Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

On the ferry

with 23 comments

“We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.”

So begins Edna St. Millay’s 18-line poem “Recuerdo” (Spanish for “I remember” or “Remembrance”). While we could have gone back and forth as often as we wanted on the free car ferry between Galveston and Port Bolivar*, on October 7th we went only one-way, northbound from Galveston. And we weren’t tired, because it was morning, not night; tiredness would come later, after we’d driven four-and-a-half hours back to Austin.

I hadn’t taken this ferry in decades, yet I had a distinct recuerdo of the way birds follow the boat, and now I aimed to follow the birds and see if I could get any decent pictures of them. My technique was to pan with a telephoto lens at a high shutter speed to track an individual bird as it wheeled by, trying to keep it in focus and also completely inside the frame. Sometimes I failed on one count, sometimes on the other. And occasionally I succeeded, as you see in these two photographs of gulls.

* The Spanish surname is Bolívar, with the middle syllable stressed: bo-LEE-var. The Texas place name, however, has come to be pronounced in a way that rhymes with Oliver.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 11, 2019 at 4:36 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

23 Responses

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  1. these are amazing captures


    November 11, 2019 at 4:39 AM

    • Because I haven’t often seen a picture of a bird directly overhead, the second one appeals to me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 11, 2019 at 6:02 AM

  2. Great photos. We would often take the kids on the free trip back and forth. I need to do it again as it has been awhile.

    automatic gardener

    November 11, 2019 at 8:16 AM

  3. Having attempted many times mostly unsuccessfully to capture a bird in flight, I know how hard it is to get a beautiful shot like the two on your post, Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    November 11, 2019 at 8:29 AM

    • Thanks, Peter. I’m not a bird photographer, so I was pleased to get as many decent pictures of these birds as I did. Two more next time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 11, 2019 at 8:32 AM

  4. Both photos excellent, but the bottom one really knocks me out and its gorgeous symmetry and perfect detail of the plumage. Since I use my cameras for both wildlife — which is usually in motion, and landscape which is remarkably still — I have both cameras configured for back-button focus. Press the back focus button once and let go and the focus locks and remains in that position until you shoot. Mash the back button down and hold it and it will continue to follow focus on whatever moving object you’re tracking.

    Michael Scandling

    November 11, 2019 at 10:52 AM

    • The second picture struck me too, for the same reasons: the symmetry and especially the details in the plumage.

      My camera can do back-button focus but I’ve never configured it that way. From what you say, maybe I should try it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 11, 2019 at 12:50 PM

      • Once you try and get used to back button focus you will never turn back. It does take a bit of learning at first. Your thumb now does what your index finger used to do. But the ability to immediately change from follow focus to locked focus just by holding or letting go makes all photography much easier. Google “back button focus setup” followed by your camera model.

        Michael Scandling

        November 11, 2019 at 12:55 PM

      • Those hawk photographs would’ve been far more difficult if I had not had back button focus.

        Michael Scandling

        November 11, 2019 at 12:56 PM

  5. Great photos, Steve. Nice work.


    November 11, 2019 at 4:11 PM

  6. A great challenge! Shooting birds in flight is not easy!


    November 11, 2019 at 5:44 PM

    • A great challenge indeed. I succeeded more on the ferry ride than I think I ever did before, in large part because the birds followed along.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 11, 2019 at 6:25 PM

  7. There’s just enough detail (the glimpse of an eye) and absence of detail (the hidden feet) in that second photo to make it even more interesting. I like the suggestion of a rocket-like vertical takeoff, and the nice vertical/horizontal lines created by the body and wings.

    As for the first photo, the expression on the bird’s face is priceless. Especially on that ferry, gulls have developed their ability to evaluate the likelihood of a given passenger tossing food to a high art, and you captured that aspect of them beautifully.


    November 12, 2019 at 7:53 AM

    • It never even occurred to me to think of the second gull as zooming upward, no matter how much the picture’s orientation supports that. My knowledge (and maybe even muscle memory) that the bird was overhead and flying horizontally blocks the other interpretation. You’re free to see vertical where I’m not.

      Like you, I can imagine the first gull checking me out to see if I’m likely to offer food. I wonder what a camera with a long lens looked like to it. I didn’t notice anyone on the ferry feeding the birds, but I guess that happens.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 12, 2019 at 8:38 AM

      • Gull feeding’s so common in the summer tourist season that the ferry captain usually broadcasts an order that anyone wishing to toss bread do so from the boat’s stern, thank you very much. Otherwise, the risk of the birds tossing their own sort of gift to the people below is pretty high.


        November 12, 2019 at 8:41 AM

        • Now that you mention it, I do remember that announcement, though I still didn’t notice anyone taking the captain up on it. You’re sure right about the reason for the stern admonition to do so in the stern.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 12, 2019 at 8:47 AM

  8. Both are very nice images, Steve. While I like the contrast of the gull with the blue sky in the second with its good detail, I find the first image with the clouds to be more a hint of what it might be like to fly. Also being able to look the gull in the eye is nice too.

    Steve Gingold

    November 14, 2019 at 3:11 AM

    • Interesting: I’d never thought about the first picture as conveying a sense of what it feels like to fly. In contrast, I had thought about the contrast of the gull with the clear sky in the second picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 14, 2019 at 6:44 AM

  9. […] of the birds that followed the Galveston-Bolivar ferry on October 7th were either gulls—two of which you saw a few posts back—or brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), which you’re seeing […]

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