Photographer Captures Cormorant Trying To Swallow Huge Fish

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Maryland-based wildlife photographer Joe Subolefsky snapped a photo he says captures the daily struggle between predator and prey: It’s of a cormorant trying to swallow a fish that seemed almost too big to be his meal.

The photograph was taken at Conowingo Dam in Darlington, Maryland, just below Pennsylvania. The big draw to this bird photography hotspot is the abundance of bald eagles in the fall.

Double-crested cormorants are common birds that bird watchers and photographers often overlook – cormorants and the region’s gull species are “supporting actors” in the show headlined by bald eagles.

“I live five minutes from the Conowingo Dam and nestled between the main workshops of Chas Glatzer (Shoot The Light), I often have the privilege of spending quality time at Fisherman’s Park just below the dam,” says Subolefsky . “Typically I leave the dam around 10:00 a.m. when the light gets harsh and the bald eagle action subsides. On November 9, 2020, the eagles were particularly active and performing acrobatic feats that I couldn’t get over remove.

“Around noon, I moved my eyes to a minor ruckus just to my left, near the face of the dam. I noticed a cormorant struggling with a fish that seemed too big to conquer. As the cormorant moved leaning and maneuvering the fish, I walked parallel to the fight to maximize my chances of getting the best composition.

To get good bird action shots, you need to set up in the right spot and be proactive to get the shot you imagine in your head as it happens in real time. This is achieved by observing the birds outdoors, which will result in the prediction of the behavior of the bird and the course of the event.

“I knew before I took the picture that I wanted to capture the tail splash of the fish as the cormorant blasted the fish up and into its mouth,” says Subolefsky. “I also wanted to increase my chances of getting a nice shot of the bird’s chest wake. I got lucky that day and smiled as I watched the scene unfold in my viewfinder, just as I had imagined.

Subolefsky used a Canon R5 with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens to capture this moment.

This action was happening much closer than the bald eagles, so the bird photographer wanted to get more depth of field. So he stopped his wide-open lens at f/6.3. The shutter speed was maxed out at 1/8000s to freeze the water droplets coming off the tail, adding the defining moment to the fight.

Joe Subolefsky’s work graced the cover of Unlimited ducks, Audubon, Cornell University bird biology textbooks, and more. A lifelong outdoor enthusiast, he strives for technical perfection behind the lens, allowing his photos to not only capture the beauty of nature, but to tell a story you can feel.

You can find more of Subolefsky’s work on Shoot the Light, Instagram, Facebook, and Fine Art America.


how i got hit is a weekly PetaPixel feature that is released every Sunday. If you want to share the story of how one of your best or favorite photos was made, we’d love to hear from you!


About the Author: Phil Mistry is a photographer and teacher based in Atlanta, GA. He started one of the first digital camera courses in New York at the International Center of Photography in the 90s. He was director and teacher of Sony/Popular Photography magazine’s Digital Days workshops. You can reach him here.


Image credit: Photograph by Joe Subolefsky

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