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Ambassadors Programme

Ambassador

Thorsten Milse

Mar18

Photographing Peru's amazing bird colonies

By Thorsten Milse, Tuesday March 18, 2014
The massed bird colonies at Punta San Juan, Peru. Taken on a EOS-1D X with an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens at a focal length of 300mm; the exposure was 1/8sec at f/11, ISO 1600.

The massed bird colonies at Punta San Juan, Peru. Taken on a EOS-1D X with an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens at a focal length of 300mm; the exposure was 1/8sec at f/11, ISO 1600. © Thorsten Milse

Punta San Juan is a National Reserve on the Pacific Coast of Peru. Different seabirds and seals live on this peninsula. Every morning and evening about 600,000 birds roost on this deserted half-island. This is the nature spectacle that I wanted to capture with my camera.

To cross the bird colonies biologists have built a movable wooden hide. As a photographer it wasn't an easy task to walk inside a box with my 20kg photo pack and a tripod. I found myself walking like a duck over the very uneven surface towards the bird colonies. Thankfully we only needed the box to cross the colonies. Once we had reached the other side we had the most incredible view towards the bird colonies.

To be able to show the quantity of birds I prefer using a telephoto lens that will compress the perspective. To have flexibility whilst working it is good to use the Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x telephoto zoom. This lens allows for a quick transition to different frames and cut-outs without changing your position, for what [with another lens] would normally mean having to move around.

Specially after sunset the light changes into yellow, orange and red tones, which creates a magic light on the large area of the nesting colonies. You can almost compare this colour with sepia. Shortly afterwards the half-island lies in complete darkness.

To maximise the sharpness in the image you need a sturdy tripod and I also used a fluid head from Sachtler. Both pieces of equipment facilitate working in the strong wind that comes from the cold Humboldt Current.

Using a wooden hide as a disguise for walking through the bird colonies at Punta San Juan, Peru. Taken on an EOS 5D Mark III with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at a focal length of 70mm; the exposure was 1/640sec at f/22, ISO 800.

Using a wooden hide as a disguise for walking through the bird colonies at Punta San Juan, Peru. Taken on an EOS 5D Mark III with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at a focal length of 70mm; the exposure was 1/640sec at f/22, ISO 800. © Thorsten Milse