Nikon D810

Photographing Osprey

Photographing Osprey

Photographing Osprey

Full Gas: Osprey Leaves with Trout..

I’m just back from an osprey shooting workshop in the Scottish Highlands. Photographing osprey is a new experience for me, and there are a number of differences in approach to assimilate. But first let me describe the workshop in general terms, before moving into the particulars of the photography, and telling you a secret or two about my personal journey in photography!

 

Images In Nature

My long-time shooting buddy Geoff and I had booked the Osprey Workshop with Images In Nature earlier in the year. Images in Nature, run by Lee Mott, offers small group nature photography workshops and tours. We stayed in the Osprey Hotel where we were very well looked after by proprietor Sue and her husband John. Lee is a hugely personable, experienced and knowledgeable photographer. He talked us through what to expect the night before, showing us pictures of the venue, describing the hides and, of course, discussed camera settings and the itinerary.

Itinerary and Venues

Photographing 0sprey involves an early start as you ideally need to be in-situ before sunrise. We were to meet outside the Osprey Hotel at 4:40 am and drive the 11 miles or so to the Rothiemurchus Estate in the Cairngorms National Park, Aviemore. The purpose built hides are based in the Rothiemurchus Fishery where they look over a purpose built pond, well stocked with rainbow trout, for the osprey to dive for and catch. You can book the hides at Rothiemurchus independently if you wish, and the Wild Scotland link gives you a sense of what is available. I can, however, unreservedly state that these are the best designed hides that I have shot from in the UK.

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View from the Hide..

On arrival at the fishery, we had a quick coffee and were installed within the hides by 5.30am. There are 4 hides around the fishing pool. The best hide choice depends on the prevailing wind direction because the osprey prefer to take off into the wind (as it helps with lift) and, hopefully, it also helps the photographer to be positioned to see the bird moving towards the camera rather than away from it. During our time at Rothiemurchus the conditions were very still, so we picked one of the middle hides to see what happened. The scenery is spectacular giving multiple possibilities for decent backgrounds and different shot styles. Osprey are not the only visitors to the pond, we had a visit from a field mouse, a family of mallard, rooks, kingfisher and several heron so there is always plenty going on in-between the drama of the osprey diving shots.

After the morning shoot, it was back to the hotel for a fabulous full Scottish breakfast (thank you Sue) and then back to the Rothiemurchus estate to shoot red squirrel, and more traditional garden birds, in the forest in the afternoon.

Key Technique Issues for Photographing Osprey

There are a number of issues to consider, namely, camera settings, fieldcraft and good lens technique.

Camera Settings

Ok, we are only talking Nikon here (I can’t speak for Canon shooters, but if you do shoot Canon you may find these Arthur Morris links useful – Getting the Right Exposure, Camera Settings, Tele-Extenders).

Autofocus Settings

AF-C priority selection  = release. Dynamic AF area 9 points. AF activation = AF on only. AF Point selection = 51. AF Continuous and Focus Tracking with Lock on (3-normal). Back button focus is mandatory (well not mandatory, but certainly a lot easier). It’s only fair to say that Lee disagreed with me on the Focus Tracking setting, which he prefers to be set to 1-short or off altogether. I find that I sometimes lose the focus point on the bird and then my focus snaps to the background, or something in front of the bird, before I can get it back again, losing me time and plenty of good shots. For me Focus Tracking is best left on 3-normal or even 5-long (which I use for my red kite shots). If I had Lee’s experience and skill I could probably get away with 1-short, but that’s the benefit of being a professional, you get loads more practice! Use what works for you. It goes without saying that you will be shooting above a 1/500th second so Vibration Reduction should be set to off.

Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO

As I have mentioned in my blog before, exposure is a perennial difficulty when shooting birds in flight, especially ones like osprey with an intrinsic high dynamic range against a rapidly changing background. I like to shoot manual for this, and so too on this occasion!

At 5.30am in mid-August it is pretty dark so you are dancing a very thin line in order to get useable pictures. Lee’s, very sensible, approach is to start off wide open at 1/500th second with whatever ISO gives a decent exposure. Clearly you risk subject movement at a 1/500th second but, in a way, this can paradoxically enhance a shot with an osprey taking off from the water because it gives a dynamic sense of movement and action with blurring of the wing-tips and water splashes, but still good potential for tack sharp eyes and fish. As the light improves you can increase shutter speed up towards 1/1600 and then reduce ISO to reduce noise. I tend to make 1/1000th second shutter speed my initial priority and then reduce ISO and increase shutter speed in tandem. It’s a percentage game really. Finally, if the sun comes up (it doesn’t always) you can also increase aperture from f2.8, f4.0 or f5.6 (depending on what lens/teleconvertor combination you have) up to about f7.1 for optimal depth of field. On two of the days we had mostly dull and overcast weather and I never got out of f2.8 on my 300mm Nikkor.

