Archive for November, 2012

Questions about this image

November 28th, 2012

Recently, a friend of mine Derek sent me this image he captured out near Broken Hill NSW and asked what I think is the problem with it. I was given full permission to post his images here for the purposes of this blog post. I took a look and could conclude this:








It looks like he’s not included some EXIF such as subject distance. It appears that settings are fine for the focal length used, that is 1/2000th for an 840mm outfit with a 1D4 should still give more than enough freeze the frame ability (due to the sensor crop factor of 1.3x). I can immediately think of a couple of things:

1)      If it’s full frame, and even then, you were just too far to get a sharp enough photo with enough detal. Zooming into 100% view (Photoshop shortcut = CTRL+1) shows shimmering or a kind of haze.

2)      That shimmering, or lack of definition is probably a better description of the view, is perhaps caused by:

  1. Distance from the subject – I can and sometimes will also get the same results if I do not get close enough.
  2. Some heat already lifting off the tarred surface causing the mild haze. Especially if there was a lot of heat the previous day and the night was warm, then the road surface may still be radiating some heat upwards and warming up quickly, despite being just around 07:00.
  3. Lack of proper window support, I am assuming he had used a bean bag or something to hold the rig steady on the window sill. Even at that fast shutter speed a tiny bit of shake at the wrong time will give disastrous results.


So to answer Derek’s query, here are a couple of thoughts and you should take note if you want to improve your photography!


1)      Always try to get as close to the bird as possible. This is particularly true when there is heat lifting off road surfaces, but in my experience the closer I can get the better detail I can retain in each and every image each and every time. This also supports my argument for getting as close as possible and not be sloppy or lazy because of the large number of megapixels and go shooting with the attitude that “I can just crop lots later since I have umpteen megapixels”. That’s the attitude of many photographers ( I know Derek’s not like that and he strives to improve and does some great photography) that I’ve come across and it does nothing for photographic skills development. If I shoot from a distance, I can also often get some hazy look to my shots, such as this shot here, and that is despite using good long-lens technique and support. It is easy to say to get close, but it’s not always possible, so go to point two. This is also the case with using a 2x converter or stacked converters. The number of times I’ve heard (apparently) competent photographers talk about not being able to take sharp images with a 2x is ridiculous. Most good quality lenses, when matched with good quality teleconverters (not cheap third-party ones) should be able to get you GOOD results. Period. You will not get the same blazing image quality as with a 1.4x teleconverter or bare super telephoto lens, but you WILL get good images. It’s about matching the glass (eg. Canon with Canon) and using good, solid technique and getting close to the subject.

2)      Get close. It’s not that easy, but it is not impossible. I’ve attached two images of how large the bird would’ve been had I have had the opportunity Derek were blessed with here. There are ways to slow your approach and closely scrutinizing the bird as you slowly creep upon it (even in a car, which makes an awesome mobile hide) observe the bird’s behaviour and how it is perceiving you; the possible threat. If you see any inclination of the bird about to flee, stop, relax and let it settle, then once you see it resume normal duties, slowly creep up again. It is a very frustrating task and can still end in failure many times, but I’d rather try to get close (see point 1 above) than shoot from far away and hope the image will hold up. Of course, it’s always good to get an insurance shot in case I cannot take more as I get closer. As you approach and shoot away, the bird will also get used to the sound of your camera’s shutter, so it will not suddenly spook when you let the frames rip up close. That’s happened to me as well, don’t you worry! It’s all a lifelong learning experience for anyone interested in learning to become a GOOD photographer! Getting close will reduce the distance and you should be able to minimize or eliminate the haze at this time too! So getting close is vital in my opinion.


















3)       See the extra images that I cropped? The vertical crop is approximately 15% of your image since the original is 4,896 x 3,264 pixels. If that were the full frame image in the vertical crop I suggested, I think the detail would be more than sufficient! When you look at my horizontal crop presentation, that is 25% of your full frame image. Thinking of the fact that magnification increase is in fact a function of the square of the focal length used (see explanation in point 4), going the other way your distance should’ve been half of what it was to obtain the bird at that size in the full frame shot if it were my horizontal crop (2,436 x 1,624 pixels).

4) Let’s say you photographed a bird and the full frame of your image taken with a 300mm lens is 3,000 x 2,000 pixels, giving you 6,000,000 pixels in total, or 6 megapixels. If you think about getting the bird bigger, that is using a longer lens, then this is what actually happens. Say you put a 2x converter on and get a 600mm lens. Since you’ve doubled the focal length, you will halve the image length AND height as well, meaning you really have one quarter of your frame size when taken with 300mm; get it? So really, you don’t double your subject size with doubling the focal length, you’re quadrupling it.  Do the maths. An image with 3000 x 2,000 pixels is 6,000,000 pixels. Now if you halve the frame size on both long and short sides by doubling the focal length, you get an image area of 1,500 x 1,000 pixels, or 1,500,000 pixels, exactly one quarter of 6,000,000 pixels.

