Like most who have witness the effortless gliding of pelicans through and over the trough of waves, I am spellbound by the beauty and grace of their formation flight. I have never made a conscious effort of photographing this spectacle of nature though I have captured numerous images of these birds when by happenstance a camera is in hand. However, one thing I’ve done only once or twice in my career is photograph them from a water vantage point of view. Seeing them as a surfer would and photographing them as such has always been a goal of mine.
Of course, the times I’m swimming or surfing is usually when a camera is not on-hand. When I am swimming with a camera, to photograph surfing or another aquatic sport, it seems I seldom have an encounter with a flock of pelicans. Well a recent trip to Southern California changed things.
I have visited Southern California just three or four times. After graduating high school I drove with three buddies across country for a summer of fun and surf. Another time I was there on assignment photographing Olympic athletes at the UCLA campus. Other than that I was in transition to an overseas destination. This time, though, I would stay in the sea-side village of Carlsbad for 15 days while working on my surfboard art project. The work, while busy, did allow me to set a flexible schedule which I used to take personal photographs.
Enjoying the sunset on my first night I was amazed at the flocks of pelicans flying over the ocean, which I noticed again the next day while body surfing. It was time to swim with a camera and purposely try to photograph them from the surfer’s point of view. Not only did I want to photograph them from within the ocean but in conjunction with surfers and maybe even surfers riding a wave. Now things were getting challenging!
I was able to capture beautiful photographs from land of the pelicans juxtaposed against gorgeous sunsets with boats in the background and surfers and beach walkers in the foreground. However after several swim outs at surf breaks with out much luck, except for some beautiful surfing pictures, the time when it came together as I wished happened!
It was a calm morning with great light, little wind and head high surf. I swam out to the break and after a half hour of photographing just surfers and waves the first flock came by. They caught me by surprise and I missed the initial opportunity but shortly thereafter, and with eyes scanning the horizon, I caught glimpse of another flock. Now all I needed was a surfer on a wave and the birds to fly close to the surfer and for it all to happen in front of me! Not much to ask for is it?
I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story. Even though I succeeded at my attempt I now know that with more time and patience I can capture more of these moments. Maybe that’s the excuse I need to make another visit to Southern California.