Avoiding blown highlights remains something of a tricky issue, and even shooting manual, you have to take account of changing contrast levels in the scene and leave more leeway as the contrast increases. So in dull flat light you can expose further to the right than you can in bright sunlight for a given exposure reading taken from an average tone in advance. As I have said before, I will often use a patch of grass, but this is not always available, and the direction that it is lit from (and how wet it is) can all give a misleading result. I don’t think there is a hard and fast answer to this. On this occasion I knew more or less where the osprey were going to dive and I used the whole scene to take my initial exposure via matrix metering, leaving 1/2 to 1/4 of the histogram width in leeway (i.e. shooting markedly to the left) according to the contrast in the scene. On other occasions I might use spot metering, it just depends on what’s around to take a reading from.

In the interest of full disclosure, we had a heron at the poolside for the majority of the shoot and this was perfect as a cross check for blown highlights. Still, heron images beats endless photos of an empty perch by a huge margin!!

Lens Choice

The Rothiemurchus setup is really excellent and the birds are fishing very close to you. I used my 300mm f2.8 on my D4 (better for me on this occasion, given the light, than the D810, at least until the sun came out!) without any teleconvertor assistance. This was perfect! In fact, I could probably have used my 70-200 f2.8. The wingspan of the osprey can be up to 6 feet so it is really easy to get clipped wings as they fly past. It may be that a 70-200mm with a 1.4x tc would be the perfect setup to begin with – but hey, I’m addicted to sharpness, so what can I say, I used the 300mm!

Fieldcraft

Osprey Re-CC. Lighter Overal.

Osprey Landing..

The Rothiemurchus Fishery setup is particularly helpful for photographing osprey because they provide an experienced gillie to spot for the photographers. The gillie watches the osprey and keeps the hides informed on what the osprey are doing via two-way radio communication. The gillie tells you when they are circling over the pond and when they are diving. These guys are all very experienced (we had 3 different gillies over the 3-morning shoot, all excellent) and they don’t waste your time getting unnecessary hopes up. They all know the osprey behaviour well and can often recognize the different birds by sight. The heron can be problematic photo-bombers if they are standing opposite the hides. The gillies would even tell us when it was safe to leave the hide to move them away. It took me a while to realise that this was an opportunity for heron flight shots (but it was 5.30 am after all!).

It’s really important that you do not track, and photograph, the osprey in flight before they dive for fish because this tends to spook them and that bird will not return that day. Luckily, during the osprey season, there are many local pairs of birds with young to feed so you do typically get quite a few opportunities. It is crucial to wait until the osprey has hit the water, then you get focus and keep it as the bird exits the water and flies away with the fish (hopefully). The osprey will be in the water for a few seconds as it has to kill the fish and then manipulate it into a carrying position before exiting. The osprey can move through 180 degrees during this process so it’s worth waiting until you get a pleasing composition in the water, rather than wasting buffer capacity taking shots of the back of the osprey’s head. Once the osprey start to exit the water things start to happen really fast. The wings are enormous and it’s very easy to underestimate how far up the frame they will travel as the bird flies off. Using the central focus point makes sense because you have the fish to worry about at the bottom of the frame and the wings at the top, plus it is the most sensitive focus point in low light.

Gimbal Head Technique

Have you ever had that experience where something you thought you understood (and worked well for you) was completely wrong? Well this happened to me on this shoot, and here’s how! On Friday 25th September 2009, Geoff and I attended our very first raptor shoot with Mark Sisson (another phenomenal wildlife shooter and author). Arguably the very starting point of my journey into wildlife photography! I was using my new gimbal head for the very first time with my 70-200mm f2.8 VRI with 1.7x teleconvertor on my D3, and was having a great deal of difficulty getting a sharp shot! This was a tad disappointing given that I was using my best kit and the raptor wasn’t even moving! Mark came over and suggested I try a few things, namely switching my gimbal head from right facing (as I had it) to left facing. The benefit of this would be that I could lean down on the gimbal with my left hand to steady the shot.

Left-Facing and Right-Facing Gimbal Positions..

Left-Facing and Right-Facing Gimbal Positions..

