Spring cleaning the photographer’s mind

Spring cleaning the photographer’s mind

Spring cleaning the photographer's mind

Spring is in the air, and after a long year of severely curtailed outdoor activity, photographic opportunities abound. We don’t even have to travel far to get some much-needed practice.

In my case, I am fortunate to live near to a saltmarsh garden and woodland area in one direction, and a small nature reserve a few minutes away in the other and, fortunately, I thoroughly enjoy taking on the challenges that bird photography can present. And this is the time of year that the local birds take up residence in the nesting boxes that have been thoughtfully provided by the local council. Maybe you can use your garden or local park to get back into the swing of things.

Spring is in the air, and after a long year of severely curtailed outdoor activity, photographic opportunities abound. We don’t even have to travel far to get some much-needed practice.

In my case, I am fortunate to live near to a saltmarsh garden and woodland area in one direction, and a small nature reserve a few minutes away in the other. And this is the time of year that the local birds take up residence in the nesting boxes that have been thoughtfully provided by the local council. Maybe you can use your garden or local park to get back into the swing of things.

Image: Woodland nesting box to illustrate "Spring cleaning the photographer's mind" blog post
Woodland nesting box

This of course provides excellent opportunities to brush up on the skills needed to capture birds in flight, lovingly known as BIFs. I’m also more than happy to take portrait shots of birds when they are obliging enough to stay in the same place for long enough.

RELATED:  Book review #2: David Ulrich - Zen Camera

My local woodland is frequented by blue tits, great tits, the odd bullfinch, crows, magpies, blackbirds, and robins. I’m sure there are others which I either haven’t seen, or have failed to identify. A couple of minutes away, on the river Tyne, we can easily find cormorants, several species of gull, mute swans, curlews, redshanks, ducks, and the occasional grey heron. We have also been visited by the easily identifiable Canada Goose.

If you would like to learn more about British birds, and also get help identifying them, take a look at the RSBP website.

Image: Robin (Erithacus rubecula)on toodland path
Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

While capturing BIFs is fairly straightforward when it comes to gulls – they are fairly obliging as they glide and hover easily – my focus is on the much smaller woodland birds that take up residence. The small blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) is a joy to watch but not the easiest to capture in flight. It moves at incredible speed, so I get a lot of fun, practice, and plenty of wasted shots trying to capture a worthy BIF shot.

Image: Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) in flight, leaving nesting box
Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) lin flight

Nature, along with the local council in this case,  of course provides us with a significant helping hand. I know where the birds are, and they will be here for a few weeks if I’m lucky.

Before entering and leaving the nesting boxes the birds perch and check out their environment. Then they launch themselves into action. Some time spent watching the birds to get used to their habits makes life much easier for photographers. We will learn the birds’ signals – I was fortunate to witness the mating display and ritual of the blue tits for instance. We will also learn their preferred approach and departure directions. All this enable us to set up our cameras and pre-focus, rather than chasing around the woodland trail like things possessed, armed with heavy camera gear.

RELATED:  Improve your photography through mindfulness

Then it’s a matter of getting the equipment set up. My preferred setup is a tripod with gimbal, my trusty Canon EOS R, and a Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 zoom lens.  The gimbal wins over holding a camera and long lens at the ready any day of the week! One of the characteristics of mirrorless cameras that I really appreciate is the silent shutter, no more frightening birds away with my older and much noisier DSLR, pictured left with a telephoto lens, and mounted on a gimbal. I don’t have any fast prime super-telephoto lenses, much as I might like to get my hands on one at this time of year…

Image - DSLR and telephoto lens on gimbal
DSLR and telephoto lens on gimbal

Nothing you read in books on photographing birds can prepare you for the action. The blue tits are so incredibly fast when the fly. Even with my camera set to servo autofocus, and maximum burst rate, I will be lucky to get more than 2 frames with a blurred spot  where the bird used to be. That’s what happens when your technique is rusty.

It doesn’t take long to get into the swing of things again though. Careful pre-focusing, camera set to maximum burst rate, cable release connected, shutter speed as high as it goes (1/8000 in the case of my trusty Canon)  and off we go!

The problem of course is that to achieve the maximum shutter speed we ideally need a fast lens. The birds are only small, so the longer end of the zoom range is needed. The camera, although full frame, has a 1.6 crop setting, but at 400mm my fastest aperture is only f5.6, what to do?

RELATED:  Latest top 5 sites to support your ongoing development as a photographer

In my case, I simply let the camera set the ISO, and moved in as close as I could without disturbing the birds and without ending up shooting vertically upwards. The gimbal gives me a few more inches of height for the camera. By moving closer I can zoom out to a shorter focal length and a slightly wider aperture. I also targeted a nesting box that enjoys almost direct sunlight in the early morning, and under-exposed slightly, every little helps…

Click, BIF!

Image: Great tit (Parus major) in flight
Great tit (Parus major) in flight

I also use a Fujifilm XT-2 camera, which offers a jaw-dropping 1/32000 max shutter speed, but I can’t get maximum advantage from this due to the constraints of my lenses. Having a blisteringly fast shutter speed available is of little use if the maximum aperture available lies between f4 & f5.6. The XT-2 crop factor is also smaller than the Canon’s, 1.53 vs 1.6, so I would need to move slightly closer to my target, or perhaps crop a bit more in post-processing.

Technically, my Canon EOS-R and 100-400mm lens are at their limits to capture half-decent shots of these small birds in flight, but that’s OK, I’m probably at my own limits too, although I am enjoying the relearning opportunity. It’s good to be spring cleaning the the photographer’s mind…

Take a look at my Nature gallery for more images…

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Stay up to date with all the latest news and reviews, subscribe now!

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Close Menu
Don`t copy text!
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x