Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Skimming The Surface

This beautiful skimmer was searching these calm pond waters for food. They are amazing birds who fly close to the water and then dip the bottom half of their bill just below the surface to scoop up food. They fly quickly, even with their bills half submerged in the water, and can be tough to track.

I was lucky on this calm summer morning that he chose to ply the waters fairly close to the edge of the pond, and I could get some good shots. Even so, to get this shot it took a long lens set at 784mm, AND what you see above is cropped in quite a bit.

You may be questioning the odd focal length of 784mm. That was achieved with the Canon 200-400mm lens with built-in 1.4x extender, plus the use of an additional external 1.4x extender.

This shot works for several reasons. The calm waters provide a lovely reflection of the bird, and the red area on the bill is showcased nicely by the deep green grasses reflected in the water. I was also fortunate that his head was positioned in a darker area, flanked by brighter green on either side.

To get this one successful shot, plus a few others, I took about 100 images. Many of them are either out of focus, or have other issues. To get successful images, especially of moving birds, it is necessary to make many exposures and to be prepared to eliminate many of them. Don't feel you are unsuccessful if a majority of shots are not good. For moving birds, my success rate is less than 10%. So for every 100 shots of the same subject in the same approximate area, I am thrilled if I get 10 usable ones, and more often I get only 5 or fewer.

The more you shoot, the better your chances of success. Bring several memory cards when you go out to shoot wildlife, and extra batteries. You never know what you will see, and how many shots it will take to net you one good one.

Start with an ISO of 800 on sunny days, and increase it as needed or on cloudy days. For moving birds, I prefer to use a very fast shutter speed of at least 1/1000 sec., and often significantly faster than that. I also find I have better luck with sharp images when the f/stop is set at f/8 or higher.

Set your camera to rapid burst, and use continuous focus (or AI Servo on Canon cameras).  

Shutter Speed 1/1600 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with built-in 1.4 extender plus external 1.4 extender for an effective focal length of 784.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick. 

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Luck affects everything. Let your hook always be cast. In the stream where you least expect it, there will be a fish."  --Ovid

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