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Nature Photography - Done Naturally

Horned Puffin - Fratercula corniculataHorned Puffin

Patience, Patience, Patience

Patience. As I state elsewhere on the photography tips pages, patience is the great equalizer for a bird photographer.  Can't afford the biggest, longest, latest lens?  Don't fret.  If you're patient, you still can put yourself in position to get some great photos.  For example...

I've been to Alaska several times now, primarily for work.  On some of those trips I've taken extra time to explore and go birding.  On one of these trips, I had enough amazing experiences that I vowed to bring the family up to Alaska for a vacation.  That vacation came in August 2010 when my wife, son, and I did a grand loop tour around Anchorage, the Seward Peninsula, and up to Denali National Park.

One highlight of the trip was an all-day wildlife cruise out of Seward, with an included overnight stay on "Fox Island", an island sitting out in Resurrection Bay.  Fox Island consists of one small complex with a handful of cabins, a main building with a gourmet kitchen and dining room, and not much else.  We splurged!  It was worth it!  We had a wonderful time on the cruise, and on the island.

The morning after staying overnight, we headed for up the rocky beach to the main building, intending to get breakfast.  We had heard that a black bear had swam to the island and had occasionally been seen.  Sure enough, as we're walking up the beach, the bear is walking down the beach towards us.  The bear stopped when he saw us, and paused for perhaps 20 seconds while we watched (and while I took photos).  He then bolted into the forest.  As we continued up the beach I saw a number of seabirds in the water of the bay, including at least 3 Horned Puffins.  We'd seen plenty of Puffins, both Horned and Tufted, as we did the wildlife cruise the day before, but none were close enough for good photos.  As we ate breakfast, my mind wandered to those Puffins foraging in the bay, wondering if I could get a photo.

After breakfast as the family prepared to board the return boat to the mainland, I grabbed my camera and watched the Puffins foraging in the Bay.  They were diving several times and capturing multiple fish before flying off, presumably to feed young.  They were underwater for a good 15-20 seconds with each dive.  My strategy?  When a bird went down for a dive, quickly move down the beach closer to its position, stopping and sitting and remaining still before the bird resurfaced.  I moved closer and closer to the water without the birds seemingly noticing my start-and-stop strategy while they dove.  I made my way to the end of the dock using this strategy, laid low, and waited.

The birds were foraging in deeper water, not right adjacent to the shoreline, but the dock did extend out into the water quite a ways. The birds continued to forage, but still a good distance from my position.  I sat and waited...and waited...and waited.  Sometimes an individual bird would get somewhat close, but then capture one final fish and fly off before getting close enough for a photo.  After at least 30 minutes, finally one puffin that went down for a dive came up only 30 feet from the dock.  And...I was ready, already braced to take a shot once the bird resurfaced.  As the bird resurfaced, it stretched its wings several times as if to take off, with the camera shutter whirring as I took photo after photo.  Instead of flying off with its catch though, it dove again, resurfacing again quite some distance from the dock.

A great moment, but it took quite the time investment.  My stalking and waiting approach probably took well over an hour in total, just to yield perhaps 10 seconds of time where this lone Puffin was close enough for some great photos.  It was well worth it!  I'll always treasure the memory of being so close to a wild Puffin, and capturing the bird in a great pose with a mouthful of fish.

Patience!  Many times the best strategy is to sit tight and wait for your quarry to come within camera range!

Camera Body:   Canon 50D
Camera Lens:   Canon 400mm 5.6L
ISO:   400
Aperture:   f/6.3
Shutter Speed:   1/1200th
Flash:   Not Used
Support:   Hand-held
Date:   08/10/2010
Location:   Near Seward, Alaska



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