This worked out pretty well for me and I’ve used it ever since. I went on to learn that steadying the lens with a hand on top was also useful, and a rubber eyecup to make it more comfortable to press the camera against your eyebrow also helped long-lens technique. Mark definitely put me on the road to better long lens technique, and I’ve been getting sharp shots with very long lenses ever since. But left facing is NOT the best for me, right facing is! Thanks Lee, for pointing this out, not least because I didn’t want to hear it, and you kept going irrespective of my arrogant unwillingness to listen! Here’s the crucial thing. I’m right eyed! This means that I sight with my right eye to the viewfinder but, if the gimbal is left facing, I cannot see a lot of what is coming in from my left-hand side because my open left eye is hampered by the locking ring and upright arm of the gimbal head.

In retrospect it’s all too painfully obvious. I have frequently been reliant on colleagues calling the arrival of wildlife subject matter that I haven’t yet seen. I’ve been amazed that they spot things so quickly when I don’t, I just thought I must be slow, or old, or needing stronger glasses, but actually, there may have been a more obvious reason all along — I was blind-sided by my gimbal head!! Actually, if you think about it, right-eyed people are at a disadvantage anyway because there is more camera body to the left of the viewfinder which tends to obscure the view from the open left eye anyway, so a left facing gimbal head just makes things worse.

I think that the proof of the pudding was that I had no trouble at all sighting a (very small in the frame) kingfisher hovering over the pool, focussing and getting some sharp shots. See them below. The other clear advantage of using the gimbal head right-facing is that you have better access to the lens controls for VR-On and Off and Manual focus adjustment. I found myself more willing to adjust manual focus in the moment as it had been quite awkward with the left-facing setup.

The Images

Heron (the Vital Bit-Player)

Osprey (the Main Event)

Kingfisher (Proof I CAN Still Learn New Stuff)

The Ducks (Who Can Resist Them?)

So, in summary, I had a great time with Images in Nature and would recommend them to anyone interested in an immersive wildlife photography experience. Thanks again Lee!

Enjoy your photography,

until next time (woodland birds and red squirrel coming soon..),

R.

 

Kingfishers Fishing for Fish

Kingfishers Fishing for Fish

Nature Photography Hides Diving Workshop

Nature Photography Hides recently hosted a diving workshop for a group of 4 intrepid souls (myself included) at their new Hide and Diving Pool setup. This is so new that it’s not publicised on the website yet, but nonetheless available, and worth the trip down to Bromsgrove in the West Midlands to see Kingfishers fishing first hand, and photograph the process in detail. The set is sited down on the river bank. In the distance is a large buff coloured fence which blurs out as a background nicely. In front of the tank is a sheltered mount for the cameras, secured by four Arca Swiss style tripod heads. The sloped roof keeps the rain off, and the height of the mounts leaves the cameras in position to shoot parallel to the water surface.

Kingfishers Fishing

Diving Pool

The tank itself has a relatively shallow surface and a deeper centre portion in which the fish swim. This cuts down the area in to which the Kingfishers will dive (the rest is too shallow), which is important because of the limited depth of field. The cameras are fired by remote control from the hide itself which is in front of the setup visible here.

Just above the diving tank there is a perch holder, which is again positioned in order that the Kingfisher will dive into the tank facing backwards from the Hide. This way they turn in the tank and fly out either sideways along the length of the river, or towards the hide, for better looking shots. No one wants to see the Kingfisher’s backside as it flies away from the camera. In order to get sharp shots the cameras have to be set up in a very particular way, at their highest frame-rates. See ‘Camera Settings’ below for more information.

Camera Settings

To catch the Kingfishers fishing we need the birds to be in the correct place at the right time. You can’t alter the camera settings once you are in the hide, and you must try not to disturb the birds by going in and out of the hide too frequently. So we were using manual focus, having pre-focussed on the most likely diving spot.

Kingfishers Fishing

The Tricky Task of Focussing..

Our guide, Mick, was really helpful in making sure that we got everything right, and all came away with some excellent shots. Here Mick is holding a bar across the centre of the pool and using a handy finger knuckle placed mid tank for us to focus on (you can just see a head at a camera in the lower right hand corner). This is crucial because we were all using 70-200mm lenses at 200mm on full frame bodies. As you can see from the pictures, the Kingfishers were about 1.5m away, and this would mean a depth of field of about 2cm at f8 so there is no room for error and a certain amount of luck is still required.

