Like Shooting At Aspirins With A BB Gun

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One of the “must-photograph” items on my agenda for the trip to the Arctic was Atlantic Puffins.  These are, in my opinion, the cutest of birds, looking solemn and comical at the same time, with their big sad eyes and their oversized, outlandishly colored beaks.  We found them one gloomy morning, sitting high on a vertical cliff, directly above the water.  In order to photograph them, we maneuvered as close to the water’s edge as was possible to do so safely in a Zodiac, then shot up at them.

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Photographing these birds was perhaps the most difficult thing I’ve ever done as a photographer.  The lighting was dull and I had to use camera settings that I preferred not to use.  The camera’s autofocus did not want to cooperate because the birds did not stand out well against their background.  The configuration of the Zodiac required some of us to crouch on the boat’s floor while taking pictures.  I was one of those on the floor of the boat.  We were shooting up at a very steep angle and my position was extremely awkward and uncomfortable.  After a few minutes of shooting I began to experience severe pain at the base of my neck.  To make matters worse, the little boat was constantly bobbing up and down with the waves and holding the camera steady on the birds was impossible.  I resorted to a tactic of letting the camera’s focusing point drift up and down with the boat’s movement.  I’d fire a burst of five or six shots every time the focusing point passed over a bird, and I prayed that I got a few good results.  I felt as if I was shooting at aspirins with a BB gun while in motion.

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My biggest frustration came in attempting to capture one of these birds in flight.  Puffins were constantly taking off and landing from their cliffside roosts, but I found it to be impossible to get my camera’s autofocus to track one of them, given the relatively dim light and my position on the Zodiac’s floor.  I consider myself lucky to have gotten one image of a puffin as it landed.

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I took several hundred photos of these birds and most shots were abject failures.  I consider myself very lucky to have gotten a few good images.

Photos taken with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, aperture preferred setting, ISO 1000, f7.1 @ 1/1000.

One response to “Like Shooting At Aspirins With A BB Gun”

  1. Liesl Kii says :

    Yes, puffins are the essence of cuteness and comicalness (if that’s a word). It was worth your efforts to get these pictures.

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