I'm not really a birder, but I've been wanting to get closeup photos of Atlantic puffins since I first learned they were the official bird of Newfoundland. With the summer in full swing, I made a day trip up the Bonavista peninsula to the town of Elliston, the root cellar capital of the world, as well as where a popular puffin viewing spot is located. Boy, did they not disappoint!
Since moving to the east coast to pursue a postdoc in the macrophysiology of cold-water ecosystems, I've really taken to the rugged coastlines of Newfoundland. It's really not hard to find inspiration when you have daily reminders floating in your backyard.
The bonus is that a lot of the coastline here is outside of restricted airspace (i.e., legal to fly a drone); the opposite of where I was living in Victoria, British Columbia. Can't wait for field season!
This year, I spent 6 weeks on a science-based adventure to and from Antarctica. I knew my trip was going to be one filled with spectacular scenery and wildlife so I planned and packed about 20 lbs of my photography gear with me to document my journey and to maximize every photo opportunity.
In total, I ended up capturing 111 GB of travel, nature, and science imagery (photos and videos) on my personal cameras. During my trip, I only had brief moments to scan through my images for quality control and to do a quick once-over for deletions and post-processing. I ended up bringing home ~3,800 RAW images captured on my primary dslr which I used to analyze patterns in my shooting behavior (scientists gotta science!). I took a quick look at the metadata of my RAW images to get a sense of my most commonly used focal lengths while I was in Antarctica and to get a sense of the patterns in my shooting habits.
At the telephoto range, the peak at 150 mm was the maximum focal length on my 50-150 mm telephoto zoom. I only sparingly used my 135-400 mm telephoto zoom because of its slow minimum aperture (F4-5.6) and average sharpness which made it some what useless in the low light conditions that is characteristic of winter in Antarctica. I found myself cropping photos I had taken at 150 mm (F2.8, ISO 800) because the results were better than trying to use the 135-400 mm. A cropped photo taken with a significantly sharper lens was better than a soft photo taken at a higher focal length.
A sharp lens with a focal length of 300 mm or greater would have been useful for my trip. Perhaps a 300 mm F4 prime would have helped me photograph the large charismatic wildlife (penguins, seals, dolphins) although sightings of them were few and far between. The trade-off would have been the additional weight - something I definitely noticed a lot during my trip. I also noticed my constant need to switch lenses because of how I would photograph a scene. I would often take photos at a wide angle then switch to a telephoto focal length to focus more on the details of a site.
The big question is, where do I adventure next with my cameras?
Jackson W.F. Chu
Jackson is a marine biologist, photographer, and dog-owner. This blog will try to be heavy on the photos and light on the text.