Winter Waterfowl Assignment Winner Carla DeDominicis

Photo by Carla DeDominicis

Photo by Carla DeDominicis

Congratulations to Carla DeDominicis for winning the Winter Waterfowl Assignment!

The Kushiro-shitsugen National Park on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan, where this image was captured, is haunted by hordes of photographers from all countries. We stand side-by-each, elbow-to-elbow with our 500 to 600mm lens scoped on the Red Crowned Cranes that reside there, waiting for them to delight us with their duets and courtship dances. When a new pair arrives in flight, the shout of “incoming” is heard in the world’s languages, followed by shutter clicks in mass synchronization.

In winter, docents offer daily feedings of the cranes that they have brought back from the edge of extinction. Those feedings draw all manner of wild freeloaders looking for a handout—deer, black birds, kites, river eagles and flocks of Japanese Whopper Swans.

Lucky me! I had the fortune of participating in a January photo workshop there.

The outstretched top of birds’ wing feathers that are so aerodynamic and give them their ease of flight, and their beaked faces, are what make them so fascinating to me. Earthbound with my camera, it’s a challenge to capture both in a single shot.

As it happens, the Japanese Whooper Swans make a variety of head bobs, pirouettes and wing flaps to influence others to take flight with it. When this solitary swan took to that behavior and made a turn on the white snow while showing both its yellow and black beak, and the back of its spread white wings, I instantly got that goose-bumpy feeling that I suspect anyone reading has experienced in that moment when we capture a winner.

I find that shooting birds takes lots of practice. I often head out to the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Safari to warm up. With my camera on a tripod, I keep my left hand lightly on the top of the lens with my index finger always pointing at the bird. The pointing seems to help me keep the moving bird in the frame.

Equipment & Settings: Nikon D800 with 500mm f/4.0 Nikkor lens. ISO 250, 1/1000 sec. at f/7.1. Postprocessing from RAW involved a bit of cropping, a boost of highlights and white, and a light neutral density filter to fade the top of the image.

For more of Carla DeDominicis’s work, see