TO SHOOT IN RAW OR NOT?
Depends! Choose RAW if you have difficult lighting situations as RAW gives you more information to work with. Choose RAW if you want to tweak your images yourself. Shoot JPEG if memory or time is tight. Choose JPEG if you want the camera to save an email/website/media-ready image.
PHOTOGRAPHING FLYING BIRDS
Preparation & planning are two watch words when it comes to getting a fast moving subject captured in sharp focus!
This is when photography becomes more like a sport requiring technique, training, practice and good hand-eye coordination. Anticipation and familiarity with the subject is also very helpful.
Selecting a camera & lens combination is the first step: my preference is a small, fast camera (Canon EOS 7D) and a 300mm fast (f/2.8) IS (image stabilised) lens.
Clearly movement is the main point to ponder and selecting the right shutter speed is crucial. So having selected your subject (fast moving birds) and a favourite location of mine for practicing is a Bird of Prey centre that performs flying demonstrations (e.g. ICBP Newent, UK) you’ll have to decide on your technique…
- Handheld, panning: my preferred method as it allows maximum mobility and flexibility to follow the subject unencumbered.
- Tripod or monopod mounted: Reduced mobility and range of movement but your heavy long lens is not going to make your shoulders drop off!
- Fixed point anticipation: Using either of the above pick a spot through which you know the bird will pass and set your focus to this point. Don’t change it and follow the bird through the view finder. Once the bird approaches the in-focus point fire off some shots with an appropriate shutter speed and you’ll get a couple of in-focus images.
Setting up the camera for the techniques above is important, and there are a variety of ways to do it. You will need to get familiar with using the camera in Manual, Tv (shutter priority) or Av (Aperture priority). If you are not just there yet select the Sports Mode. My suggestion is to experiment and practice and you will eventually settle on a couple of preferred methods….
- Check the battery is fully charged and you have a spare!
- Format the memory card in camera.
- Aim for a shutter speed of 1/2500 of a second. Once you get expert you will probably be steady-of-hand and stable enough to accommodate a shutter speed even as low as 1/500 sec. (light level dependent)
- Adjust your ISO and aperture to allow your camera to achieve this shutter speed.
- Clearly a bright, sunny day is going to be more helpful than a dull cloudy one. Even better is a very bright day with very thin overhead cloud that reduces the contrast and shadows a little.
- Selecting an exposure setting: the simplest method that reduces the processing required by the camera is to expose for a mid tone such as the green grass (Tv, Av and ISO all set appropriately) and then darker subjects and lighter ones will be accommodated.
- Alternatively select partial metering which will use a smaller proportion of the whole frame around the centre (i.e. where your subject is meant to be!) to calculate the exposure. This can be tricky and needs to be adjusted for the tone of the bird (white Snowy Owl or dark Verreaux’s Eagle) and can lead to under- or over-exposed images if you get it wrong.
- Selecting your focus points: try and select a few focus points so that you can, with practice, keep the eyes of the bird in focus. A large number of focus points working could keep the focus on the nearest wing tip or the background meaning the eyes and face are not sharp and in focus. For small fast moving birds I select a block of nine in the middle of the frame. For bigger birds I select one point with 4 “helpers” round the outside. This is a Canon setup and will be different on other makes. Experiment with your focus points and your Autofocus settings to get the best continuous tracking capability for your technique and camera set-up. You’ll need to have the read your camera manual by now, sorry!
My preferred method is to use the camera in Manual mode, set the ISO according to the level of daylight (preferably below 800, but higher if necessary), select a shutter speed of 1/2500 second and I test this setting to make sure the light levels allow me to select an aperture, probably somewhere between f/4 and f/8 depending on light levels and size of bird. Focus points set as above.
If you are new to this my recommendation is to start off with owls and large eagles as they are big targets and slower moving. Then progress to a stooping falcon once you have the technique and a bit of practice under your belt!
Most of all experiment practice and have fun!
…and drop me a line if you have any questions. Happy to help…Richard.
USING A CIRCULAR POLARISER
A Circular Polariser is a filter that fits over the front of the lens and can be rotated. Light from the sun is oriented in all of the 360 possible degrees (i.e the direction of oscillation of the light wave is completely random). However when sunlight interacts with other refractive and reflective media such as shiny surfaces, water, the sky, leaves, glass etc the orientation of the light is changed and re-organised. Well this is where the Cir Pl (Circular Polariser) comes in to play. This filter will remove some of the light that has been re-organised relative to the primary incident light depending on how many degrees it is rotated.
The benefit will be immediately obvious if you put one on your lens and it will allow you to make blue skies darker (removes glare), the filter will remove reflections off shiny surfaces (mentioned above) and saturates colours of flowers and leaves.
Particularly useful for sky, water, and wet plants. The effect of the filter will vary with rotation and the angle of the incident light. For example the darkening of the sky effect is best when the sun is at ninety degrees to the axis of the lens. Straight into or away from the sun won't have much effect.
Experiment and test the theory - you won't be disappointed!
The images below have the sun out of picture at right angles to the axis of the lens. The only manipulation to the RAW image was to add the Landscape Picture Style in DPP. (DPP is Canon's RAW image editing software.)
This, you could argue is the easiest niche of all in “Nature Photography”! Well at least flowers are stationary, colourful, accessible and predictable!
It is not all plain sailing of course as outdoor photography is always subject to the vagaries of the weather and climate. Specifically flowers can blow about in the wind, making macro photography especially difficult. Macro usually entails a precipitously small depth of field so refined techniques for focusing are essential. These may include: manual focusing;physically moving the camera to shift the in-focus areas to suit, tripods,sticks and clips to hold the subject still and so on! You can also utilise an outdoor-studio – literally a white box you can wrap about the subject and limit the effect of the wind and bright sunlight.
Generally bright sunlight is not required to photograph flowers. Flowers usually have a lot of saturated colours and contrast as they are, and so a bright overcast day is perfect: the cloudy sky acting as a huge reflector. This indirect light also reduces shadow and improves colour saturation. Alternatively a large white cloth reflector can be used in the manner of a parasol for shade, or as a clean white background. That in mind, the low morning or evening sun slanting through a field or garden of colourful blooms makes a beautiful, moody picture. So pick your lighting for the image in mind.
To further enhance depth of colour a polarising filter can be used. These filters will reduce glare and reflection from shiny surfaces such as leaves and water.