Brown pelicans make great subjects for practicing birds-in-flight photography, a skill in its own right. After spending the early morning hours in San Diego capturing images of these birds sitting and preening, we moved on to photographing them in flight as the light improved.
The ocean made a great background for these birds and we worked on photographing them from all angles. I had wanted to capture a pelican head-on as shown in the photograph below although catching them from the side allowed for greater appreciation of the size of their wings and bodies.
Because of the dark cloudy weather, my camera settings were not quite ideal for fast-moving wings. I needed a fast shutter speed for capturing the movement, but in order to have the correct exposure, I had to use a wide aperture (low f-stop) to let in as much light as possible into the camera sensor. This did not give me as great of a depth of field as I would have liked for a large bird up close like this, but it allowed me to increase my shutter speed so that I could capture the head and body in focus while it was flying through the air.
When these birds began their landing sequence, their wings flapped faster than when they were soaring, so at times, I had a little bit of blur on their wing tips. I didn’t mind this so much as long as the focus on the eye and head was sharp. The slight blur in the wings also helped to demonstrate movement in the image.
As the pelicans went through their landing sequence, we practiced capturing images of them with their wings in various positions.
We also spent time photographing the pelicans from the front as they landed on the cliffs ahead of us. This non-breeding adult, as indicated by the white head and neck, was in full landing mode with the churning sea in the background.
It landed with perfect grace and rested along the cliffs until it decided to go back out to search for fish.
From a slightly different angle, this breeding adult approached us head-on and I was able to capture a little of the background to add a sense of place to the image. The ocean waves were much stronger the second day we were visiting the cliffs, causing the pelicans to land higher on the cliffs, much to our delight.
Occasionally, the pelicans landed close to or on top of other pelicans, angering them as shown by this breeding adult snapping at the juvenile landing on the cliff.
We finished up the trip with a visit to the beach to watch and photograph the shorebirds and surfers. What we didn’t realize until then was that the pelicans “rode” the waves just as the human surfers did. It was a pretty sight to see the waves crashing just behind the pelican as it moved along the shore.
We even had a beautiful goodbye as these 5 pelicans soared over a wave crashing onto the beach.
You can view these images individually and more in my portfolio located here.