F8 is about all you can afford in the dance between exposure value and ISO. To guarantee sharp shots you need a shutter speed of about 1/2500 of a second. We set auto ISO and aperture priority (i.e. to keep the camera set at f8) and a minimum shutter speed of 1/2500 s in the auto-ISO settings. We had great light and, with a 1 stop negative exposure compensation set to avoid blown highlights, the ISO ranged between a minimum of 720 and a maximum of 11,400 during the day. This said my keepers were evenly spread between ISO 800 and 7,200. No problem at all for the D4. You still need to take lots of shots however, because only some of them will be critically sharp and in frame. This depends partly on your timing, but mostly on where the Kingfisher dives and where he comes out again.

Participants were mostly shooting Nikon (1 D4s, 2x D4s and a Canon 5d MkIII). We were all using the Hahnel Giga T Pro II Wireless Timer Remote (by complete coincidence) and were able to set separate channels in order not to fire each other’s cameras. We were also able to help each other out because 3 of us hadn’t got much experience with the remote trigger, presumably purchasing them for this workshop! They worked flawlessly throughout the day though so they can be recommended as a reliable radio trigger.

Two Camera Setup

Having a perch, as well as a diving tank, gave the opportunity to shoot two cameras simultaneously (slightly tricky the first few times). This is made easier  by the remote control, but you do have to watch that the handset doesn’t time out because it defaults to single shot when you first turn it on. This can be deceptive because you do get 3 shots if you hold the button down and, with other cameras firing at the same time, it’s easy to think that you are shooting continuously when you are not. So this is me in the hide with my D810 feeling very lucky indeed (though looking like I’ve just seen an alien)!

Selfie..

Selfie..

Not the best picture of myself I’ve ever taken, but I suppose given the conditions, my old Galaxy S4 did a decent enough job with it’s microscopic sensor, lens and 8 bit jpeg files. I’d probably just realised that my shutter speed was too high!

For the perch shots, given the very short distance to the perch, from the hide, it suited me to use my 300mm f2.8 with 2x teleconverter rather than my usual 600mm f4. I have been caught out once or twice recently by the 5m minimum focus distance on the 600. The 300mm Nikkor can focus down to 2.2m, which was crucial here. I must say that even with the 2x teleconverter the results are still very sharp, but you do lose 1 stop of light (f5.6) compared to f4 with the 600. This isn’t really a problem provided you keep your brain engaged!

One of the worries, with a shoot like this, is that you will miss a crucial setting on the camera. Prior to arriving at the hotel the night before, I had set both camera bodies up for the diving shots (i.e. auto-ISO and a minimum shutter speed of 1/2,500). You don’t need that kind of speed on the perch shots, unless you want to capture an in-flight arrival or departure from the perch. It’s not that there is really a problem with auto-ISO per se, but you do need to remember to tone down the minimum shutter speed, or better still (for me anyway) move to aperture priority with a fixed ISO. I prefer to use VR on the D810 with a shutter speed close to 1/500th second for the Perch Shots. This is plenty stopping power for subject movement and camera shake, providing me the sharpest results on the high-res sensor. On the D4 my VR threshold on the 600mm is 1/160th second (I prefer 1/250th second if I’m shooting with the 1.4 teleconverter) but this doesn’t give a tack sharp result on the D810 so I like to go higher. Obviously above 1/500th second you can introduce shake with the VR so you need a shutter speed to match the reciprocal focal length (1/600th s or above in this case).

The End Result

The setup above may appear Heath-Robinson, but it is just perfect for the task. Take a look!

Until next time..

Cheers,

R.

Kingfisher Diving Supplement

Kingfisher Diving Supplement

How do Kingfishers Dive for Fish?

This Kingfisher diving supplement adds to my post from yesterday A Few Days Out. I’ve examined my images from the Dumfries and Galloway shoot very carefully and I have realized something else important that I wish to share.

To recap:

  • The Kingfisher eyes up the fish from the side of the tank
Kingfisher Diving Supplement

Eyeing up the Prey..

  • The Kingfisher points his beak at the fish he wants several times
  • Then there is an extra long stretch, and you see the bird go into the water

New Insights..

Having looked at my images very carefully, here is what happens next:

  • The Kingfisher gives the extra long neck stretch then
  • Flies upwards and backwards along the line of his beak keeping the fish in sight
  • Then after gaining sufficient height, dives down and forwards again into the water to catch the fish
Kingfisher Diving Supplement

Flight Path for a Dive..

  • This allows you to aim your camera along the flight-path much more accurately because you don’t have to overlap both sides of the tank just in case.

Some Action..

This is a little better than the Gif I published yesterday as it does show part of the backward flight prior to the dive. The shot 3 seconds before this sequence (not shown) has the Kingfisher looking at the fish, but before committing to dive. Fascinating stuff!!

