Just when you start having your doubts about ducks they surprise you. They put on an awesome show this week and I had my camera ready.
First up was the talent shown skiing from the right side of the page to the left. This guy demonstrates the sort of form that got me into this pursuit in the first place. I salute this duck for its technique, length of ski run and blistering speed. If that duck dips a toe in at that pace you just know someone’s going to get hurt, but it pulled off the manoeuvre like an Olympic champion.
And then the planets aligned, the sun appeared through a gap in the clouds and lit up the pond with the prettiest light I’ve seen in months, just as a Pacific Black demonstrated incandescent form across a perfect glassy surface. This is approaching my holy-grail shot. Seen directly above this text is the photo I’m talking about. At full resolution (10 megapixels) the clarity is amazing, revealing the kind of detail that even ducks probably don’t know about. Shown below is a crop at 50% resolution (half size)
The worrying trend continues. I’m looking for a duck that can waterski the length of an Olympic pool and instead, all I’m seeing now are belly-landings.
It was only a year ago that ducks would majestically ski to a stop when they landed on water. Well, okay, not the length of above-mentioned pool, but at least a meter or two. Which is what led to this photographic pursuit. Now they all seem to want to land on their stomachs.
So I pointed the long lens at some more ducks to see what was going on. The light’s appalling — desaturated and harsh, but I’m at the pond and I have my camera. What I discovered kind of surprised me.
At first, I’m thinking I’m seeing some real style. A one-footed landing makes for a worthy duck and a one-foot ski over several meters sounds even better than my Holy-Grail shot. But how long can he maintain it? Here’s a close-up of the feet.
Less than a sixth of second later he’s already lowering himself into the water. I was hoping for some serious skiing action on this glassy pond. Instead I’m about to be disappointed by the mother of all belly flops.
So here in this next frame, the size and extent of the spray gives an idea of how fast this guy was moving. This could have been a lovely shot (although as I said earlier, the light’s too intense for the kind of photography I like doing).
Okay, now I’m just plain confused. I’ve had plenty of trips to the pond lately and have seen an abundance of avian action, much of it in the form of water-landings. I’ve photographed quite a few. And not a single worthy display of skiing among them.
There seems to be a real shift in technique going on here. I’m thinking of two reasons. Neither of them would stand up in court but I’ll offer them anyway:
I submit this sequence of shots as evidence.
This paltry, or should I say, poultry effort hardly qualifies as skiing by even the most generous definition of the word. My camera fires off frames at the rate of about six per second. So that means this wimpy little fowl barely had the fortitude to stand up for even a sixth of a second.
No sooner has it touched the water and it settles down into a belly landing. Blagh. The birds are already slowing themselves down a lot in the air before they touch down and that’s a trend I don’t like at all.
First responses to the levitating duck photo (see July 10, below) suggest I faked it. Some argued that I stuck those angelic wings on in Photoshop. Needless to say, I’m outraged.
So I’ll show the full sequence of shots that included the levitating duck shot. This should settle any disputes once and for all.
Sometimes the worst days are the best days. I was standing beside the pond in the worst light you could imagine. Well okay, I admit that night time would have been trickier, but for daytime it was the worst light you could imagine. The sky was grey. The water was grey. The grass, people and ducks were grey. Even if a duck did a 25-foot waterski right in front of me it would be no use because I’d never be able to get decent colour out of the shot. And then two things happened: the sun appeared in a gap in the clouds, and I managed to get a pic of something especially elusive — the levitating duck.
It wasn’t just me who was impressed by this. The ducks appeared impressed too. That duck on the left looks like he’s studying some technique. Checking out the shot at 100% resolution (at right) the levitating duck looks like he’s in some kind of trance, although to be honest all ducks’ expressions seem to look like that. But right now it suits my argument to say this looks like a trance.
In the few minutes that the sun was out I got a whole bunch of lucky shots. All of them nice and sharp. The sun coming from behind me is lighting up the ducks and the grey sky ahead of me is reflecting off the water, which kind of adds some nice contrast. Here’s a couple of shots showing a White-eyed Duck coming in for a landing and then doing a short ski run.
I was at the pond again today, pointing the lens at a bunch of cormorants. They’re not ducks but they are still kind of cool. The sun was out, water calm, not much breeze. Perfect for waterskiing.
And I’m concentrating on those cormorants and then out of the corner of my eye I see not one, but two Pacific Blacks approaching in the last stages of a high-speed landing.
So I swing around and just manage to fire off a few shots taking in the end of the run. It was a good ski too — one of the best — at least 6 feet before it kneeled down, with nice technique and poise, but I was so late I only caught the aftermath.
I love this shot of a duck looking like he’s about to wipe out. Is that fear we can see in his eyes? Hard to say — ducks’ eyes always seem to look the same.
His wings are all over the place, and if you look at his feet, they’re clearly not set for a clean landing. Here’s a closer view and I’m sure most would expect this scenario to end in tears. If this was the Olympics, it would score 1 out of ten, but it would also get the most reruns on telly.
Sydney’s getting some decent light at last. The light is weak but at least the sun’s out and there was some serious duck action down at the pond. I had the camera set back up to 1000th second and got some of my best shots so far.
This shot (at right) is possibly the best one I’ve got so far for showing how these guys curl their toes up to avoid tripping over and landing face-down on the water.
Here’s a closer view of those toes. This duck knows what he’s doing.
At full resolution almost all of the images are pin-sharp so I’m very happy with them.
The ducks were coming down like rain and then a swan came down. I got a nice sequence that included the shot shown below. This pic is my favourite so far and at full resolution it’s nice and sharp too. I’ll include a 50% and a 100% resolution crop to give you an idea about how these pics look nice and big.