Black Guillemots Contre-Jour
Oops - updated on 10 Feb because I left out the last shot!
Photographing seabirds often involves trips to offshore islands such as Great Saltee in Co. Wexford or heading into the deep as I did on the Blemullet Pelagic last summer. However, it’s possible to get close to one species, Black Guillemot, around Dublin Bay. I’ve previously photographed them at close range on the Great South Wall in Poolbeg. As with all the Irish auks, they dive for fish but unlike the other species, they usually stay very close to the coast all year. Happily for photographers they often nest in holes in piers and harbour walls – including at Coliemore Harbour in Dalkey where these shots were taken. If you visit early in the morning when there are few people around, they will often bicker, display, or even mate at frame-filling range – as you can see in this shot of fellow Offshooter Frank Kenny in action! I should add that the full length position is not to “hide” from the birds – they are just as blasé if you are standing up – it’s to get down to the birds’ level which give a much better angle.
In this series, I’ve experimented with shooting against the light or, as we say in Cork - contre-jour :-), because Coliemore Harbour faces that way on early summer mornings. In the first shot, I’ve set the bird against the out of focus reflections of the sun from the ripples. I used fill flash to bring out some details on the plumage and get a catch light in the bird’s eye. The amount of flash exposure is not recorded in the exif data but I usually need to add two to three stops of flash compensation to see its effect in these bright conditions.
I used my Canon 100-400mm Mk I lens at 285mm on a Canon 7D MkI, 1/6400th of second at f8.0 and ISO 400. I’m not quite sure why I used such a high ISO in such bright conditions – 1/1600th of second at ISO 100 would have been quite fast enough. However, a high ISO would have increased the range of the flash. When you are this close to the subject at the longer end of the 100-400 lens, the depth of field is very narrow. So I normally stop down to at f8 or even f11 to get the whole bird sharp but the background is still strongly blurred because I am so close. Despite the advice about getting out early, I actually took this shot at 8.36am on a Saturday morning in May 2014 – everyone else was obviously having a sleep in!
The next shot is a love-hate one. Obviously, I love it because I’ve posted it - but some people don’t like it at all. They go on about – shock! - movement blur - or worse, blown highlights – go straight to jail, do not pass go, do not collect €200! I’d like to say I carefully planned it, but it was just a grab shot at about 5.20am in May 2013 - the last stop after an all night session of Moon shots that I’ll post about some other time! Anyway, I saw this pair attempting to mate against the rising sun and I swung the camera on to them – forgetting that I’d just finished doing tripod shots at 1/25th of a second, f11 and ISO 100! As I already said, it works for me –if it doesn’t for you, just look away now!
The final shot is of the same pair – taken a few minutes later as they recovered from their (s)exertions. I spotted the rim lighting against the sun and I got flash mounted and working but I still hadn’t the camera settings quite right - probably because I making slow progress on getting the right angle while slithering around full length! Anyway, at 1/50th of a second, ISO 200 and f5.6, there is a hint of movement blur on the birds head.
That’s it for now; I hope you like the look of the shots and won’t worry too much about the technical issues!
Keywords: Black Guillemot, Cepphus grylle, Coliemore Harbour, Dalkey, Dublin, Ireland, John Coveney, Tystie, backlit, contre-jour, dawn, mating, reflections, rim lighting, sunrise, www.johncoveney.ie
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