Kingfisher Diving Sequence..

Kingfisher Diving Sequence..

Until next time,

R.

A Few Days Out

A Few Days Out

Setting the Scene

It’s been quite a while since I could afford the time, and the cost, of having a few days out of my local area, just for the purposes of shooting wildlife! This trip had been planned for a few months and you often have to book very early just to get places. My pal Geoff and I have often gone with Natures Images (Mark Sisson and Danny Green) in the past, and their workshops are universally fantastic! This time we booked with Nature Photography Hides (Mark Hancock) for the hides in South West Scotland. We had used Mark’s hides in Worcester to shoot Kingfisher previously (on a Nature’s Images workshop), so knew they would be of good quality. The plan was to work with the Sparrowhawk hide, the Red Squirrel reflection pool and the Buzzard Hide. Unfortunately the reflection pool was frozen so our host, Alan McFadyen, swapped us to one of his personal hides to shoot Kingfisher in order to avoid disappointment. As it happened, that was to work out very well indeed! Alan was a great host, and very personable, and the hotel we stayed in (the Selkirk Arms Hotel in Kirkcudbright) were fantastic. Great food, and they pulled out all the stops to provide early breakfast and packed lunches for our demanding schedule.

Day One

We met with Alan in the small village of Ringford at 7.15am and moved on to the hides from there. We negotiated the Buzzard hide for the first day, and made our way up a short climb, through the snow, to a hide looking out into an initially very foggy scene.

 

And my was it cold!! The mist cleared to reveal a really beautiful view of the valley and yes the Buzzard did arrive and sit on an awesome perch. He was there for 20 minutes and we never took a shot!! There is a serious learning point here, which is this: Having taken due note of all necessary advice, sometimes you just have to go for it! We knew that he tended to be very twitchy before eating, and would usually fly off if he detected any lens movement from the hides. We were advised to wait until he had flown to the rocks to eat the rabbit or mice on the rocks. Unfortunately he had obviously eaten before arriving and had no interest in the free meal on the rocks. He was very twitchy on the perch and we might have only got one shot before he flew off. We will never know. The main thing is that we did no harm!

Feed on the Rocks

Feed on the Rocks

The Buzzard retreated to the distant tree line and seemed happy as Larry, preening and sunbathing. Just too far away for anthing other than a context shot. I would have struggled even for that were it not for the mega-resolution of the remarkable D810.

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Buzzard in the Trees

 

Day Two

This was the bonus day of our plan for a few days out. Kingfisher diving shots. Wow! Alan has a couple of hides down in a secret location by the river estuary. One hide is actually in the river at high tide! Fortunately for us, we were in the dry hide as there is quite a large tidal surge during the day. Yet again the weather was perfect, sunshine but frosty and cold.

An Early Fright

We met Alan at the hotel and he asked what lens I’d be using. 600mm I said. He looked horrified. Haven’t you got anything smaller? 200mm is all you will need!! Fortunately I had my 70-200mm f2.8 VR2 with me, plus teleconvertors, and Geoff was using his 200-400mm f4. Drama over. I was concerned about the quality though, and whether I’d get enough background blur with this kit. As you can see by the final shots below, I needn’t have worried. Most of my shots were taken with my 1.7 teleconvertor, and if I hadn’t been shooting full frame then I wouldn’t have needed one at all. A zoom definitely helped too because I could swap from wider to narrower view depending on whether the Kingfisher was on the perch or diving into the tank.

So How does it Work?

It would take a remarkable amount of patience, luck and time to catch Kingfishers fishing in their completely natural habitat, so photographers increase their chances with a staged set that includes perches and fish tank. Et viola, now you have a place, and a 2 hour window of time, in which you can see a Kingfisher fishing. The utilitarian looking setup shown below is perfect for the job.

Riverbank Set for Kingfisher Fishing

Riverbank Set for Kingfisher Fishing

As you can see, the river bank sits below and in front of the tank and perch. Beyond the tank you can see the reeds which are sufficiently far away to provide a very blurred out background when you are focused on the fish tank or perch. You can see the fish bait in the bottom corner of the tank.

Kingfisher Bait

Kingfisher Bait

Taking a Shot

It took me all day to realize what I am about to tell you now. So if you want to know how to take diving Kingfisher shots, listen up!!

The Kingfishers know the deal. There are fish in that tank, and like an expensive fish restaurant, they can choose which one they want. Every two hours or so they need to feed, so along they come, as regular as clockwork. They land on the side of the tank and take a good look, they peer in, and look round, apparently sizing things up then — whoosh — with a splash they are in the tank and emerging with a fish. At least that’s what it looks like. But actually, that’s not what just happened, not even close!

