Shooting Wild Geese in Southern Patagonia

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Upland Goose (female) – Chloephaga pica

1/800s @ f/5.6 ISO 1600 @ 400mm

I was shooting wild Upland Geese this morning in southern Patagonia. Relax—I was shooting with my camera and 400mm long lens and not with a 10 or 12-Gauge shotgun. They are stunningly beautiful in the wild and I was dubious about getting close enough to capture any good shots. The morning was deeply overcast (after two beautiful sunny mornings in a row) and the skies were threatening rain. Pluses and minuses with that kind of light; it provides a flat (low contrast) light that I like (no harsh shadows or blown highlights to contend with) but it required me to shoot at a higher ISO than I prefer (in this case ISO 1600 and 1250 respectively).

Few things in life are as enjoyable for me as getting out into nature and spending time photographing its wildlife. Shooting (figuratively speaking) wildlife in their natural habitat where they’re comfortable is a meditation. It’s easy to get into a rhythm and a flow and you almost forget you have a camera in your hands. That’s why it’s so important to know your camera well, being out in the field is not the time to learn where all the controls are. You should be able to use all the buttons and adjust the various settings without having to consciously think about it. Some of this can be done beforehand, of course, but some of it has to be done on the fly. Know your equipment.

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Upland Geese (male & female) – Chloephaga pica

1/800s @ f/5.6 ISO 1250 @ 400mm

As I’ve mentioned so many times before (Ad nauseam) photography is all about compromise and tradeoffs. My camera, the full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark II, handles low light pretty well and I can get good images up to about ISO 3200 (depending on the background) and even up to ISO 6400 in a pinch. But I’m all about image quality and I prefer keeping my ISO range to ISO 100 to 800 for most of my work. Today’s compromise was to shoot at a higher ISO or not to shoot at all. Shooting trumps not shooting every time. The backgrounds were not solid colors like sky or water so what digital noise there is remains pretty much hidden in the texture. By the way, the larger male geese are banded in black, white and grays where the smaller female geese are banded in brown (rust), black, white and grays.

These geese (like all geese) can be very territorial, defensive and downright aggressive—you know what I mean if you’ve ever pissed off a goose (and I have). They don’t have teeth per se but their beaks have serrated ridges that look remarkably like small shark’s teeth and it would probably hurt like hell if you got goosed by a goose. Fortunately these wild geese were in their natural foraging habitat and didn’t seem to feel threatened by me at all. They kept a wary eye on me at all times but I took my time stalking them (a stealthy sneak & creep with no sudden moves) and they let me get surprisingly close. My Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM super telephoto lens helped me to close the remaining distance and reduce cropping in post.

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Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer, Traveller

www.IndochinePhotography.me

Patagonia, Argentina

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Photographer’s note: For those of you interested in the techie-side of things I will discuss some of my creative decisions. I shoot in CameraRAW (always) and used Canon’s shutter priority mode with a shutter speed of 1/800s (this guaranteed no handheld camera shake and would also freeze any anticipated subject movement). I knew my aperture would default to f/5.6 and that my lens always gives stunning performance when shooting wide-open. I had my camera set to Auto-ISO and monitored it during the shoot (finding ISO 1250 to 1600 to be acceptable). The white goose had enough contrast against the background to autofocus quickly but the brown goose caused my autofocus to hunt a bit in the flat light.

I made further creative decisions in post which I will outline here. Shooting my original RAW image in Auto-WB I warmed it up in post (Adobe CameraRAW) to 5200. I made some further adjustments including reducing contrast by -5. The image was so pastoral and bucolic that reducing contrast helped to enhance it. In Photoshop Elements 11 (PSE11) I worked with exposure, shadows & highlights, blacks & whites, and color saturation (I deliberately refrained from overly saturating and only boosted by +5. Likewise I did not add any further sharpening as my 400mm lens is tack-sharp. I did add some noise reduction (further reducing sharpness) and the overall effect is one of naturalness. This phase (post-production) is where artistic interpretation is expressed. 

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5 responses to “Shooting Wild Geese in Southern Patagonia

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