The Great Journey in Photography

Black & White Birds in Flight

three pelicans landing

300mm f7.1 500iso 1/3000sec

I don’t do a lot of black and white, I like a good black and white photo as much as anyone but most of the time I don’t like the ones that I make. I don’t see in B&W I suppose, I will probably never be able to pre visualize an image in black and white, color just seems to mean so much more to me. There are times when there is great benefit to converting from color to get more impact but I just don’t see it when I am making the image out in the field. The Pelicans above are one of my exceptions. These three were part of a 6 bird formation coming in for a wet landing. I had enough lens that I could only get three in the image. My first concern was composition, the big goal was to pick up some kind of symmetry. My next concern was even lighting. Typically in a shot like this where the sky is bright and washed out with haze or overcast it will be blown out or the darks in the subject will be blocked up. What you hope for (or plan for) is to catch a point where the bird is at an angle to the sun so that it illuminates those dark areas and make the subject and background close to being evenly lit. By the way, that is one of the reasons why shooting during the golden hour is so very important in bird photography. The sun is low on the horizon and its rays have a much better chance of getting up and under the wings of a bird in flight.

Anyhow, out of the 8 or so frames I took in this sequence this was the only one that was useable. With the high contrast look I knew this was one of those times to break out the black and white. I honestly don’t remember if I used Nik Silver effects or did it only in Photoshop. While Silver effects is very cool and can save tons of time it is still only utilizing the capabilities of Photoshop. So anything you can do in Silver Effects can be done in the Photoshop UI also, it may just take a little more time. I know that many of us have more time than money. I bumped the contrast and pushed the exposure a bit then did a little dodge and burn mostly pulling detail out of the bill and feet of the lowest bird because they were over exposed a little.

I guess one would call this a high key type image. It works well in black and white and what you can’t see in an image this size and resolution is that there is quite a bit of detail in the birds making it very worthy of print.

Pelicans tend to look awkward on landing and take off. Seems like once they lower the landing gear everything becomes unstable. Probably because they have such large webbed feet that tend to act as airfoil. It occurs to me though that just like an aircraft, take off and landing are the most critical times for a bird. They usually seem so graceful but really they are risking their lives. As a witness to thousands of bird landings I can testify that they do occasionally crash and a crash for a wild animal is a whole lot different for them than it is for us. An injury for them in many if not most cases is life ending so as pretty or awkward looking as it is one big slip up can mean curtains for these critters.

Thanks for reading!

You can see more of my work at


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