Diving Sea Gulls

It was one morning during my recent Summer vacation when I had the chance to spend some time at a beach and watch some sea gulls. The weather was overcast with soft gray light. There was no wind at all and the coastal water was plane like a mirror. Everything was reflecting nicely. At the time I was there it was low tide which gives the sea gulls access to ground in the shallow water. They were diving for some kind of algae or shells within those algae and used an interesting technique for that. Usually you see sea gulls flying over the water and suddenly pitching into the water hunting a fish. These sea gulls here were swimming on the water and suddenly jumping up a bit and diving down to the ground. To illustrate this behavior I have compiled a series of three photos:


That action happend so fast that you could see the exact motion only in the taken shots afterwards. By pushing the tail down they were pushing themself up, simultanously turning the head down and diving steep into the water down to the ground. I have never seen that before and it was so interesting to watch.

The camera settings I've chosen for this scene were the following: I used my EOS 500D camera with my excellent EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L tele zoom lens mounted to it. Since I wanted to shoot animals in action I had to make sure the shutter speed will be high. Therefore I switched the camera into Tv mode with a fixed shutter speed of usually 1/1000th sec. ISO value was also fixed. I used a value that let the camera calculate aperture values of about f/8 to get the maximum quality out of the lens. With the overcast sky the best ISO value for that was 200, which is quite good. I did not use a tripod. I just rested the lens in my hand and my arm was stabilized at my leg while I was sitting on a stone. With the high shutter speed in conjunction with image stabilization you do not necessarily need a tripod.

Here are my favorites of the diving sea gulls photos. All were shot with full 400mm focal length. Due to the overcast sky and the the gray and white birds there was not much color in the photos. I turned them into black and white to increase the dramatic feeling and direct attention to the action happening.

The first photo nicely shows the diving technique. I like the position of the captured bird. Wings widely spread, head just into the water, body up in the air and the tail just flipping up. What's also very nice, is the water action. You have that calm, reflecting water but where the action is happening it looks dramatic. You have that crater where the bird was jumping off, the flipping tail is spreading water all around and the pitching head is also moving water away.
The second photos show a slightly different diving technique. While the first bird used the spread wings to stabilize itself, this one here has its wings completely closed. You can nicely see how the tail is flipped down to push the body up in the air to make a steep diving possible. But what I like most in this shot is the reflection of the face. This is awesome.

Here is another shot of great water action. The bird is nearly completely down and the tail is flipping up to stabilize and support the steep diving. That flipping tail is pulling a lot of water with it, creating a nice and dramatic scene. The wave building up around the action spot is increasing this dramatic feeling. The reflection and depth of field are nice, too.

The last shot shows a similar stage of diving as the one above but at a different angle. This time there is not that much amount of water flying around, only a small number of drops are visible. But the wave is more visible and more dramatic in the plane water. The diving bird creates some kind of crater where it is pitching into. The shape of wings and tail and the overall position lookes like the bird has crashed and got stuck in the ground.

In the end the sea gull came up again with something in its beak that looks like algae. It shaked the head heavily to obviously separate the delicious part from the not so delicious ones. Every time one bird came up with some food, other birds got jealous and started a fight which was funny for me to watch. I was there for about an hour sitting at the beach watching the birds and it was so much fun.

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