Thursday, August 1, 2019

What are the best camera settings for pelagic bird photography?

On my Canon EOS 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm 4.5-5.6 IS lens, these are the camera settings I start with at the beginning of the pelagic birding trip: Manual mode, shutter speed of 1/1250, an aperture of f/7.1, exposure compensation of plus one full stop, Continuous focus mode called AI servo, Auto ISO, Evaluative metering, and autofocus mode to 1 point AF. Of course, all my bird and wildlife photography uses RAW format and Automatic White Balance.

Over the years I've struggled to find the best camera settings for pelagic bird photography. I've finally settled on what works best for me for photographing birds from a boat at sea. Those are listed above. Now I'll tell you why I like them. I also found some recommendations from others that I'll share when they are different from my settings. Then I'll give you a great tip I received that helps me instantly dial in all the correct settings.

Note: This post assumes intermediate or advanced knowledge cameras and photography in general, and rather intimate knowledge of the settings and menus on your personal DLSR camera with telephoto lens. Your camera's user manual is your friend.

The reasons for my settings

Every camera/lens combination is unique. I have the older Canon 100-400 lens. It is a bit soft in focus when it is wide open. It takes sharper photos when the aperture is 7.1 or higher. The image stabilization will let me take hand-held photos down to 1/400 of a second or slower. Sometimes. But I find that 1/640 is as slow as I should go with a stationary bird, hand-held, on land. On a boat? Better get it up to 1/800 or higher. 1/1250 seems ideal for most of my photography. For fast-flapping birds, 1/2400 will freeze most wings. But I want to keep ISO to 1000 or under. The closer to ISO 100 the clearer and sharper will be my photos.


Friday, July 19, 2019

A family of White-tailed Kites at San Elijo Lagoon

While visiting Stonebridge Trail upstream from San Elijo Lagoon, I came across a tree with 5 juvenile kites! I photographed two that were out in the open a bit more.

It was an overcast morning so I increased the exposure compensation 1 full step, even though I was using spot metering.

Juvenile White-tailed Kite
Juvenile White-tailed Kite
Juvenile White-tailed Kite
Juvenile White-tailed Kite. San Elijo Lagoon, California. June 14, 2019. Greg Gillson.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

California Quail at San Elijo Lagoon

Here's a recent photo. Well, it's a month old now, I guess. What can I say, I've been busy.

California Quail
California Quail
California Quail. San Elijo Lagoon, California. June 14, 2009. Greg Gillson.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Stalking Birds: 25 tips: How to get close to birds without scaring them away

In my previous post I discussed whether it was really necessary to get closer to a bird. In some cases, to protect the welfare of the bird, it may be best not to approach closer. Likewise, if other people are desiring to see the bird, it would be rude to scare it off so that others couldn't enjoy it. And you don't want to harass birds, or give the impression that you are to onlookers.

You can learn to approach birds more closely without frightening them. Then again, you can remain still and have the birds come to you! Both these outcomes start with the same premise: Don't look threatening.

Approaching birds

Perhaps you have noticed in a park that some birds habituated to people remain only a few feet off the trail as bicyclists, hikers, and even dog walkers pass by. Yet you don't get as close as they did and don't even get your binoculars raised before the bird flies off! Why?

Think about it from the bird's perspective. People pass by all day, most paying them no attention. They are not a threat. Yet here come you, straight at the bird. Not only that, you are staring at the bird with these large unblinking glass eyes. Threat!

So your first fieldcraft tip is (#1) not to approach a bird directly. Make as if to pass the bird by. Meander. Curve your path gradually toward the bird. Don't stare at the bird while moving toward it. Look away. Watch it out the corner of your eye until you are closer. Then stop.

Next, (#2) as you approach carry your binoculars or camera up to your face. Birds are often spooked by arms raising suddenly or pointing. Rest your optics on your cheek as you approach, then slowly tilt your optics to your eyes.

Third, (#3) watch your step! Don't break a twig or scrape the gravel. A sudden noise and off they fly! Move slowly and steadily.

Watch the bird. (#4) Is it alert and watching you? Stop. Let it get used to you and get back to whatever it was doing before you showed up. Is it fidgeting? Twitching its wing? Standing up straighter? Nervously scratching? Raising the tail? It may already be too late. Back off. Wait. If the bird is comfortable singing, feeding, and just being a bird while you take photos, then you are the correct distance.

Diving water bird tip ("Dive and Dash") (#5): Diving ducks, loons, grebes--wait for the bird to dive. Count how long the bird stays down. Next time it dives, run forward, crouch down. Wait for it to resurface. It may move closer. If it resurfaces farther out and facing away, you've been spotted. It won't return.

Singing bird tip (#6): Singing males are more easily approached during the time they are belting out their song. In between phrases is when they fly. If they are singing you may be better off walking forward at that time. Avoid over-pursuing singing birds during this sensitive breeding season time.

Blue Grosbeak
Territorial Blue Grosbeak.
Auto tour tip (#7): Some refuges and nature reserves may have auto tour routes. Even some country roads with wide shoulders along fields or wetlands may have bird viewing and photography opportunities from inside your car.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Black-footed Albatross off San Diego

After 9 hours our pelagic trip was nearly over, and we were heading back toward port. We were still about 15 miles offshore, though, when the call of "Albatross!" went up. And there it was: far behind the boat but closing on our stern.

We were still trailing some popcorn and had a flock of gulls behind the boat. The albatross must have thought we had something good to eat. Well, albatrosses like popcorn just fine, though they'd probably rather have their favorite food--squid!

Albatrosses are fairly rare off San Diego. Trips in April, May, and June frequently will record one. They are sometimes found in August, but generally not later.

Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatross. Off San Diego. June 9, 2019.