A Blasting Highlights AF Tip: Focus Manually! « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

A Blasting Highlights AF Tip: Focus Manually!

What’s Up?

Conditions were perfect for the road-kill cafe on Friday morning. There was a brisk wind from the southeast along with clear skies. I put out the bait — a half-eaten opossum carcass, some rotten smoked salmon skins, and two large, recently-thawed fish heads courtesy of Mike at Junior’s Fish Market in Lake Wales. I stayed in the car on an off for two hours, mostly working on yesterday’s blog post. I was on the phone often fact-checking with the very gracious Pat Fishburne. By 9:00am, a few Turkey Vultures were circling above. One landed, followed quickly by a Black Vulture. I was 100% positive that hordes of vulture would follow, each flaring their wings to land into the wind.

Both approached the bait very cautiously but neither partook of the feast. After five minutes, I got out of the car, snuck down to the edge of the canal, and got on sun angle. Both birds flew away. I made a few flight images with the Canon loaner gear of TVs circling to land. But they never did. I went back to my car in hopes that they would return, but they never did.

I am continuing to work hard on the BAA EOS R5 Camera User’s Guide.

Today is Saturday 2 January 2021. I will be heading out soon looking for flowers and more as I would like to try to create some HDR and some Multiple Exposure images.

This blog past makes sixteen days in a row with a new blog post. This one took about 1 1/2 hours to prepare. Please remember …

Please Remember

With income from IPTs approaching zero, please, if you enjoy and learn from the blog, remember to use one of my two affiliate programs when purchasing new gear. Doing so just might make it possible for me to avoid having to try to get a job as a Walmart greeter and will not cost you a single penny more. And if you use Bedfords and remember to enter the BIRDSASART code at checkout, you will save 3% on every order and enjoy free second-day air shipping. In these crazy times — I am out at least forty to sixty thousand dollars so far due to COVID 19 (with lots more to come) — remembering to use my B&H link or to shop at Bedfords will help me out a ton and be greatly appreciated. Overseas folks who cannot order from the US because of import fees, duties, and taxes can always help out by clicking here if they see fit.

The BAA Used Gear Page

The Used Gear page continues to be very active. The BAA Used Gear Page is the place to sell your used photographic equipment. We will help you to get your gear sold quickly for 20 to 60% or more than what the big guys are offering … Doubt me? Check out the Recent Sales list for the past eleven months at the bottom of the page.

RawDigger e-Guide and Video Advance Copy Available

Save $10 Now

The RawDigger e-Guide and Video is almost finished. It will sell for $51.00. If you are anxious to get started with RawDigger, learn to mega-Expose to the Right, and wind up with the highest quality image files, you can save $10.00 and have a chance to review a pre-publication copy of the guide by sending a PayPal for $41.00 to birdsasart@verizon.net with the words RawDigger e-Guide and Video Pre-publication Copy cut and pasted into the Subject line. The recent delay is the result of my recent conversations with Iliah Borg, the brains behind RawDigger. It is likely that the Shock-your-World section will shock you.

You will of course receive a link for the completed PDF when the guide is finished.

Canon R5/R6 AF e-Guide Info

So far, 56 folks have sent PayPals for their copy of the Canon R5/R6 AF e-Guide. And 27 who used my affiliate links to purchase their R5 have e-mailed for and received their free copy of the guide. If you e-mailed or sent a PayPal and did not receive your guide, please LMK immediately via e-mail.

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive so far. Three folks wrote stating that they had a better way of setting up AF on their R5s. When I wrote back explaining why they were in error, two of them back-tracked. One stubborn guy is still doing it his way — less efficiently. Be sure to scroll down to read about my plans for a Canon R5/R6 User’s e-Guide. Understand that the info in the BAA Canon R5/R6 Autofocus e-Guide is so important that I opted to publish the AF guide immediately as the R5/R6 User’s Guide will take at least a month to finish.

BAA Canon R5/R6 Autofocus e-Guide

Twenty-one pages. 3,452 words. 28-DPP4 screen captures showing the R5’s vaunted AF system in action. Note: the AF system of the R5 is identical to the AF system of the R6.

You will learn:

1- The two most useful AF Methods for general bird photography and for birds in flight.

2- How to set up your R5/R6 AF Menus.

3- What boxes to check (and un-check) under Limit AF Methods.

4- How to change the AF Method quickly, easily, and efficiently. Note: the default way of doing this is clunky, cumbersome, and inefficient at best. One person replied that this tip alone was worth the price of admission.

5- The only setting that should be used for Initial Servo AF pt for Face Detection + Tracking.

I you are currently using multiple back buttons either for general bird photography or for birds in flight, what you learn in this guide will change your life. For the better.

