Galapagos Day 4/Morning, July 9: Punta Vincente Roca « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Galapagos Day 4/Morning, July 9: Punta Vincente Roca

Day 4/Morning, July 9: Punta Vincente Roca

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The original image here was made with the Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens and the EOS-1D MIV handheld at 70mm. ISO 500. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop: 1/30 sec. at f/20. I added the bird with the very blue feet top/right/center from another frame to create this photo illustration. Photographing a Blue-footed Booby feeding spree is one of the most difficult situations in nature photography.

We woke late on the gray, foggy morning of July 9 and undertook a two hour navigation to Punta Vincente Roca, the location of our first panga (Zodiac) ride. Panga rides can be interesting and at times photographically rewarding, but nothing prepared us for the wonders that we were to experience that morning. As we boarded the pangas the skies were brightening. As we entered the cove, a Blue-footed Booby feeding spree was developing. About 400 birds would circle above the salemas (baitfish) and sardines and then dive in unison plunging into the water at speeds of up to 60 mph. While the number of birds was not relatively large, the feeding sprees continued for hours and when we had to go back to the boat, they continued. Between the sprees we photographed Brown Noddies both on their nesting walls and fishing. Though conditions were nearly perfect with relatively calm seas and the Image Stabilized and Vibration Reductionlenses allowed us to make sharp images, the two problems that you have on virtually all panga rides plagued us: maintaining focus and framing. Nonetheless, everyone made some great images. While we were photographing the noddies, Juan called out, “Flightless Cormorant mating dance” and on and off for the next two hours we had the privilege of photographing the rarely seen water courtship displays of this endangered species; there are only about 1900 individuals in the world, all concentrated in the western section of the Galapagos archipelago.

16 and 32gb flash cards filled at an implausible rate on that memorable morning but photographing the Blue-footed Booby feeding spree turned out to be beyond extremely difficult. I had had the chance to photograph a much larger spree (that lasted only ten minutes) on our last morning panga ride at Black Turtle Cove in 2009; my initial approach was to create pleasing blurs. I was happy but not thrilled with the results so for the first 1 1/2 hours I tried but mostly failed to create sharp images of the diving groups at shutter speeds of from 1/500 to 1/1000 sec. When I switched to slower shutter speeds I was able to create a few decent images. All in all it was a most memorable morning filled with natural history wonders.

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Here I went for a sharp image by setting my shutter speed to 1/800 sec. at f/5 and allowing the camera to set the ISO as needed after I had put in my exposure compensation. Again I used the Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens and the EOS-1D MIV this time handheld at 93mm. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop: 1/800 sec. at f/5.
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Photographing a Blue-footed Booby feeding spree is a difficult chore for a bird photographer. What lens? What framing? What shutter speed; sharp or blur? Will it continue? Will they dive in the same spot again or a half mile to either side? Yikes. In addition, with the other photographers trying their best to get images you never know when somebody’s hat or back will appear in your viewfinder at the wrong time… The action is frantic.
For this one of a Blue-footed Booby turning to begin its dive I grabbed the Canon 400mm IS DO lens with an EOS-1D Mark IV on it because the birds were diving right in front of us. ISO 640. I metered the pretty much white sky and added two full stops: 1/1000 sec. at f/5.6. The central sensor was right on the eye in the original. This is a small crop. The BKGR was smoothed out using a 60% Clone Stamp after I got rid of some whitewash on the cliffs.
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Folks need to realize how difficult flight photography is. And from a rocking panga, you can double that. I created several dozen images of the fishing noddies at Punta Vincente Roca. Nearly all were our of focus. Most were mis-framed with one part or another of the bird cut off by the frame edge. And then–as is so often the case, Bingo! Sometimes I think that I do it out of sheer determination. This Brown Noddy image was also created with the handheld Canon 400mm IS DO lens and an EOS-1D Mark IV.Here is worked in TV mode at 1/1000 sec. and ?1/3 stop. The camera set the ISO to 500 with an aperture of f/4.5. Sometimes even an old dog can hunt.
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Flightless Cormorant courtship dance: from the panga with the handheld Canon 400mm IS DO lens and an EOS-1D Mark IV ISO 800. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop; 1/800 sec. at f/5.6 in Tv mode. When working from a panga in low light where shutter speed rules as far as sharpness is concerned, I recommend that folks work in Tv mode, select a shutter speed that will yield sharp images with the lens that they are using, dial in the correct compensation, and let the camera set the necessary ISO either via the Auto ISO setting or via ISO Safety Shift (depending the camera body they are using).

3 comments to Galapagos Day 4/Morning, July 9: Punta Vincente Roca

  • Monte Brown


    Love the first image, the birds almost form a spearhead shape right before piercing the surface of the water. The slower shutter speed does a great job of conveying the action.

  • The blue eyes of the cormorant are insanely beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like this in a bird.

  • M. Bruce

    Art – Thanks for sharing your in-flight photos and thanks for pointing out the challenges involved in obtaining these images. Birds in flight have become a bit of an obsession of mine and I appreciated hearing that someone of your caliber runs into the same problems I grapple with. Unfortunately I have the added disadvantage of far less sophisticated equipment (Rebel XSi + EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM). But with the “sheer determination” you mention I do on occasion come up with some gratifying results.

    I mention all this because I spent several hours buffeted by strong coastal winds coming off the shear cliffs at the terminus of Kilauea last March, photographing the Black Noddy. Lots of pictures of ocean or sky and no bird or a bird completely out of focus. The reward came with the dozen or so decent images and the one or two that everything came together.

    For me the Noddy was handsome, swift and a challenge to photograph without going headfirst into the rocky Pacific below. At least now I know that even the best at this discipline have many of the same challenges. Thanks!!