To take an effective image of a diving or hovering Kingfisher you need a few things in place:

  1. An exposure of 1/2000 second or faster to freeze the motion
  2. To test the exposure in advance to ensure that you don’t get any blown highlights, or blown colors, on the Kingfisher itself
  3. Pre-focus on the mid point of the tank
  4. Your fastest frames per second set in camera
  5. A wide-enough field of view to capture the action

1/2000 Second Exposure

This can be a bit of an ask at the beginning and end of the day. Depending on your maximum aperture, your ISO might have to go way up. Let’s consider some scenarios. I was shooting a full frame Nikon D810 with my 70-200mm f2.8 zoom Nikkor. I ended up using my 1.7x teleconvertor which gave me sufficient reach for a reasonable crop on the perch shots, and a wide enough crop on the tank. This gave me an aperture of f4.8 which at the start of the day meant an ISO of 2500,  1/2500 second and a reach of 340mm. Had I been shooting cropped sensor then I would have had an effective reach of 300mm at f2.8 and an ISO of 1000 with 1/2500 shutter speed would suffice. Either scenario means minimal depth of field so precise focusing is essential.

I had my D4 available, and, despite the phenomenal dynamic range of the D810 sensor at low ISO, the D4 beats it from ISO 400 upwards. Did this matter? Actually, no it didn’t. What you need to remember is that at dawn, and dusk, the light becomes flatter and much less contrasty so dynamic range is less of an issue than noise is. Interestingly, despite the poor reputation of the D810 for noise at high ISO, it is still 2 years newer than the D4 and the difference is less than I might have expected (for noise).

Check Exposure

This is also crucial. The Kingfisher has very bright and iridescent colors that are very easy to blow out. This is one of those circumstances where you really need to use your 4-channel histogram display (RGB, R, G and B) to check than none of the channels are blown. You have a couple of choices here. Take a few shots to ascertain the best exposure value and then switch to manual mode. The down-side of this is that you will have to check the light levels during the day and adjust accordingly. This can be especially problematic if the sun is in and out behind clouds. Alternatively you can shoot aperture priority with negative exposure compensation. This is what I did in fact, using -0.7 ev exposure compensation. Again there is a caveat, which is that if the light becomes very contrasty (eg. in bright sunshine) you might need to increase the exposure compensation. If the light is very flat though you may have to reduce it, or even use positive exposure compensation . There’s no substitute for experience here unfortunately.

Pre-focus and Its Implications

You know where the edges of the tank are, and you know that the Kingfisher will fly in between them. Manual focusing is arguably the best, and Alan had a suitable target for us to pre-focus on. With manual focus you help optimise your frames per second because the camera doesn’t have to waste time focusing.

Focusing Target

Focusing Target

I didn’t use manual focus though. This was because the perch and the tank were at different distances from my shooting position in the hide. With this in mind, I used my back focus button and set my shutter to release priority. This gives you the best of both worlds. You can pre-focus on the mid-point of the tank (it just so happened that there were some glue drops on the outside of the tank in the middle of the side face which worked perfectly), and fire at will when the Kingfisher dives. Or you can auto-focus on the bird on the perch if it lands there when it emerges from the tank.

Fastest FPS and Gotcha’s

I really wanted to use my D810 which gives 5 fps at full frame 36mp. Partly because it still feels very new, and I’m getting to know what it is capable of and also because I hoped for a few images that could be printed full detail at A2. I suspected that I would use the D4 first when the light was low, and the D810 when the light was better and the contrast higher, to optimize both noise performance and dynamic range. But actually, a new priority presented itself that meant I was willing to use the D810 from the start (see below). I only used the D4 at the end of the day when the light was really terrible and I needed to get my frame rate up (or so I thought).

I have a battery pack on my D810, and at Dx crop (15mp) it can shoot 7 fps. At full frame I was only getting 3 fps at the start of the day and, what I didn’t realize until I got home was that, I had my camera set to backup the main SD card to the secondary CF card (as opposed to overflow which I normally use). There’s no doubt in my mind that this slowed down the frame rate at full size, but was less of an issue at 1.2 crop (24mp) which then gave me 6 fps which was much more satisfactory.

A Wide Enough Field of View

I mentioned above that the Kingfisher appears to go off the side of the tank directly into the water, but that this is not what actually happens. In reality, faster than the human eye can register it, the Kingfisher flies up into the air and then dives down into the water to get the fish. The problem is that you just can’t see it so you don’t realize where you need to point your camera to get the best shots. Here’s an example of the sort of issue that occurs. First frame the Kingfisher is barely in shot, next frame he’s half into the water, so at 6 fps you are nowhere close to a satisfactory shot. It’s just happening too fast.

