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How and where to take great bird pictures.
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TOPIC: Photographing Shorebirds

Photographing Shorebirds 1 year 10 months ago #786

  • Gunther Frensch
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Living close to the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary and with the return of the Shorebirds, I thought I would give Shorebird photography a go. In my several attempts I have taken close to 1000 photos and have deleted most of them. Certainly none are of the standard that I would accept let alone submit to this this fantastic web site (BLP). The sharpness is not just there. I get close but just miss the clarity I am looking for and get with the birds I photograph in the bush. I have thoroughly tested my lens with the new camera and its OK. The only thing I can put it down too is water evaporation of wading birds, which the eye can't detect but does upset the focus, but I am not 100% sure. I have added a photo of a Curlew Sniper I took this four days ago as an example. This was the best of the lot for focus and yet if you look at the legs, it's not right. I would appreciate some help from those who submit such beautiful and clear, well focused pictures of shorebirds, so I can improve my photography, particularly in relation to taking shorebird photos.
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Photographing Shorebirds 1 year 10 months ago #789

  • Les Peters
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Hi Gunther,

I've often found that if you photograph in the middle of the day, you can take 5 images and they will all have different clarity. The disturbance of the air ( "heat waves") can leave one picture perfect and the rest looking poor. In the case of your image, which is a very nice composition, this doesn't seem to be the problem. You literally do get a wave of distortion running through the image in most cases when this is happening, and not in just the one spot. The ripples across the picture are clean., the leg is not.. So what might the problem? If you let us know your camera settings, this would be easier to suggest. At a guess, I would put it down to your shutter speed.

I've had pictures taken at 1,600th of a second which weren't too clear despite the camera panning with the action. Often small amounts a motion can be hidden with sharpening after the event, but here, in the case of the bird's leg, I don't think you will find it very effective. The most extreme parts of the bird (wing tips and legs) are where this is usually seen. I take a lot of images of small bush birds, and the advantage with them is that you can get away with a low ISO, which gives you great colour and contrast; and a very slow shutter speed - say a 60th of a second. It's because the birds often stay still while they listen and look. Shore birds aren't into this sort of thing nearly as much. They are generally moving about or are asleep.

The first thing I do when I come to a place is check what light I have and then decide what I'm going to do about it. If the scene is variable, I won't consider shooting manually. This includes BIFs. My camera is a dam sight better at picking exposures than i am when you are panning across a variety of backgrounds. Having said that, I use either aperture or shutter speed priority. For most things, I find an aperture of 6.3 suits my purposes. The background is nicely blown, but I have a pretty decent depth of field. If it's BIF's or fast moving small birds, I want the shutter speed to nail the image and I crank it up.

My suggestion for you here is choose a high shutter speed and let the camera choose the aperture and ISO. The take a lot more pictures than you think you might need. If you choose to be up sun rather than shooting into it, you may find the lighting a little kinder.
Early in the day you'll find the birds are keen to get a feed and will tolerate you far better than later in the day than when they are full. The light is better then too.

Just some thoughts about you picture. I hope they are a at least little useful. You have a great eye for composition and I'm sure you'll soon find yourself taking great shorebird shots.

Cheers,
les

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Photographing Shorebirds 1 year 10 months ago #791

  • Gunther Frensch
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Thanks Les for your comments. I will take them on board. The photo was taken at 1/640th second f/5.6, ISO100 at 400mm (600mm on my crop sensor camera). Seeing I had plenty of ISO to play with I could have increased both shutter speed and aperture to have a better success rate. I will do that in the future. For information, I use manual mode with auto ISO. I have tried both shutter priority and aperture priority and manual mode works the best for me as I often change Aperture or Shutter speed depending on the circumstances and using manual mode gives me instant control over both of them.

With regards to lighting, unfortunately in this instance I only had the opportunity to go in the middle of the day and shoot partially towards the sun. I will avoid that in future and aim to get to this area of Thompson's Beach early in the morning and try to keep the sun to my back as much as possible. I use a bird hide and can get quite close at times so I am hoping that using your advice I will hopefully get a higher percentage of keepers at my next outing photographing shorebirds.

Thanks again your comments, they are appreciated.

Regards
Gunther

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Photographing Shorebirds 1 year 10 months ago #792

  • Les Peters
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Glad the comments were helpul.

One thing I didn't mention, but which I use all the time, is bracketing. Most cameras will do this automatically using a specific camera setting. I like to bracket using either one third or seven tenths of a stop. The camera then shoots in threes. Usually one of the three looks really good and the others get erased..

As you would know, the erase button is a photographer's best friend. :-)
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Photographing Shorebirds 1 year 10 months ago #794

  • Glenn Pure
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Hi Gunther - nice to see you are trying some shorebirds and have a great place to do it - think of me stuck in land-locked Canberra! Les has given you some good tips but at risk of complicating matters, there may other things worth looking into... especially if you continue to have problems after trying his suggestions:

1. I think you are using an 80-400 lens. I don't know what the quality of the optics are like but if there are any weaknesses, that will show up more clearly on a crop sensor (APS-C) camera due to the smaller pixel size and the greater demands that will place on the optics.
2. You indicate you've tested your lens on your camera but without knowing how you've done the testing, problems could still be there. For example, and it's hard to be too certain, but the image looks a bit like the focus point might actually be a little behind the bird? Without the original image file and the ability to zoom it, it's hard to say but you should be able to look for this. You can test your lens for this too. There are a few websites that explain the setup you'll need but basically, it consists of a focus target with a good contrasting pattern and a distance scale running in front of and behind the focus target. By checking the photos taken with focus locked on the target, it's possible to see if the camera is front or back focusing. Many cameras have an auto-focus micro adjust that will enable you to set corrections for any front or back focus but I don' t know if yours does. If you'd like more details on how to do this testing, please reply and I'll create a separate, more detailed response.
3. You may find that stopping down your lens to f8 or even smaller apertures may help. I notice an improvement with my Canon 100-400 zoom at 400mm. A smaller aperture (larger f number) will also increase your depth of field a little and help mask any front of back focusing too.
4. Your image looks like it may have been sharpened: there appears to be a halo around the back of the bird that is often characteristic of sharpening using an unsharp mask. It may be more difficult to diagnose an image if it has been sharpened a fair bit as it is more difficult, for example, to look for front or rear focusing. It's also not clear how much of a crop of the original image you have done. Unless optics are exceptional, extreme crops can often look soft. If you have done little cropping though, then there is clearly a more significant issue to look into.

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Photographing Shorebirds 1 year 9 months ago #800

  • Les Peters
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Hi Gunther,

If you want to check how accurately your camera is focusing, I've a "Lensalign" device that you can borrow to check this. I expect to be up around Thompsons Beach sometime in the next week or two, if you are interested. I could show it to you then and we can see if it looks worthwhile. Your call...

Cheers,
les.

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