Cropping Auklets

My family spent this past weekend up at Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound with some dear friends. I brought my camera gear hoping to get out and shoot a sunrise or two, but as things have been going of late, the challenges of parenting two kids in diapers ran my landscape photography hopes and plans for the weekend off the road. But that’s a topic for a separate post.

Friends and I took our kids out on the Puget Sound in a small bay off Whidbey Island just afternoon, and I noticed a lot of bird life quite active out on the water. I recognized a flock of about fifty rhinoceros auklets, as the Oregon Aquarium has a pair that I remember seeing a few years ago. We were able to get the boat closer than I expected to these birds, but it’s really no surprise with the amount of boat activity around them most of the time. It’s no different than visiting Commonwealth Lake near my home, a lot of nearby human activity makes it so much easier to get close when shooting birds. Once we dropped the kids off at shore, I grabbed my gear and my friend Jon drove me back out to make some seabird photos. The birds were wary of our presence, as they are mostly used to boats blasting by at speed, rating than stalking them slowly (just like a predator). That said, we still got close, but not near enough to the auklets to fill the frame of my full frame DSLR and using my light little 400mm f/5.6 lens.

However, this Canon 400mm f/5.6 L lens is so sharp, and the file quality of the Canon 5D MkIII is so good that I knew I could heavily crop a sharp file to achieve results easily good enough to post on the web. These photos won’t be hanging in anyone’s living room, but then bird photos rarely do any ways. I’ve heard from podcasts, most recently the Improve Photography Podcast, as well as learned from experience that cropping files taken with my 400mm lens and Canon 5D MkIII yield better cropped results than do shooting birds from a distance with a crop sensor  camera, or from using a teleconverter (extender) with the full frame camera. Simply to much detail is lost, and too many photos are unacceptably soft. And by cropping, I mean that I heavily cropped these three photos shown here. They range finished from 2.9 to 6.8 megapixels in resolution, cropped from the 22.1 megapixels of my 5D camera. Chances are here on the web that you would have never had known had I not mentioned it. It's what I needed to do given the equipment I am fortunate to have at my disposal.

The 5D paired with the compact 400mm lens proved to be a great combination to shoot the active auklets diving, surfacing, and flying past from all directions. These little guys are really fast in flight. Though I’d love a larger and more expensive telephoto lens, like the Canon 200-400mm f/4 L IS or the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS lens, these lenses I lust after are so much larger and heavier that I doubt I would have bagged as good of results as I did with my nimble setup. My friend Bruce has been shooting birds lately more with his light 300mm f/4 lens than his Nikon 200-400mm f/4 lens because of the 300mm lens' compactness.

I would have loved to have shot these birds in warm golden hour sunshine, but I was lucky to get the chance when I did, so close to where we were staying for this family weekend vacation, and while both my kids were napping! The mid-day light was a little overcast, and the water acted a large reflector, mostly negating the typically harsh and contrasty shadows cast by mid-day light. It was sure fun watching and shooting these unique and interesting birds, and sharing this moment with a good friend who enjoys nothing more than simply being out on the water.