Hanging with the Pelican – A study in “working” the shot

In Sketchbook, The Creative Process by Chris FoleyLeave a Comment


This pelican had his photo taken quite a lot today.

I waited while droves of tourists got their selfies with it, one by one. Suddenly they all seemed to go away at once, as if drawn away magically, except for this woman. Instead of doing the seemingly mandatory selfie thing she parked herself next to the bird and just hung out with it, which made me quite happy.

A picture of a pelican is pretty boring in and of itself, a truth I discovered after shooting pelicans for an entire season. But a photo of a woman hanging out with a pelican -- now that's a bit better. I played with the composition a bit and had to wait out periods when the bird would become curious and look around at things. Finally a stream of sailboats began sailing in and out of the frame, which completed my composition with a fun little triangle of layers.

This was one of 30 images shot from over her shoulder. I am thankful for silent shutter mode and she was thrilled when I showed her the image.

Patience pays off. Of my dozens of pelican images shot on Stearn's Wharf in Santa Barbara over the years, this is currently my favorite.

You can play with the little slider thing on the image to view the raw before against the edited after

The importance of "working" the shot.

I've written before about the importance of working the shot. Or rather, I was more or less summarizing Ben Long talking about the importance of working the shot. Whatever, you gotta do it. 

I ended up with 9 "keeper" shots out of this run of 30, and the one that I'm going to send to print is 22/30. Think about that for a second. When was the last time you took 22 shots of anything while working on the street?

I must force myself to remember that if I think a scene has merit I have to really explore it. The first handful of images are not going to be the one that makes me most happy and if I walk away after only shooting a few frames I'm going to miss out on a huge potential opportunity. I've seen this over and over in my work. 

Here are those 30 shots in context. 


Stupid bird kept moving his head.

There were a lot of variables to keep track of. There was heavy wind and the woman's hair was blowing all over the place. Also, the pelican was moving its head all over the place and when a pelican is looking sideways, you have a shot. When a pelican is looking away or directly at you its narrow head disappears into its neck and you lose your shot. 

Finally, I had to wait for the sailboats to move into a more or less pleasing position to strengthen my composition. 

The 9 keepers from this session: 


I've said it before and I'll say it again: It's incredibly rare to make an iconic image on the first or second frame. If you've already determined that there's a shot to be had, you've got to fully explore it and give it the respect it deserves. Always work your shot! I say this as much as a reminder to myself as to you, dear reader.



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