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Friday Slide Show: The Pelican Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

19 July 2019

There is just something about the pelican that grabs us. We've long tracked them sailing above the bay or along the coast, hoping to get a photo that would do them justice. But it never happens. Never.

It's an odd duck, we admit. A snoot way too long and pointy with a comical bag for its lower beak. Somehow attached to a ridiculously small, rounded head on a neck that looks like it got slammed in a closet door. Ruffled wings even at rest and a turkey-shaped body from which webbed feet hang.


But watch it catch the updraft and, wings motionless, glide over the water and it seems perfectly aerodynamic, its beak slicing the air, its outstretched but motionless wings holding it aloft, its webbed feed trailing gracefully like rudders.


It's that mix of the ugly taking flight as beauty that appeals to us. And why we can never quite capture both aspects of the pelican.

But 10 years ago we were hiking away from the Golden Gate Bridge when, pausing to take in the scene, we saw a pelican who had found its lunch. We had carried along the Nikon D300 with its 18-200mm Nikkor and a circular polarizer.

When the pelican swooped higher, we knew something was up.

When the pelican swooped higher, we knew something was up.

We got it framed and focused and followed its dive with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Handheld and roughly framed, we were disappointed with what we saw on the camera's LCD. A speck of a bird jumping around in the frame.

But our settings were solid. A sharp f10 aperture with a fast 1/1000 second shutter speed made possible by an Auto ISO that ran from 1000 to 1400. The lens was not racked out all the way to 200mm but just 170mm.

Our composition, under fire, wasn't great. We didn't level the horizon. We never do. And the bird itself was all over the frame. Seeing the eight images in sequence did not portray a dive. At all.

So our editing session was focused on cropping the bird's position using the grid as a guide. We started by placing the pelican in the top left corner and let it drift to the upper center for the splash, leveling the horizon as we went.

These were all JPEG images, so we didn't have much editing headroom but we did cool the color temperature a bit to compensate for the warm polarizer.

The set, to our amusement, begins with an awkward view of the pelican that gradually resolves into a streamlined arrow which disappears in the smallest of splashes, like an Olympic diver.

The ugly, that is, transformed into the beautiful. In just one second.

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