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TOPIC: Photographing Black coloured birds

Photographing Black coloured birds 2 years 9 months ago #407

  • Mary Wheeler
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As I am relatively new to photography, I would appreciate some advice on what I should consider when setting my camera to photograph a substantially black coloured bird.
I have attempted to photograph a Hooded Robin and the result was a disaster. I have a a Canon 7Dmark11 and the lens is a Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS II USM with a 2x converter.
Would it be better to take the converter off so that I can have the aperture set at f/2.8 ? I am hoping to photograph a White-Winged Fairy-Wren ( nominate race) which is mostly black.
Any help would be appreciated. :

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Re: Photographing Black coloured birds 2 years 9 months ago #408

  • Les Peters
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Hi Mary,


There are a couple of things that come to mind when photographing these birds. Firstly. carefully choose the weather or time of day when looking to photograph them. White birds generally photograph best on days with even soft light. So days with lots of small light clouds around (like you see at the start of the Simpsons) makes for favorable light, as will light overcast conditions. This sort of light will make the contrast in the picture manageable, and gives good modeling (the light will give a more three dimensional look to your picture).


You will be heavily reliant on the latitude of your camera. This is jargon for how well the camera can differentiate between blacks and whites. As you push the ISO's up on your camera, it looses its ability to "see" this. My camera at it's base ISO has 14 and half stops of latitude. As I double the camera's ISO, I lose a little over one stop of latitude. With a black and white bird, you want to preserve as much of the difference as possible, so you should try and choose the lowest ISO you can. Also check what profile setting of your camera. A setting like "vivid" or "scenic" should both be avoided. Stick to "normal", or better still, "neutral". The colourful settings increase contrast and colour at the expense of detail. The subtleties of the two birds you mention will be lost in the Kodachrome look these settings give you.


The White-winged wren is an extraordinary bird to see see. Depending upon where it and you are, relative to the sun, it can be either black or the most amazing blues. turquoises and violets. Since both birds you mention are quite nosy (aren't all birds?), set yourself up sun from the tallest object in the area. With White-wings, this is usually some box scrub just four or five feet of the ground. If they are in area area, they will come to check you out if you sit down low in the scrub. Some folk will use a flash. It does scare them if it's bright. Set to less than 2 stops it will give you the colours we were talking about, without you needing to worry about where the sun is. However, I've know the wrens to disappear straight after the first flash.




With the robin, they too like to pick the highest point around to check you out. So look for somewhere where they can take a look at you and you them.




Both birds will stay around for quite a while if you have set yourself up right. If you have used a bird call, they appear to get extremely angry - usually described by photographers as "singing up a storm", or they just hop it and are gone. I find the silent set up and wait method gives you pictures of birds that are curious and not upset. I'm often surprised by how little interest such pictures get, but that's my preference. We are all different.


Please let me know if I haven't been clear enough in my explanation and I'll try to improve it.


Good luck.


P.S. Both images were taken with a D300 ( that's a 12 meg camera which is now very outdated) using a 70 to 200mm lens, from quite a long way off. Don't try to get too near or you will just lose your bird.


And one last thought, I like to use a tripod. You can often set the shot up before hand and choose your background with more care than otherwise.
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Last edit: by Rob Parker.

Re: Photographing Black coloured birds 2 years 9 months ago #409

  • Ian Wilson
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Hi Mary,
You are dealing with a problem we all face for which there is no easy solution. Lots of practice is needed so it is only the most experienced photographers who get it right first shot. The first thing you must do is shoot RAW files as they have much greater latitude than JPEGs for recovering detail in the blacks and whites if your exposure is a bit off. Then you have a choice of shooting with all manual camera settings (best practice) or using one of the semi-automatic shooting modes like Av. I strongly recommend you use M settings and that is what I will outline below.

First you set the aperture (say f/7.1) for the depth of field you require for the small birds and then the shutter speed (say 1/500 sec) which will give you a good yield of sharp frames hand-holding your gear. The ISO is used to adjust the exposure while looking at your in-camera exposure meter through the view-finder. Both the species you mention have some white parts which you can meter off using 'spot metering'. While you are composing the picture, allow the centre spot to wander over the white parts and observe the exposure meter in the view-finder. Dial the ISO up and down while looking through the view-finder with the metering spot on the white parts. The proper exposure is set when the camera exposure meter reads 0 for the white parts of the bird. This should get you very close to the ideal exposure. Review your first few shots on the camera LCD and check that there are no 'blinkies' on the white parts. If you are in the open and the light on the birds does not change much, the manual setting should not need adjustment for the rest of your shooting session.

