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:
- Distance from the subject – I can and sometimes will also get the same results if I do not get close enough.
- 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.
- 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.