Monday, January 20, 2014

Good Hair Day

Mother Nature is amazing in her depth and variety of species. In waterfowl alone, the number of variations, color combinations, sizes, migration habits, and body shapes boggle the mind.

The Awake The Light Captive Bird Workshop starts today, and we will be privileged to photograph many exotic species from around the world. Some are endangered and all are beautiful. This dapper guy is a Smew, a member of the merganser family. Sporting an impressive top-knot, he is out to woo the ladies. This small diving duck is found mainly in Eurasia, and we rarely see one in this country.

When photographing ducks and geese, you have to be prepared for almost anything. In order to get sharp images it is best to set your camera at a fast shutter speed of 1/500 sec or faster. That way you will be able to capture both a quiet moment like this one, or rapid wing beats or an unexpected take-off which can occur with little warning. 

In order to set your camera to a fast shutter speed, it is necessary to use an ISO of 400 or faster. Generally I prefer to set the ISO no higher than 800, although I will go to ISO 1600 or higher if absolutely necessary when the light level is very low. The higher the ISO, the more noise (a grainy look) is created. Most digital cameras can handle noise fairly well at ISO 800 or less. Most image optimization software like Lightroom will enable you to reduce the appearance of noise.

There are two reasons why you should NEVER use the noise reduction function in your camera:  First, it slows everything down and prevents you from taking the next shot until the noise reduction process has been completed. And second, it takes the control away from you to determine how much noise should be removed. If you use image optimization software in post-production, YOU have control over how much noise to remove. Since noise reduction is essentially the blurring of pixels, you want to reduce noise only as much as is needed and not one bit more. If the camera is allowed to use its noise reduction function, it can often remove too much noise resulting in an image that looks mushy and not tack sharp.  

To maximize your chances of getting good shots, take your time to observe behavior when you first arrive at the location. Wind direction will play a role in how birds will take off  -  they usually take off into the wind.  Also, watch for clues as to when they might raise their chests out of the water and flap their wings. Within a few minutes you will be able to predict when this will happen. Generally the most active individuals will provide the best opportunities for some action shots.

Shutter Speed 1/1600 sec.  Aperture f/9.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS with 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 268mm.  Camera: Canon 40D.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.”  --Michael Caine

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