Mostly Flight Shots

On Friday past, I photographed on the Laguna Madre (mother lagoon) at South Padre Island under clear skies and light southerly winds.  From sunrise until 10:00 AM, we had various ducks and other water birds flying past.  It was a blast of a morning and I was doing what I love most in nature photography, photographing birds on the wing.

During the first hour, I used the tripod for support with the camera and lens affixed to a Wimberly gimbal head on a Gitzo cf tripod.  Eventually, I got tired of the restrictive tripod and took the camera and lens off to shoot freehand.  That’s right, most of the shots you will see below were done while hand holding the Canon 7D and Canon IS 500 mm lens.  If you can handle the weight (and there are tricks to that), it is much easier to follow focus and keep the birds in the viewfinder when shooting freehand.

This type shooting is best done in winter on the south Texas coast because that’s when the ducks are here.  Otherwise, there are usually lots of herons, egrets and shorebirds about year-round.

Remember, to enlarge and sharpen the photos, click in the upper righthand portion of a photo.  That will also open the “next” button to continue viewing photos in the newsletter.

American Wigeon pair headed flying past.

American Wigeon pair at eye level.

ISO 640, 1/2000 second @ f 11 with Canon 7D, Canon IS 500 lens on Wimberly head and Gitzo cf tripod.

Adult and juvenile American Wigeon flying at eye level to photographer.

Adult and juvenile American Wigeon with wingtips overlapping.

ISO 640, 1/2000 second @ f 10 with tripod
 
American Oystercatcher on the wing

American Oystercatcher on the wing

ISO 640, 1/2500 second @ f 10 with tripod
 
Like many shots on the wing, it was difficult to get the focus to lock on this bird.  He was almost by me before I got a focus lock.
Common Merganser landing straight at the camera.

Common Merganser landing straight at the camera.

ISO 640, 1/4000 second @ f 8, handheld
 
While not a pretty shot, I really like this unusual capture of a common merganser landing head-on with feet down.
High speed redhead drake on the downstroak with primaries curled.

High speed redhead drake on the downstroke.

ISO 640, 1/3200 second @ f 10, handheld
 
Passing redhead drake with wings up.

Passing redhead drake with wings up.

ISO 640, 1/2500 second @ f 10, tripod support
 
Adult and first year Redhead males with wings parallel

Adult and first year Redhead males with wings parallel

ISO 640, 1/3200 second @ f 10, handheld
 
Redhead drake with wing tip in the water.

Redhead drake with wing tip in the water.

ISO 640, 1/2000 second @ f 11
 
The shot above was my favorite of the day because of the unusual proximity of bird to water that presented a reflection and a wing tip touching the water.
Black Skimmer with wings up.

Black Skimmer with wings up.

ISO 640, 1/3200 second @ f 10, handheld
 
Part of the fun of Laguna Madre photography is that you never know what will fly by next.  I wasn’t expecting a black skimmer, especially one with relatively good plumage (for a winter bird).
Young Brown Pelican swallowing a mullet.  This is a "pelican whose bill can hold more than his belly can".

Young Brown Pelican swallowing a mullet. This is a "pelican whose bill can hold more than his belly can".

For me, it is more difficult to focus and compose a still bird than one in flight when I’m holding the big telephoto so, I took a bunch of shots.
Male Mottled Duck showing blue speculum.

Male Mottled Duck showing blue speculum.

ISO 400, 1/2500 second @ f 5.6
 
While processing this mottled duck photo, I opened up the shadows on the raised wing to show the beautiful speculum we seldom notice on this bird in flight.
Redhead drake in flight with nice view of orange eye.

Redhead drake in flight with nice view of orange eye.

ISO 640, 1/2500 second @ f 10, handheld
 
The redhead males have bright, orange eyes that stand out from the surrounding red feathers.
Pintail drakes reflected in the mid-morning blue of the Laguna Madre.

Pintail drakes reflected in the mid-morning blue of the Laguna Madre.

In mid to late winter, no female pintail goes anywhere without an escort.

In mid to late winter, no female pintail goes anywhere without an escort.

ISO 640, 1/4000 second @ f 8
 
Gulls diving for fish left floating by harrassed merganser.

Gulls diving for fish left floating by harrassed merganser.

White-tailed Kite dropping on prey.

White-tailed Kite dropping on prey.

ISO 400, 1/5000 second @ f 5.6, 1.4X teleconverter, handheld
 
As we were driving away from the bay, this white-tailed kite was hovering above us.  I quickly grabbed the camera, added the teleconverter and made this photo.  The only adjustment I did was to add one stop of light off the dark blue sky.  With a moment more to think, I would have preferred to change the settings to 1/2500 second @ f 11.
If you are interested in some flight photography instruction and shooting, drop me an email at lditto@larryditto.com.  Classes for one or two are very reasonable. 
Check out the upcoming workshops on my Photo Tour Schedule on this web site: Hoak Ranch (landscapes and night photography), Caddo Lake (birds) and more.
Larry

7 thoughts on “Mostly Flight Shots”

  1. I love the flight shots. My favorite, in order are; Merganser landing, Red headed drake with wing tip in water, Kite with wings outsretched and talons ready.

  2. Gorgeous!

    I’d be interested in your tips for carrying a heavy camera and big lens, I mostly don’t use a tripod for flight shots because I love the flexibility, but I have a wonky shoulder.

    I especially love the pelican with the huge fish and the duck with blue in his wing! Thanks for sharing!

    1. The best place for us to do a workshop is right here at South Padre Island sometime during the next month. Will your bad shoulder allow you to lift the heavy camera and lens for a few seconds at a time? Can you make the time for a day or two shoot? I usually charge $200/day for personal instruction if I can do it close to home at places like South Padre Island.

  3. Hey Larry…..Thanks again for including me in your mailing of your great newsletter. My favorite was the Redhead drake with his wingtip in the water. All great shots. Your Oregon connection.

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