Last Sunday J and I went on an 11 hour tour and the seas did get rough. We joined Debi Shearwater on a Shearwater Journeys pelagic trip around Half Moon Bay. The trip departed at 7am out of Pillar Point Harbor where we first checked out the jetties for shorebirds. Since the sun had just risen, there was a warmth to the light giving the white Elegant Terns an orange glow. I have posted before about how difficult it is to photograph birds but when you add the additional 3 degrees of freedom of being on a boat you are now faced with 6 when you are trying to capture sea birds. The image below was taken as we were leaving the harbor where there were thousands of Elegant Terns warming up in the early morning light. I started out with the full framed D800 to take advantage of the low noise it produces in lower light conditions.
As the boat approached the birds on the jetties some would take flight giving me an opportunity to add motion to the image. The focal point in the photo below is the Pelican taking flight but as you scan the rest of the photo you notice the boat in the distance giving you an idea of where you are and foreshadows where we were going.
After we left the harbor we headed south into a flight of what we estimated as 90,000 Sooty Shearwaters flying north. At one point we were in the middle of a continuous flow of birds, which was very impressive. On the water were Common Murre young (lighter birds) with the Dads with both calling back and forth. The fledgling of the young by the Mom takes such a toll on them that the Dads take over to get the young ready for the next phase of life.
As we got out of the harbor and the light intensified I changed over to the D7200 1.5 crop sensor body with the 300mm f/2.8 lens. I did this to get a 35mm equivalent 450mm focal length. I have found that the crop sensor requires using an ISO setting of about half of what I can use with the full frame D800 for the same noise level. Jeannine had expressed interest in taking some photos so I started her out with the D7200 and a 70-200mm f/4 lens, which I had set on shutter priority. When I switched bodies with her I realized that the D800 only had a Manual option. So I set the camera to about 1/1250s and f/5.6 and let the ISO float. There are much better places to introduce someone to their first use of a DSLR than on a boat, but she did great and wasn't put off by trying to shoot flying birds in 8-12' swells. Talk about learning to swim by the sink or swim method. Off shore near the 10mi mark we started to encounter Black-Footed Albatross. Jeannine did a great job capturing the groups of Albys and at one point we had 54 around the boat. Oh yes, the back button is the focus button but what I forgot to tell J was that you need to hold it for continuous focusing. Goes to show that we can all learn when we start to share our experience with others.
When I'm shooting birds I concentrate on capturing a sharp image, which means making sure my shutter speed is high enough to able to stop motion when the bird moves. OK that's pretty simplistic but I have found that it is the most important setting. Then I focus on pushing the ISO as low as I can and then I increase the aperture to the sweet spot of the lens (usually mid range). Another factored to consider on a boat is to take a lot of shots in bursts. I find that using the back button on continuous focus works for me. What did I forget . . . oh yes composition. Well forget that. With you moving, the birds moving, and with the horizon constantly moving I focus on capturing a sharp image. Cropping to create the composition isn't perfect but using a tripod on a boat is pointless let alone dangerous. I will admit at times you get lucky and if you are alert there will be opportunities to do some in camera composing on the seas.
We covered 79mi mostly in San Mateo County waters and traveled over 40mi offshore into San Francisco County for a few hours. On the way back, as we neared the harbor we came across Sealions with pups resting on a buoy. The lighter ones are Steller and the darker are California. It was a great trip with a great Captain and the Bird Guides that Debi has on her trips are fantastic ensuring that you will see every species.
Your comments are welcomed and if you have any questions about the photo or any other questions leave me a message.