"The Wing Flap"

May 11: Loon wing stretch

The Story Behind the Shot

 For many years I owned a Wenonah Kevlar UL canoe  not only for photography but also for some pleasure paddling. For me there was nothing better than getting up before sunrise and paddle the backwaters on a cool calm morning. I owned this canoe for about 15 years and for some unknown reason I decided to sell it! I have made many mistakes in my life and it did not take me long to see this one; "Why did I sell my Wenonah"? Right away I missed my waterfowl photography and especially images of our State Bird; the Common Loon (Gavia immer). So this winter I decided to do some research and due to the fact I am almost always alone, I made a decision to go with a sit on top "fishing kayak". After much research and help from a friend who had a kayak fish guiding business using Jackson Kayak, last summer he closed up his guiding business and after talking to him he had sold all but two, he was going to keep one but willing to sell the other one. "SOLD"!

My first serious outing with the kayak was on May 11th, with one of my favorite subjects, Common Loon. For years I have gone to a small lake in Northern MN that has no pubic  landing and the only resident on the lake, has given me permission to launch my canoe and now my kayak  from her boat dock. Over 80% of my Loon images have been taken on this small Northern MN lake. After launching the kayak I found the pair of Loons right away on the far side of this lake. What I noticed within a very short time, the Loons were more relaxed with the kayak compared to my canoe. To keep my distance from the birds I always used my 1.4X convertor on my 200-500mm lens, I would not have needed it this time because on several occasions the Loons swam right by the Kayak. I watched them preen, fish, wing flap, and just like me enjoying this beautiful morning. My Loon photography is almost always during the golden hour of sunrise. I love the light and the colorful reflections that I get in the water from the surrounding foliage and the colorful sky. 

As a wildlife photographer we are always trying to get images other than portrait type so I was waiting for some activity from the Loons. One of the Loons started some serious preening and almost always at the end of preening,  a wing flap will take place to put all the feathers back in place. So immediately I set my camera for a wing flap image! I like to get everything sharp from tip of beak to the wing tips so I almost always stop down but at the same time keep the shutter speed at minimum of 1/800, that is almost always fast enough to stop the wing movement during the flap. As birds preen they are always moving around and my favorite position of the Loon during the flap is facing away from me. I love the detail and texture in the wings. If the loon is facing towards the photographer it is all white with the breast feathers and underwings, and making it  much harder to nail the exposure. The real key is when facing away the Loon has to have a slight body twist or head position to allow the capture of the magical red eye! For this wildlife photographer,  connection with the eye will always help bring the viewer into the image. However this is not your decision on body position, you just have to take what the bird gives you! I was lucky on this image, when the wing flap began the Loon was in my favorite position.  I immediately pressed the shutter and the  Nikon was firing away at 10 frames per second. The wing flap never lasts very long and when it was over I had captured about 12-15 frames. Upon looking at my LCD, I  saw 6-7 frames had captured the red eye and the entire Loon was hair sharp. I was with the Loons for about 45 minutes and I never like to push my luck with them so I paddled around the shore trying to photograph the many birds singing on the cattails. That did not turn out to be very successful but after looking at the Loon images on the camera I headed home a very happy wildlife photographer. Thank you Jackson Kayaks for getting me back on the water. 

To see more of my Loon images follow this link !

 "Good Shooting"

Technical Data

 Nikon D500

Nikon 200mm-500mm w 1.4X @ 380mm

Manual Exposure

F-14 @ 1/800

Auto ISO @ 1800

EV -2/3

Cloudy WB

Handheld out of Jackson Kayak

VR on

Post-Processing: Adobe CC (Lightroom and PhotoShop)