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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"Sno' Birds" photo tips

Black-capped Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch, cropped for close-up

Hi, it's me!


Yesterday's snowstorm gave me an opportunity to stand out near the feeder and photograph birds as them came in. Here are some images I took with my Canon 1D Mark II camera with a Canon 300mm IS lens with a 1.4 teleconverter (which gives me the equivalent of a 420 mm lens.)

Some tips for photographing the birds in a snow storm:

1. Protect your camera. I put a plastic bag over the camera with a hole for the lens to peek out. I left the bag open in the back so I could look through the view finder on the camera.

2. Stand quietly, move slowly, do not make any quick movements or birds will startle and fly away. Only get as close as the birds are comfortable with. They will go about feeding if they're comfortable. Sometimes they will tolerate you moving closer if you patiently inch forward, pausing each time to let them become accustomed to you. You do not want to interfere with their feeding, a necessity for their survival in this harsh weather. If you have a photo blind, even better.

3. Use a higher ISO on your camera (read your manual, if you have to). Since there is a lower light level during a storm, setting your camera at a higher ISO will compensate for that. I used an ISO setting of 400.

4. Set your camera on AV priority (aperture priority.) This allows you to set the aperture, or F-stop, and your camera will adjust the shutter speed automatically to make the best photo. Set the aperture on the widest opening you can, given your camera and lens combo. In my case above, it would be 5.6. Ironically the lower the number (such as 4.0, 4.5, 5.6,) the wider the aperture opening. A wider aperture lets in more light and allows you to attain a faster shutter speed. The faster the shutter speed, the more you will "freeze" fast moving birds. The photo will be less blurry, hence sharper. Using a wide aperature also gives you a more shallow depth of field, desirable in bird photography. The bird will be in focus and the background will be soft and blurred.

The real fun is just being out with the birds, seeing their beauty, listening to their calls. The bonus is the beautiful photos that capture the moment. The last photo is of the "Phoebe," our Pembroke Welsh Corgi, whose namesake is Phoebe the bird.


Lana Gramlich said...

Thanks for the tips. Makes me really want to get my Asahi Pentax fixed again. Although my new digicam is nice, I don't have control over the aperture size, shutter speed, etc. (not to mention all the wonderful lenses I have for the Pentax!)

Chris W said...

just a question.
Do you lose much light with a 1.4 TC?
I have a promaster lense with the same mag but I don't think the optic quality is as good as a Canon lense so I'm hesitant to use a TC with it.

Good tips BTW.

Happy Birding! --Chris W, WI
The SW WI birder

Lillian Stokes said...

Lana, yes, try your Pentax, you may be pleasantly surprised with your results.

Parus, adding a teleconverter to a lens does diminish the amount of light let in. With a 1.4 teleconverter on my 300 mm lens, I can only open the aperture to 5.6. If I remove the teleconverter, I can open the aperture to 4.0, letting in more light. Then again, the lens is more powerful with the 1.4 teleconverter (300 x 1.4 = 420 mm) and I do not have to get as close to the birds to get a photo, thereby disturbing them less. It's always a trade-off in photography. With greater power by using teleconverters, we loose light. That's why often, in those cases, you want to go to a higher ISO setting. In your case, if lens quality is an issue, it may be better not to use the teleconverter.