Here are the first three paragraphs of this e-Guide:

From the moment I learned about the new Canon mirrorless bodies, I read about using two or three back-buttons to focus using different AF methods. The word on the street said that the way to go for birds in flight was to use one button to acquire focus with Zone AF or with Large Zone: Horizontal AF and then switch to another button to activate Face Detection + Tracking AF and then use the shutter button to make an image. My immediate thought was, “This is insanity! There has got to be a better way.” In short, there is a far superior way to set up AF on your R5 or R6.

Remember that I got away from any form of back-button or rear focusing many years ago after finally realizing that it is always easier to do one thing (press the shutter button), than it is to do two things (press a back button and then press the shutter button).

The default method of switching AF Methods with the R5/R6 bodies is cumbersome at best. It involves first pressing the grid button (my name) on the upper right back of the camera and then pressing the hard-to-access M-Fn button to toggle through the AF Methods. This method is so bad that it will not be mentioned again in this guide.

The guide is free to all who have ordered an R5 or an R6 using my B&H affiliate link or from Steve Elkins/Bedfords using the BIRDSASART coupon code at checkout. Please send your receipt to me via e-mail. It will take me a few days to a week to verify the B&H purchases. Bedfords folks should expect their free e-Guides fairly quickly.

To purchase your copy of the e-Guide, please send a PayPal for $25.00 to birdsasart@verizon.net and be sure to include the words R5/R6 AF Guide in your PayPal e-mail.

Everyone who gets the guide will receive a free update no later than the first week in January.

Canon R5/R6 User’s e-Guide

I am working on a complete Canon R5/R6 User’s e-Guide. This will require a lot of research, a lot of time, and a lot of effort. I am hoping to have it complete by mid- to late January. As always, folks who use the BAA affiliate links to purchase their Canon gear will receive a substantial discount.

Understand that the info in the BAA Canon R5/R6 Autofocus e-Guide is so important that I opted to publish the AF guide right off the bat to help folks get started with their new camera bodies.

Great Topaz News!

Folks who use the BAA Topaz link to purchase Sharpen AI, DeNoise AI, or the Utility Bundle (or any other Topaz plugins) will receive a 15% discount by entering the ARTHUR15 code at checkout. To get the discount you must use my link and you must enter the discount code. Be sure to start with this link.

Topaz Stuff

As I said just a while back and have said often many times before, I should have listened sooner. If you, like me, are new to the Topaz party, please use this link to purchase. Right now I can wholeheartedly recommend both Topaz Sharpen AI and Topaz DeNoise AI. Though I have not yet worked with JPEGtoRAW AI or Gigapixel AI, I have installed both of these plug-ins and look forward to trying them on some I-Phone 11 images fairly soon. If you are thinking like me, consider the Utility Bundle that includes all four plug-ins mentioned above at a money-saving price.

Again, those who purchase Sharpen AI or DeNoise AI using my link, can e-mail to request a short Getting Started with Topaz e-Guide. I had a bit of trouble getting the two plug-ins installed and having them appear in the Photoshop Filter Menu. In addition, I will explain how to best learn about the two plug-ins by applying them on a Layer (in Photoshop).

128 sold to rave reviews.

The SONY e-Guide by Patrick Sparkman and Arthur Morris

The Sony Camera User’s e-Guide (and Videos)

Click here to purchase the guide with one Camera Set-up Video. Be sure to e-mail us by clicking here to specify your camera body so that we can send you a link for the correct video.

Click here to purchase the guide with two Camera Set-up Videos. Be sure to e-mail us by clicking here to specify your two camera bodies so that we can send you links for the correct videos.

Click here to learn more about the SONY e-Guide.

Folks who have used my B&H affiliate links or purchased their SONY gear are invited to e-mail for discount information.

New and Better Bedfords Discount Policy!

You can now save 3% on all of your Bedfords photo gear purchases by entering the BIRDSASART coupon code at checkout. Your discount will be applied to your pre-tax total. In addition, by using the code you will get 2nd day air shipping via Fed Ex.

Grab a Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III and save $14.99. Purchase a Canon EOS R5 and your discount will be $116.97. Purchase a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and save a remarkable $389.94! Your Bedford’s purchase no longer needs to be greater than $1,000.00 for you to receive a discount. The more you spend, the more you save.

