Pro Tip: Setting the scene with a flight shot

_djc1740When we usually think of flight shots we think of birds against a gorgeous blue sky. Sure, those are classic, but showing a bird’s environment can be even more dramatic. In the case of Horned Puffins, which live in the cold seas off Alaska, the snow-covered mountains ringing the coast make a great backdrop. Unfortunately, with the traditional background-isolating technique of wide-open aperture, any mountains caught in the frame would be blurred beyond recognition. Fortunately we had plenty of opportunities to capture colorful horned and tufted puffins in flight on our recent Alaska bear and puffin photo safari.

So to capture these puffins in their native habitat flying in front of the Mount Redoubt volcano near the Cook Inlet, I stopped my Nikon D4 down to f/32 (as far as my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens + Nikon 1.4x Teleconverter would allow), to maximize my depth of field. Of course that wreaked havoc on my shutter speed. Fortunately the awesome high-ISO performance of the Nikon D4 allowed me to bump my ISO up to 3200, giving me a shutter speed of 1/1000s, plenty fast to freeze the puffins in flight.

The result is these images which helps convey not just the colorful puffins themselves, but their environment.

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Horned Puffins in flight, Lake Clark National Park
Nikon D4, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens,  Nikon 1.4x TC
f/32 @ 1/1000s, ISO 3200