The Great Journey in Photography

About-The Brown Pelican II

BrownPelican at Bolsa Chica

So every one know that the best time to photograph Brown Pelican is during breeding season right? Well yeah it is the best time but it is not the only time. Mating season is from Jan. through March but you will see breeding colors before and after those dates as nesting season can last up to eleven months. Juveniles are easily identified because they are pretty much all brown all the time with kind of fish scale look on the underside.

Browns have a couple of thing going for them as far as photography goes. They are easy to approach, they are large, and they are rather slow in flight except when diving. Probably the biggest problem when photographing these birds is the extremely long bill. It is the most distinctive feature and usually you will want to have the entire bill in the frame. With long lenses it is difficult to have the entire bill in focus along with the eyes. If you are interested in making a portrait head on, you are going to need to stop down to past f16 maybe around f20 and focus about one-third up the bill, otherwise you are best off to photograph with the bill in complete profile. That way depth of field issues are minimized. Aside from breeding plumage adult Browns tend to be rather grey and “washed out” to photograph. There are a couple of things I like to do to overcome that washed out look. I will generally compensate exposure by about -0.7, this will get those shadows a bit darker and minimize blown out highlights on the back of the neck (non-breeding), top of head, and feather edges. Also, try to photograph against blue colored backgrounds like water and blue sky. Overcast, clouds, soil, and foliage backgrounds just don’t compliment Pelicans so I say avoid them in general especially at non-breeding times.

A few other features that are interesting to photograph on these birds are the large webbed feet with four toes, spiked mohawk looking hair on the top of the head, tremendous wingspan, and interesting feather contrast on the underside. Then of course there is the legendary head throw that pelicans do. Preceding the throw Pelicans will squat down a bit and wrap their bills around its neck. A bit hard to describe but when you see it you will know it, and then the bill goes straight up in the air. It all happens remarkably fast and you will need to be trained in on the bird before it starts or you will be out of luck. Brown Pelicans also flap their wings at a deceiving fast rate. While the flight is slow the ends of the wings move up and down at a fair clip. Bif’s with shutter speeds of 700-800sec will often yield motion blur at the tips, 1,000-1,600sec will freeze the action.

As always thanks for reading and I hope you found this little bit about Brown Pelicans useful.

You can see more Pelican images at


One response

  1. Amazing shots 🙂

    August 3, 2012 at 7:03 am

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