How to Photograph Dalmatian Pelicans
The Dalmatian pelican comprises the largest member of the pelican family and is among the largest flying bird species on the planet. With its grand stature, vast wingspan and vivid-coloured bill, this freshwater bird is a magnificent subject for wildlife photography.
For those interested in capturing Dalmatian pelicans, this guide provides helpful tips, tricks, and inspiration to achieve creative results.
Where to find Dalmatian pelicans
Dalmatian pelicans inhabit low-lying wetland areas and sheltered water bodies, such as lakes, rivers, deltas, and estuaries.
Nesting colonies are located across different countries in Europe, particularly in the Danube Delta and close to the Black Sea.
Several destinations to witness breeding colonies also include Srebarna Lake in Bulgaria, Lake Kerkini in Greece, and Prespa Lake in North Macedonia.
While sightings are rare in the United Kingdom, Dalmatian pelicans have also been spotted in parts of Cornwall, Devon, and the wetlands of Norfolk.
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When to photograph Dalmatian pelicans
Understanding the natural history and behaviours of Dalmatian pelicans is crucial to capturing them on camera.
Photographers seeking to portray the elegance of the birds are most likely to be successful during the winter breeding season when pelican morphology and behaviourisms change.
Throughout this time, the lower mandible and pouch of the pelicans turn orange-red, while their plumage becomes silver-grey.
In addition, the behaviours of the birds are different than usual, with frequent vocalizations and courtship displays, which allow for unique interaction shots.
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Experiment with light
One of the most powerful ways to portray Dalmatian pelicans is by using light. Different lighting situations can highlight distinct details of the birds, as well as their surroundings.
In particular, shooting in the early mornings and late evenings can produce utterly different atmospheres and results.
For example, photographing during magic hour and blue hour is effective in establishing a dramatic and vivid ambience.
Meanwhile, rainy days with low-hanging clouds create mysterious contrasts between the silver feathers of the birds and the dark blue backdrop.
To best accentuate the pelicans themselves, backlighting can be employed to highlight the birds’ plumage, while front light can bring attention to their colours.
Direct sunlight is ideal to emphasize reflections of the birds in the water for picturesque symmetries, while diffused light can create pastel-coloured portraits of individuals.
Read more: How to Harness Light in Bird Photography
Interactions between Dalmatian pelicans are an effective way to portray the natural behaviours of the birds.
Besides telling a story, capturing the relationship between individuals can anthropomorphize the subjects, thus making them more relatable for the audience.
Especially during the breeding season, behaviours between individuals can be both amicable and hostile. Bickering and pecking form part of the courtship ritual that Dalmatian pelicans engage in to find a mate.
On the other hand, barking, hissing, grunting, and beak-jabbing at opponents comprise behaviours that serve to protect nests and breeding territories.
Especially during the winter, birds have frequently been observed bickering over fish, which they tactfully acquire from fishermen at the lake. This encompasses an intriguing and relatable scene, which can easily be captured on camera.
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Freeze the action
Photographing Dalmatian pelicans in action can produce some of the most unique images. The best way to do this is to capture the birds from a boat, as most of their activities take place on the water.
Several actions to look out for include feather preening, bill stretching, and wing flapping.
The most interesting scenarios to photograph Dalmatian pelicans encompass their hunting activities and water landings.
While hunting, the birds dive into the water at great speeds to capture their prey. When they scoop up a fish in their beak, they first drain the water from their pouch before swallowing their catch.
During water landings, the pelicans stretch out their webbed feet and spread their wings, before touching down and gracefully gliding across the water.
An important aspect to note when photographing pelicans in flight is their velocity and agility. Therefore, increasing shutter speed, shooting in continuous drive mode, and nailing focus are key factors to consider in terms of camera settings.
Also, consider their speed when choosing the camera or lenses you will bring to photograph them.
Read more: 4 Essential Tips for Photographing Birds in Flight
Discover the details
Portraying Dalmatian pelicans in detail can make for unique and abstract images. Photographing close-ups of their webbed feet, silver feathers, light-blue eyes, or orange pouch adds tangibility and texture.
It also reveals information that otherwise remains unseen from the distance. Moreover, it provides audiences with a deeper understanding of the birds and may incite a greater fascination for the species.
The most effective way to achieve detailed shots of Dalmatian pelicans is to either shoot on land or use a long lens. By using a wide aperture setting, essential elements can be highlighted, while unnecessary distractions are blended out.
Lastly, the correct focus settings play a key role in detail shots. Hence, a single-point focus allows the photographer to accentuate minute features and effectively guide the eye of the viewer.
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Keep an eye out for patterns
Pelicans are gregarious and nest colonially. Besides being interesting to observe, this natural behaviour simultaneously provides a great opportunity to photograph patterns and regularities within pelican colonies.
Patterns can grab the attention of the audience by adding interest and intrigue to the image.
Apart from large pelican colonies, patterns can also be achieved by following the rule of threes or integrating repeating colours into the shot.
Ultimately, this composition tool serves to manifest the human preference for order and integrate more harmony into the shot. And this subject in particular can provide an excellent testing ground for these ‘rules’ of composition.
Don’t ever be afraid to stray from the norm, however, as sometimes, breaking these guidelines can help create a more unique, stand-out image!
Read more: Composition in Wildlife Photography: Getting Creative
Encountering Dalmatian pelicans in the wild is both an awe-inspiring and breathtaking experience.
The sheer size of these iconic birds, their unique colouring, and their interactions are a thrill to observe for both wildlife photographers and laymen alike.
There are numerous photography possibilities when it comes to these creatures. These allow us as photographers opportunities to experiment and produce some unique and creative images of a fascinating species.
Dalmatian pelicans are also currently classified as ‘Near Threatened’ on the IUCN Red List, and despite their iconic status, are deemed vulnerable across the span of their geographic range.
So, generating images of this stunning bird can only help to encourage conservation efforts, and ensure their protection for future generations to enjoy!