The situation just discussed is perhaps the simplest case. Things get more tricky if the bird is all black in which case one needs to use something white in the environment to set the exposure. This can be overcast sky, white clouds, snow, bright reflections off water, items of rubbish like waste paper, even other birds with white parts. As the target bird is all black, it can be an advantage to increase the ISO a step or two to cause the black to be a little over-exposed and then adjusted to correct brightness in post-processing.

Things get even more tricky if the bird is all black and the light is changing rapidly, for example, the bird is moving from sunlight into shade. Then you will need to dial up the ISO, perhaps by a factor of 10.

Find out how to use the blinkies and in-camera histogram when reviewing your work in the field. Focus all your attention on getting the exposure of the bird correct; don't worry if the background exposure is not right, that can be fixed in post-processing.

There is much more that one could write about this subject but I hope this is enough to get you on the right track. There are also online tutorials on the subject that you may find helpful.

Good luck,
Ian


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Re: Photographing Black coloured birds 2 years 9 months ago #410

  • Glenn Pure
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Hi Mary and welcome.

Ian and Les posted while I was writing this but I'll still add my bit in case it helps...

First, perhaps you could provide more details on the camera options you were using or normally use when you have problems ('Program' mode, 'Aperture priority' mode etc; also whether you are set to spot metering or some other metering mode and the autofocus point and autofocus option). And why was the result a 'disaster': was it over-exposed, blurred, out of focus or some other problem?

Generally, if using one of the auto exposure modes, black birds are often a problem (as are white birds or any other subjects that aren't mid tone overall). The camera will be attempting to exposure for mid tones and will over-exposure if the metering point is over a black subject. The camera may also struggle to auto focus on a predominantly black area if it contains little detail, resulting in lack of or incorrect focus and a blurry image. The solution will depend on the problem you are having. At risk of pre-empting things:

If your problem is over-exposure: When the metering point is sitting on a black bird, the result will obviously be over-exposed and possibly blurred because the camera will keep the shutter open for longer (slower shutter speed) to get what it thinks is the 'correct' exposure. The simplest fix for this that I've found is to manually expose. To do this, set the camera on one of the auto modes and take a meter reading near the bird (eg, a bit of mid tone foliage sitting in similar lighting situation to the bird). Set the camera to manual exposure and use the shutter speed and aperture readings from your meter reading. I like to use aperture priority mode and typically use f8 to get some depth of field and improve sharpness (wider apertures, eg, f2.8 will give shallower depth of field and will typically reduce sharpness particularly towards the edges of the image). Taking the teleconverter off is unlikely to help and using the widest aperture (f2.8) will create the other problems I've just mentioned, although it will enable you to use a faster shutter speed. If lighting is poor, you may be forced to do this but I'd first try an increase the ISO (up to 1600 or possibly higher on your camera) if you are struggling to get a fast enough shutter speed to get a sharp photo.

If your problem is poor focus or difficulty locking focus, removing the teleconverter will help as it will increase the light reaching the camera focus sensor and enable a much better focus lock, even on a black bird. If you are still having trouble with focus lock, try setting the AF mode to 'One shot' and lock the focus on an area of the bird where there is more contrast (a good choice is often the bird's eye or any other part that needs to be primarily in focus). Keep the shutter button half depressed to maintain the focus lock while quickly recomposing and taking the photo.

If this is too technical or not clear, please respond so I, Les, Ian or someone else can explain this better.

Cheers
Glenn

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Re: Photographing Black coloured birds 2 years 9 months ago #413

  • Les Peters
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I hope l our comments have been of use to you.. You might like to put one of your pictures up on the site that shows how the problem typically looks. Then we should get a clearer idea of what problem it is you are facing, and give you a more exact idea of how best to solve it. As it is, each of us has answered your question after making some assumptions about what might be happening. We might all be right or all be wrong. This could be interesting to see. :-)

There was one last camera feature that may help you a little which I didn't think to mention. Try bracketing your shots. This usually means you set the camera to shoot in lots of three or five exposures. How many is up to you. You set the camera up to shoot automatically with the exposure being set with either a third or seven tens of a stop different. You can go to a full stop if the light is that bad, but I can't recall that ever being necessary myself.

If you subject is sitting reasonably still, you'll get the chance to fine tune your exposure "on site", which often helps a lot. Once again, good luck.

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Photographing Black coloured birds 2 years 9 months ago #424

  • Gunther Frensch
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Mary, thanks for raising this subject. its something that has bugged me for some time. My photos of birds with black around the eyes and all white birds have never looked right. The comments from Les, Glenn and Ian are great and something I will try to put in practice on my next outing. Les, Glenn and Ian, I am amazed at the quality of your photos and its something I will strive for. I have only become serious about bird photography, just over two years ago and I am sure that information gathered from this site and people like yourselves will help us beginners.

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