Early Morning Low Light Strategies « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Early Morning Low Light Strategies

The Streak Goes On…

At the risk of sounding like a broken record we killed today at the Snow Monkey Park…. I am finishing this post at 7:26pm Japan time on Monday February 24, 2104. That is 5:26am on the same day in Florida or in New York. I will be asleep well before 8pm :).

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stellers-sea-eagle-landing-blur-_y5o9375-hokkaido-japan

This Steller’s Sea Eagle blur was created on the morning of February 22, 2014 at 6:04:02am on the Japan in Winter IPT with the Gitzo 3532 LS carbon fiber tripod, the Mongoose M3.6 head, the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender (tripod-mounted at 350mm) and the Canon EOS-1D X. ISO Safety Shift yielded ISO 1600. Evaluative metering +2 1/3 stops as framed in Tv mode: 1/30 sec. at f/6.3. Color temperature 10,000K.

Central Sensor/AI Servo-Surround/Rear Focus AF just caught the top of the bird’s head and was active at the moment of exposure. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #1: Landing Steller’s Sea Eagle Blur

Pre-Dawn Blurs in the Dark

I teach this technique at Bosque and use it often as well: Set Auto ISO or ISO Safety Shift. Set Tv mode. Choose a slow shutter speed somewhere between 1/8 and 1/60 sec. For the image above I went with 1/30 sec. Set the needed Exposure Compensation (EC). Frame the image and pan with the bird while acquiring focus and push the button to make an image or three. Flapping is way better then gliding when you are trying to create pleasing blurs.


stellers-sea-eagle-on-ice-_y5o9381-hokkaido-japan

This sharp image of a Steller’s Sea Eagle on an icy perch was created on the morning of February 22, 2014 at 6:04:47am on the Japan in Winter IPT with the Gitzo 3532 LS carbon fiber tripod, the Mongoose M3.6 head, the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender (with the internal TC in place at 560mm) and the Canon EOS-1D X. ISO Safety Shift yielded ISO 2500. Evaluative metering +2 stops as framed in Tv mode: 1/60 sec. at f/6.3. Color temperature 10,000K.

Three sensors to the left of the Central Sensor/AI Servo-Surround/Rear Focus AF on the bird’s breast was active at the moment of exposure. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #2: Steller’s Sea on Icy Perch

Want Sharp?

If you want to try to create sharp images of perched birds in the low light of pre-dawn simply raise the shutter speed to something that you are comfortable with, focus, and fire away. To create the image above I engaged the internal TC, raised the shutter speed from 1/30 to 1/60 sec., and was good to go. Note that the second image was created exactly 45 seconds after the first image.


stellers-sea-eagle-braking-to-land-blur-_y5o9385-hokkaido-japan

This image of a Steller’s Sea Eagle braking in flight was created on the morning of February 22, 2014 at 6:05:01am on the Japan in Winter IPT with the Gitzo 3532 LS carbon fiber tripod, the Mongoose M3.6 head, the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender (with the internal TC in place at 560mm) and the Canon EOS-1D X. ISO Safety Shift yielded ISO 1600. Evaluative metering +2 stops as framed in Tv mode: 1/60 sec. at f/5.6. Color temperature 10,000K.

Central Sensor/AI Servo-Surround/Rear Focus AF just caught the top of the bird’s head and was active at the moment of exposure. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #3: Steller’s Sea Braking in Flight Blur

1/60 sec. Works Both Ways

With perched birds folks with good sharpness techniques should be able to make sharp images at 1/60 sec. With birds in flight at fairly close range the same shutter speed can be used to create pleasing blurs. It’s a best of both worlds situation.


stellers-sea-eagle-grabbing-fish-iso-1600-_y5o9579-hokkaido-japan

This Steller’s Sea Eagle image was created on the morning of February 21, 2014 at 6:33am on the Japan in Winter IPT with the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender (hand held with the internal extender in place at 473mm) and the Canon EOS-1D X. ISO 1600. Evaluative metering +2 stops off the ice: 1/500 sec. at f/5.6 in Manual mode. Color Temperature: 9,000K.

Central Sensor/AI Servo-Surround/Rear Focus AF just caught the top of the bird’s head and was active at the moment of exposure. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #4: Striking Steller’s Sea Eagle

Getting the Blue Out

Even at 10,000 Kelvin all of the pre-dawn images had strong blue casts. I came up with a great way to lose the blue cast and get perfect whites with a single click. When converting in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional I simple clicked on Click White Balance and then clicked on the snow. Voila. Nothing could be simpler. With the four images here no other color corrections were necessary.

Your Favorite?

Please take a moment to leave a comment and let us know which of the 4 images above is your favorite, and do let us know why.

The DPP RAW Conversion Guide

To learn why I use Canon’s Digital Photo Professional (DPP) to convert every image that I work on, click here.

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6 comments to Early Morning Low Light Strategies

  • I really like photo #2. The pose makes you wonder if the bird is prepping for take-off or huddling because of the cold. I like the slight blur in some of the feathers at the bottom and sides, this gives it a subtle dynamic. And obviously the contrasting colors and composition pull it all together.

    I’m starting to do some of my own trials in blurred photography. It’s a tough way to think especially if you’ve always pushed yourself to get tack sharp photos. Your video on B&H has given me some great ideas. Thank you Mr. Morris.

  • avatar Marilyn Barfield

    Love the 4th shot, birds in motion are so special. The blur shots I don’t like, they remind me too much of my early photos, when nothing ever looked sharp. Love your site, my husband is THE photographer, but I get an awful lot of info out of your blogs as well. Many thanks for all the hard work.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks. Those are not my all time favorite blurs either; I just wanted to make a point about working in Tv mode. artie

  • avatar Ted Willcox

    My favorite: Steller’s Sea Eagle on Icy Perch
    I love the composition, the colours of the Eagle against the pure background, the colours of the feet and talons against the snow. The image is beautiful in its simplicity!!

  • avatar David Policansky

    Hi, Artie, and thanks yest again for yet another wonderful blog. Number 2 is my favorite; wonderful pose of the bird, composition, color, and so on. Different strokes and all that but I don’t like these two blurs.

  • avatar Mary White

    Hey, Artie – These daily blog posts are blowing me away!!! So much to learn!! Thank you for your dedication to the “art” so to speak and your love of teaching.