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Pelicans with personality: the story behind Andy Rouse’s low-angle portraits

Andy Rouse went to Lake Kerkini in Northern Greece to take this stunning set of photographs of Dalmatian pelicans. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. © Andy Rouse

Raising awareness of environmental issues by getting audiences to connect with animals and their habitats isn’t easy, especially in an oversaturated image market. Andy Rouse, one of the world’s leading wildlife photographers and a Canon Ambassador, found a fresh way to draw attention to the endangered Dalmatian pelican.


Nevertheless, on a shoot at Northern Greece's Lake Kerkini – one of the 10 Wetlands of International Importance in the country – the British photographer came up with a way to attract and hold the viewer’s gaze on the impressive white water birds. By leaning over the side of his boat and photographing the birds at eye level, he created a stunning series of portraits that are full of personality.

Christian Ziegler’s

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"When taking portraits, you capture the personality of your subjects, and that's what I think I did with these guys," Andy says. He saw that the pelicans had a lot of character in their appearance, and that some of them even looked like celebrities. "There's all kinds of [famous lookalikes] in there."

Andy used both his Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and Canon EOS 5D Mark IV to take these shots. "I use the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II for very demanding shooting situations, such as low light, high ISO or action shoots where I need a high buffer," Andy explains.

When leaning out of his boat on Lake Kerkini, he used his EOS 5D Mark IV. "I find it easier to lean with because it’s so light," he says, "and the camera has such a tremendous dynamic range that I get good details from shadow to highlight, even during sunset and sunrise. So it's also about the file quality."

Andy composed his images using Live View on the camera’s LCD screen. He made use of the Exposure Simulation feature in the bottom-right corner of the screen, which remains white as long as the image shown on the screen is close to what the final image will look like. In very bright or dark conditions, the Exp.SIM icon flashes to warn you that you should judge your exposure from the histogram, rather than the screen.

I try to capture their personality in a way that makes it engaging to somebody who doesn’t like birds!

Andy shares many of his wildlife shots with his 10,600+ followers on Instagram, where he goes by the name @wildmanrouse. He hopes that by creating these eye-catching shots, people will become more aware of the rapidly declining population of Dalmatian pelicans. "My trick is to try to capture their personality in a unique way that makes it engaging to somebody who doesn’t like birds! I want to make that person engage with the picture when they see it, and to think, 'I like that. Let me find out more about it.' At that point, as a photographer, you've done everything you can for conservation."

Andy Rouse’s top wildlife tips

Andy shares his top tips for photographing moving wildlife.

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Andy relies on the AI Servo autofocus to track the movements of the birds. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens. © Andy Rouse
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Canon Ambassador Andy wanted to capture the birds' human-like expressions to help viewers empathise with them. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. © Andy Rouse

1. Track your subject

"Use the AI Servo autofocus mode to track the movement of animals and to ensure that they remain in focus. I never take the camera off AI Servo, because my business is built on having absolutely razor-sharp images. If you're not on tracking mode, then you can't do that."

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Andy Rouse captured a Dalmatian Pelican landing on Lake Kerkini. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. © Andy Rouse

2. Tune your AF settings

"I have my AF presets set on case 4, then I’ll tune the settings myself, if necessary. When I need the camera to be a bit more sensitive to something that's flying quickly, I'll increase the ISO. If I need it to be less sensitive – if a bird is flying between trees, let’s say – then I will take the ISO down."

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The birds flaunt their silvery-white breeding plumage in hope of finding a mate. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens. © Andy Rouse

3. Be ready for action

"With pelicans, you need to be shooting fast, because you never know what they're going to do. They can rear up or instigate a fight, so I keep the seven frames per second drive on my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV ready to go."

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By changing his camera’s perspective Rouse creates another striking image. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. © Andy Rouse

4. Change your perspective

"Unless you go super low, a pelican on the water is always going to have the water as its background. You get more context by shooting from a low angle and using a wide-angle lens, so you can get the mountains in the background into the shot. I used the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens for most of my low-angle pelican shots."

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Rouse slowed his shutter speed while photographing this group of Dalmatian pelicans. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. © Andy Rouse

5. Go slow

"Try to lower your shutter speed to create some atmosphere with motion blur. For a motion blur picture to be successful, you've got to have a recognisable subject. You've got to have the focus point right, and the pelican has got to be doing something interesting. And all of those things have got to come together, which is much more difficult than taking a regular shot of a pelican sitting on the water – but that’s why I find it so rewarding."

Автор Kathrine Anker


Andy Rouse’s kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

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Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM

Offering an ultra wide-angle view with minimal distortion at all focal lengths, this zoom also features UD and Super UD lens elements and large ground aspherical elements for outstanding optical performance. Ring-type USM enables you to focus quickly and in near silence, with a manual override option, too.

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