In and out in 1.5s

This took 1.5 seconds, start to finish

Here I’m burst shooting for 10 consecutive frames at 6 fps. You would need to be precise to a level of approximately 1/100 of a second in your timing to get the bird central in your frame every time. So what’s the trick? Well it boils down to this. To have a fighting chance you need your camera set to its fastest frame rate, and a wide-enough angle of view to improve your chance of getting an image in frame within any particular 1/10 second.

How do you do this? My advice is shoot portrait orientation with the base of your frame about twice the width of the tank to start with. Move wider if you still are not getting anything and shorter as you get better with your timing. The more pixels you have the better, but there is a tension between your number of pixels and your frame rate, and the size of the bird in the frame and your success rate. Simple as that!

Finally, how do you know when the Kingfisher will dive? Actually this is very straightforward, but can be easy to miss. The Kingfisher points his beak towards the fish a few times first and then gives a single longer neck stretch towards the fish and flies. As soon as you see that longer neck stretch start shooting and keep going until the Kingfisher has left the scene.

Putting it all Together

In the final analysis it just takes practice, once you have your settings. In reality you only need one good shot for a day’s shooting, so try to be patient. There’s a lot of waiting around between the bursts of action, but that’s wildlife for you! Don’t forget that Kingfisher are protected and don’t try any of this without the proper supervision. Definitely never approach a Kingfisher nest in the UK with your camera!

 

D4 or D810?

I think that you can use either camera successfully. There is clearly a difference between 6 fps and 10 fps in terms of the number of successful frames you can catch, but you can shoot a wider area on the D810, at 24mp, thereby increasing your success rate, so in the end there is not as much difference as you might think between the two. I was forced to switch to my D4 at the very end of the day in order to minimize noise, but I would still have come away with sharp shots even if I hadn’t switched.

Final Day

And what of the challenges on the final day? We were blessed with lovely weather yet again. A backdrop including some snow and woodland, fearsome cold (of course) and the expectation of a Sparrowhawk called Mad Max. Unfortunately Max didn’t show, but lots of other cool birds did. The Woodpeckers were spectacular. Did I have any problems, well yes in the sense that I needed to use my beanbag rather than my tripod, which works well enough, but I’m less used to it. The balance point on my Nikkor 600mm is on the focus ring, a terrible design flaw in my view, meaning that when you turn the camera to portrait orientation, the focus changes if the lens isn’t lifted completely off the bean bag (easier for body builders, less so for me), so you have to refocus. The 600mm Nikkor is a full 5kg in weight, even without its camouflage kit. Also, I had not brought my extension rings.

Extension rings I hear you ask. Are you crazy? You shouldn’t be shooting macro with a 600 you fool!! No, quite so. Here’s the thing. Some of the perches were set up for shooting with a 70-200mm or 70-300mm lens and they were just too close for the 600 Nikkor which has a minimum focus distance of 5m (autofocus), 4.8m (manual focus). You can bring this forwards (at the possible expense of infinity focus) by using an extension ring! Old-school, but useful..

And for the portrait shots..

Don’t forget that you can follow me on twitter or G+, but for now, until next time..

R.

Rediscovering My Photography

Rediscovering My Photography

Rediscovering My Photography

My Journey Back, This Year in Pictures..

Background

I’m sure that I am the same as every other working individual. Work-life, home-life and chores expand to fill all available time — that’s Robin’s Law, one of many! The balance of these three may change from time to time, but essentially, hobbies are squeezed into any free time that you are not too tired to use. Over the past 12 months I’ve been focused on my cycling, as this has been making me feel better emotionally, and physically, but whilst doing so I’ve had a nagging feeling that something else is missing. I’ve known that it is my photography well enough. I’ve been thinking that I may as well dispose of my cameras, and other studio equipment, because they represent a large investment and I’m not using them. Fortunately I have managed to resist the urge, and in an effort to re-balance things, have started making time to take a few images again.

