— Dane Creek

The Perils of Sleeping Penguins

20090117_peterman_0187

Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 70-200 2.8 IS + 1.4x extender @ 125mm. ISO 100, 1/500 sec @ f/5.6.

The above shot is from my trip to Antarctica back in January of 2009. I never planned to shoot much wildlife when I was there, and the shots I did take of penguins were halfhearted attempts just so I had a few to show people when I got back.

When we were on Petermann Island I forced myself to take a few minutes to photograph penguins. At one spot I noticed a curving glacier in the background with penguins and rocks in the foreground. I shot a few photos, and then back on the boat found the above image. I was thrilled. Between the glacier, the rocks, and the cute little penguins, I thought I had a spectacular image.

Then I showed it to Seth Resnick. His immediate comment? “Why the %(*! is that penguin sleeping?”

Sigh.

He’s right, and he taught me a valuable lesson. When you come upon an interesting composition it’s useful to just sit and wait for a while. Just because it looks nice now doesn’t mean that’s the most awesome you can capture at that location. If I had waited another 5 minutes there was a good chance the sleeping penguin would have woken up and reached his beak to the sky. Then I would have had an awesome photograph.

This doesn’t just apply to animals, by the way. If you are shooting landscapes pay close attention to the clouds. Very often a 10-15 minute wait means the difference between clouds that are just there vs. clouds that add awesome movement and energy to the image.

The lesson has stuck with me over the last year. It’s a tough one for me to apply, since my natural inclination is to “go go go” and not really stop and take in the overall scene. I’m getting better at it though!