Hope that answers some questions and offers some suggestions for future photographic opportunities.

Nature Photography

Photography workshop a success

November 26th, 2012

A few months back I was contacted by Keith Brandwood of the Cumberland Bird Observers Club whether I would be willing to offer my time and give a complimentary bird photography workshop for interested club members. I jumped at the chance since I love sharing my knowledge with fellow enthusiasts and it also helps me learn along the way. The date was set for November 24, 2012 at one of the member’s properties in the gorgeous northern suburb of Dural. John, the owner, lives on five acres that he landscaped to attract Aussie native birds. His gardens are magnificent and offer food and shelter for so many species that it is hard to keep tab on them all. Needless to say, that after yesterday he added a new species to his list of 109 seen, bringing the total to 110 species. Not bad for a Sydney “suburban” garden.

John has some feeding stations set-up and he also has strategically placed bird baths, which the birds just LOVE! At 06:00 the group was gathered and after a quick introduction we broke them into smaller groups of five to go along so that birds don’t get as spooked by the sheer number of people around. I did suggest that they may be somewhat more flighty, so be careful, talk softly and don’t wave arms around.

I was so pleased to see so many enthusiastic photographers! They were off shooting in different parts of John’s garden and I tried to spend as much time as possible talking with the folks, discussing processing methods, in field techniques and so on, that before I knew it was 08:30, time for morning tea and I barely took one photo. Of course, that is also because a couple of club members kidnapped my outfit and fell in love with it.


During and after morning tea, most of us stayed around the garden patch immediately near the house as it is here where John has put in a rocky feature with a small pond, bath that uses recirculating water and has a nice low tree with pretty branches right above it, making for nice landing perches. The action was fierce at the main feeder with Red-browed Finches and Crimson Rosellas eating harmoniously, soon joined by Galahs and Brown Cuckoo Doves.


People were laying low on the grass – getting to the best perspective for the birds on the ground level – and were shooting frenziedly. We hope to see many photos in the coming days to be able to judge a mini comp we ran. Best photo of the day by a club member and a visitor. I bet it will be a hard one to judge as so many passionate snappers were actively clicking away.


















After all the participants left, I stayed a while to enjoy the water feature and managed to get some very nice photos as well.

Below the photos is a list of the tips I gave to the members and visitors who turned up. The list is not exhaustive, but it covers some basic points that all photographers wanting to become more skilled at bird photography should consider.


–          Read your camera manual and learn the basic controls; i.e. how to change shooting modes, apertures and shutter speeds for a start.

–          Understand some basics about how exposure works and how the ISO, shutter speed and aperture combinations can be used to your advantage.

–          Shoot RAW files and be ready to spend a little time in post processing to optimize your images. (Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom or Elements (Aperture for Apple people) are all good programs to use)

–          Learn to read the histogram. This is important to get the best image quality in all situations.

–          Learn about your subject(s). Nothing can get you better shots than understanding bird behaviour. E.g. if you watch a perched bird and see it defecate, there is a very good chance that it will fly off shortly after relieving itself and you may get a take-off shot (easier said than done).

–          Get eye level with the bird if possible. Nothing is less appealing than looking down at one from a human perspective, or seeing its bum high in a tree.

–          Use a fast shutter speed to freeze motion. This means you may need to shoot a higher ISO value to get a fast shutter speed. Learn to expose digital files to minimize noise.

–          Aim to get the eye sharp! At least the eye. Even if most other parts of the bird are slightly softer, a sharp eye will make for an overall aesthetically pleasing image than a sharp bird with a soft eye.

–          When photographing flying birds, try to capture them flying towards you, not after they just passed you or have long passed you.

–          Leave a little more space in front of a bird than behind it when in flight. You need space for it to “fly into”.

–          Try to keep yourself between the bird and the sun. In most instances this gives you the best light angle.

–          Avoid photographing white birds in the middle of a sunny day.

–          Overcast conditions give nice flat lighting all day without harsh contrast. These conditions are perfect for shooting white birds and everything else.

–          Most importantly, shoot lots and often – it is the best way to build confidence and experience to make sure you can capitalize on the opportunities during your outings.

–          Have lots of fun along the way, this is probably THE best advice!




Nature Photography