Recession and the Cost of Living

In reality my retreat from picture taking has been multi-factorial. I have read a lot of recommendations along the following lines: “Take loads of pictures, it doesn’t cost you anything to experiment with digital photography”. In one way this is true, well almost, it doesn’t cost very much to press the shutter button. The only real costs, once you have purchased the machinery, are for electricity to charge the batteries. Beyond this though, if you want to keep your photos safely, you need storage space in the form of multiple hard drives (or DVD’s if you have the patience to record them), and these do cost money. If you want people to enjoy your work you may also choose to purchase a website with it’s own attendant charges etc. There may be other expenses too, after all, there are only so many photographs you can find in your garden or front room. There comes a time when you have to invest in some form of subject-seeking. This can take many forms from the full-octane photography holiday, through to purchasing multi-colored knickknacks from a stationers for your macro photography. For some of us, the true joy of photography lies in the execution of a fabulous print. These also cost money, especially the A3 and A2 ones, and if times are hard, and you can’t afford the ink and paper for your printer, some of the joy of photography is leached away. The improvement in the UK economy has therefore also been one factor in my rediscovering my photography again.

With all this in mind, I took a day out to replenish my soul with one of my favorite subjects, a variety of birds of prey on an organized shoot at a falconry center. Some out-doors in natural settings, and others in the studio. Easy-peasy..

 

Gauntlet Birds of Prey, Eagle and Vulture Park

If you would like to visit the Gauntlet birds of prey, eagle and vulture park I can strongly recommend it. The vulture collection is a particular treat. In addition to photography workshops they have flying displays at 12.30 pm and 3.00 pm, Vulture feeding at 12.00 pm and a meet and greet at 2.00 pm as well as other attractions.

A Photo-Walk Around Chester

Invigorated by shooting wildlife again, albeit in captivity, I next tackled a photo-walk around Chester. Not a brilliant day, in fact quite dull, so I had to keep my wits about me. Black and white to the rescue..

A Visit to Oxford

In our only city-break this year, we went down to Oxford to see Ceri, the daughter of some friends of ours, as she started her final exams. The weather was not kind to us, unfortunately, so we had plenty of time to look around the shops, and drink the occasional cup of tea and coffee.

A Visit Thurstaston

The next step in my rehabilitation occurred during a drive out to Thurstaston with my daughter. The plan was to find some coastline, and take a few pictures along the way. As good fortune was to have it, the North Wales Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club were flying, and we got a few shots of them, plus the visitor center had a photography exhibition and a public hide with views out onto some well stocked bird feeders. Heaven!

The Journey Continues

Sadly, these trips were still not quite enough, on their own, to get me taking pictures regularly again. Have you had the experience of wanting something all the more, when you knew you couldn’t have it? Well, my D300 broke! I hadn’t been abusing it, I’d just been updating the firmware to include compatibility with the 800mm f5.6 Nikkor extreme telephoto (it’s not like I will ever own one, but I like to be up to date), when to my astonishment, it just stopped working. In all honesty I hardly ever use the D300. It’s old technology now, but it is my backup camera and I do like to use it for macro shooting extreme close-ups with an old 300mm zoom and a 50mm reversed onto the end. And now, suddenly, I couldn’t. Should I buy a new camera? Probably not worth it if I’m not using my cameras much, but should I get the D300 repaired? Well probably, yes, was the conclusion I came to, if a camera that old can even be repaired? Well it turns out that it could. Nikon UK have a fabulous online system for repairs. You can say how much you would be prepared to pay without seeking permission to proceed, and even get the free postage label printed out from the website. They prepare an estimate and you say whether you want to go ahead or not and that is pretty much that.

Needless to say, once the D300 was returned to me in good working order, I couldn’t resist using it for some macro shots, and generally loving it and reminding myself of all its settings. Sad I know.. In fact, the challenge was as much to produce some good looking and clean shots with it as I could. I’d forgotten how noisy and textured D300 images could look. Sensor technology, and the supporting electronics behind them, are so much better now than even 5 years ago! Here’s how I got on:

Oulton Park Track Day

By this point I’m fully engaged with the drama and creativity, seeking new photographic experiences and subjects again. I’ve said before on this blog that, for me, it is more about the photography than the subject. Novelty and complexity are always the way for me. I’ve never shot cars or bikes on a track before, so this would be a great entrée. Is it difficult? Depends. If you want a straightforward shot, tack sharp, just set a monster shutter speed and shoot away. If you want a sharp bike and rider with spin-blur on the wheels done in camera, on a bend, yes that’s tricky first time out. Impossible? You be the judge!!

Hooked Again!!

The Inevitible Consequences..

And so it was, hooked again. Desperately fighting the urge to buy a new camera, but eventually succumbing to the temptation. A couple of years ago I blogged about wanting a Nikon D4 and a D800, but having to choose just one. That time it was the D4, this time the siren call of 36mp detail was too much for my battered psyche, and so to the D810..

More later,

 

Robin.