Two Ways to Skin a Flying Atlantic Puffin — Then a Third « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Two Ways to Skin a Flying Atlantic Puffin -- Then a Third

Your Call?

Which of today’s featured images do you like best? Don’t be so lazy — leave a comment and let us know why you made your choice.

What’s Up?

Grimsey Island has continued to be fantastic. We have had rain, a bit of fog, cloudy bright, and sunny and cold with blue skies. Everyone has made a ton of great images. The sheer numbers of puffins is hard to believe. At times a whole cliff takes flight at once as several hundred puffins head out to sea at once. On Monday morning, before breakfast, we worked the harbor area for Black Guillemot, Purple Sandpiper, Common Eider, and Common Ringed-Plover.

On Monday evening Eugen was resting and Kevin asked to be dropped off at the lighthouse. So, in high winds and low light, I found a great situation by the first picnic table. Shooting our 600mm f/4 lenses on a tripod — both of us, BTW, using the amazing Levered-Clamp FlexShooter Pro, we had the puffins landing right at us. The leader suggested we move back and up the slope behind for a lovely, out-of-focus, yellow, Arctic poppy background. It is all about the wind, the light, and your chosen perspective. We each got some truly great ones. Images here soon.

The leader is caring and skilled and is a superb instructor. He was a student of mine 25 years ago and we are still great friends. If you would like info on his 2024 and/or the 2025 puffin trips, please shoot me an e-mail by clicking here.

Today is Tuesday 18 July 2023. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope that you too have a great day.

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The Fact$ of Life

The market for editorial sales of natural history images has virtually disappeared. The incomes of the world’s top stock photographers are down by at least 90%. Like me, many depend on income from photo trips, the sale of educational materials, and income from this or that affiliate program.

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Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of photographers 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. And the same is true in spades when ordering new camera bodies or lenses. My advice will often save you some serious money and may help you avoid making a seriously bad choice. Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail. If you are desperate, you can try me on my cell at 863-221-2372. Please leave a message and shoot me a text if I do not pick up.

This image was created on 14 July 2023 on the first afternoon of my Grimsey Island, Iceland visit. Seated on wet grass, I used the handheld Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens and The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless Digital Camera). The exposure was determined via Zebra technology with ISO on the Thumb Dial. ISO 1600. 1/3200 sec. at f/2.8 (wide open) in Manual mode. When evaluated in RawDigger, the raw file brightness was determined to be dead-solid perfect (ho hum). AWB at 4:26:35pm on cloudy drizzly afternoon.

Tracking: Zone AF-C with Bird Face/Eye detection enabled performed to perfection. Be sure to click on the image to enjoy a high-res version.

Image #1: Atlantic Puffin with fish for young in burrow

The Sony 400mm f/2.8 GM Lens

It is exceedingly difficult to photograph relatively small, fast, unpredictable birds like puffins in flight when working on a tripod. You will always do better with a lens that is easily handheld.

The super-fast Sony 400mm f/2.8 GM super telephoto lens is relatively easy to handhold for flight. For some folks. The wide f/2.8 aperture is great in dreary, low light situations as it allows for fast shutter speeds and reasonably low ISOs. The focal length is ideal for the flying puffins on Grimsey. And the accuracy of autofocus with the alpha 1 is superb. But for me, handholding it is a struggle. I used it fairly successfully for our first two sessions, but strained my right forearm. And finding and keeping the bird in the center of the frame was a big challenge. With slower flying birds and little action, I would have been fine. But with the puffins fast and erratic flight and the nonstop action, I needed to find a reasonable option. Enter the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II.

This image was created on 16 July 2023 on the second morning of my Grimsey Island, Iceland visit. Again seated on wet grass, I used the handheldSony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II lens with the Sony FE 1.4x Teleconverter (at 280mm) and The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless Digital Camera.. The exposure was determined via Zebras. ISO 1250: 1/4000 sec. at f/4 (wide open) in Manual mode. AWB at 10:49:16am on a cloudy morning.

Tracking: Zone AF/C with Bird-Eye/Face Detection performed perfectly. Click on the image to enjoy a high-res version.

Image #2: Atlantic Puffin with fish for young in burrow

The Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II

To ease the pain in my right arm, I turned to super-light Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II. The Sony version II of the popular 70-200m zoom was a huge improvement over the original, especially with regards to the AF system. At 2.3 pounds (30 % lighter than the previous version), the 70-200 II is a featherweight when compared to the behemoth 400mm f/2.8 GM lens that tips the scale at 6.4 pounds. As the lens alone is too short for the flying puffins, I added the 1.4X TC to get to 280mm at the long end. While this rig is much smaller and lighter than the 400 f/2.8, the puffins are so fast and so unpredictable that keeping them in the center of the frame when they swerve this way and that is still a huge challenge.

Remember also that the longer the focal length, the slower the bird’s speed is relative to your position. With a longer lens and thus, with the bird farther away, you have more time to frame and acquire focus. If I find a good situation, I just may try the 600 f/4 alone on the tripod.

As fate would have it, and as above, I found the perfect situation for shooting flight with the 600 on a tripod on Monday evening.


With all blog posts, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors.

4 comments to Two Ways to Skin a Flying Atlantic Puffin — Then a Third

  • Jeff Walters

    Who you calling laaaazzy? (yawn) think I need another nap…. Hot here in So Cal so very energy zapping. Maybe tomorrow. Nighty nite.

  • Sue Jarrett

    Image #1 and Image #2 Atlantic Puffin with fish for young in burrow are both interesting and well made.

  • Artie
    On this side of the pond today ( Today Tuesday is the 18th)
    OOH i had to take a nap in between that writing and the rest….lol lazy
    I love them both with different Bg and looks of the Puffins #1 for the coming at you look and seeing both feet gooder. #2 the green Bg really pops the puffin as he/she banks to the left and give you a look. Great job with the 400 🙂 on #1 and the 70-200 is a super amazing lens and one that everyone should own. Amazing how a little football can fly like they do, hopefully one day i can see them in person.
    Thanks for the Blog good friend
    Always with love b

  • David Pugsley

    This is a hard one. I like the eye contact of #2 but, overall, I lean towards #1. Love the dangling feet, the great look at the fish and the plain background that really pops the puffin. Feel free to send me info on the ‘24/‘25 trips.

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