were witnessing the birth of a tornado.  Linda was well ahead of Chris and me.  Then, Chris and I had the same thought at the same time:  “Let’s photograph this now and run for our lives later.” 

In both  “The Art of Bird Photography” and in ABP II (on CD only) I am pretty sure that I wrote something like this:  “You should never be afield without a short zoom lens in your vest.  On those days when you get lazy and leave it in your car, you will surely regret it.”  Well, there we were, two professional photographers out on the beach without a single short lens between us.   “OK, we’ll run back to the car, grab a short lens, head back out to the beach, photograph those amazing clouds, and then run like hell.”   As we ran, the cloud formation seemed to be gaining  on us, and as we appoached the restrooms it began to hail and the wind began to scream.  The temperature seemed to have dropped 30 degrees in seconds.   I had the fleeting thought that I was might die in a tornado.   By the time that we reached the car it was pouring, but the wind had subsided a bit so Chris and I grabbed the short lenses and ran the hundred yards back to the beach only to be greeted by a sky filled with boring gray clouds, a sky completely devoid of drama. 

As the title of his post says, do as I say…..  Not as I do.   Chris and I spent the rest of the day talking about what we had seen and eventually agreed that it was likely that the experience had surely been better than the images would have been. 

Below is my favorite image from our too-short morning.

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This worn first winter Herring Gull was scavenging a long-dead saltwater catfish. The image was created with the Canon 800mm f/5.6 L IS lens and the EOS-1D Mark III. ISO 800. Evaluative metering +1 1/3 stops: 1/500 sec. at f/5.6 set manually. Fill flash with Better Beamer at -1 2/3 stops.

The trick to using fill flash is to set the correct ambient exposure (the ambient light is the existing natural light) and then dial back the flash, usually to somewhere between -1 and -3 stops.   A perfect result is an image that features  additional sharpness, balanced, natural looking color, clean whites, and most importantly, an image in which the use of flash is not obvious.   What you are looking for is just a splash of flash.   With this image I love the sharpness, the perfect use of fill flash, and the carefully designed composition with the bird’s angled body entering the frame exaactly from the upper left-hand corner.  And the perfect head angle.

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