Money Saving Reminder

Many have learned that if you need a hot photo item that is out of stock at B&H and would enjoy free overnight shipping, your best bet is to click here, place an order with Bedfords, and enter the coupon code BIRDSASART at checkout. If an item is out of stock, contact Steve Elkins via e-mail or on his cell phone at (479) 381-2592 (Central time). Be sure to mention the BIRDSASART coupon code and use it for your online order to save 3% and enjoy free 2nd-day air shipping. Steve has been great at getting folks the hot items that are out of stock at B&H and everywhere else. The wait lists at the big stores can be a year or longer for the hard to get items. Steve will surely get you your gear long before that. For the past year, he has been helping BAA Blog folks get their hands on items like the SONY a9 ii, the SONY 200-600 G OSS lens, the Canon EOS R5, the Canon RF 100-500mm lens, and the Nikon 500mm PF. Steve is personable, helpful, and eager to please.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of photographers whom I see in the field and on BPN, are–out of ignorance–using the wrong gear especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads… Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail. Those questions might deal with systems, camera bodies, accessories, and/or lens choices and decisions.

i-Phone Setting the Scene image

i-Phone Setting-the-Scene image

I stuck the I-phone out of the car window, focused, and dialed down the exposure so that I could grab a snap that showed the situation. In life, the blasting highlights off the water are so bright that it is difficult to see the crane with your naked eye. Notice first, that I moved the car so that the crane’s head was lined up exactly in the center of the super-bright swath of water. The crane cooperated very nicely by standing in one spot for ten minutes. The bad news is that for most of that time, the bird kept its head angled slightly away from me.

Almost always when you are creating silhouettes, you want the opposite of correct sun angle. For front-lit shooting, you want the sun directly behind you and the subject directly in front of you, all on the same line. With silhouettes, you want both the subject and the sun directly in front of you, again, all on single straight line. The latter approach will always produce the strongest backlight and usually — but not always — produce the richest color. At times, the best color might be a bit to one side or the other of the sun.

This image was created on 26 DEC 2020 at Indian Lake Estates, FL. Working from my SUV, I used the BLUBB-(barely) supported Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens, the Sony FE 2.0x Teleconverter, and the blazingly fast Sony Alpha a9 II Mirrorless Digital camera body) that features incredibly accurate AF. ISO: 50. Exposure determined by Zebras with ISO on the Control Wheel: 1/2500 sec. at f/13 in Manual mode. AWB at 8:55am on a sunny morning.

Manual focus with focus peaking enabled. Be sure to click on the image to see a larger version.

Sandhill Crane — blasting silhouette head portrait

A Blasting Highlights AF Tip

If you have ever tried to autofocus in really bright blasting highlights situations, you already know that your camera’s AF system is completely blinded. Hey, I just checked; more than 15 years ago, in the Art of Bird Photography II (on CD or via electronic download), I wrote:

Creating 11 a.m. Silhouettes

To achieve maximum backlighting, you will of course need to position yourself so that the subject is directly between you and the sun. With flashing, glaring highlights, it is usually impossible to acquire focus automatically, so it is best to focus manually.

I’d kept that tidbit in the back of my mind for well more than a decade when Anita North mentioned, somewhere on our road trip, that she’d come up with a great blasting highlights trick: Focus manually using focus peaking! I said, “I knew the first part of that, but adding the focus peaking is a great idea.” So when I had the crane standing in one spot, I moved the AF switch to M and enabled focus peaking on my a9 ii. As I have cautioned here over the years, whenever you are focusing manually it is much better to be on a tripod than to be handholding. Why? If you think that you can hold completely still you are wrong; even the movement associated with breathing is enough to throw off the focus with a super-telephoto lens (with or without a teleconverter). Note: the knee-pod technique is OK in these situations.

Working on the BLUBB while having to focus manually presents a big problem: the manual focusing ring rests on the big beanbag. It is impossible to focus. First I tried resting the hood of the lens on the BLUBB. That was less than ideal. Next I pushed the lens forward and rested the near-end of the lens barrel on the BLUBB. While that was a bit better, it too was less than ideal. In each case, the lens was not completely stable. While using a BLUBB is much easier than setting up the tripod in the front seat, it would have been a hundred times easier to focus accurately and to eliminate movement of the lens had I been on a tripod. If you are new to that idea, check out the Setting up a Tripod in your Vehicle Video. It is important to remember that if you tripod is topped by one of the FlexShooter Pro heads, it is easy to photograph flight and action from the car without ever having to worry about leveling the rig.

Once I had the exposure right, I turned off Zebras so that I could better see the red focus peaking edges as I focused manually. Again, AF has no chance in blasting highlights situations.

Click on the image to see the vastly improved sharpness in the After image on our right.

Topaz Sharpen AI on the Sandhill Crane — blasting silhouette head portrait image

Topaz Sharpen AI

With this ISO 50 image being mega-exposed to the right (thanks to what I have been learning in RawDigger), I opted not to run Topaz DeNoise AI on Auto on the whole image (as I do with almost every photo that I process). Knowing right off the bat that my sharpness techniques while balancing the big lens on the BLUBB (as detailed above), were less than ideal, I brought the image right into Sharpen AI. I wound up using Stabilize with the Sharpness slider reduced from 50 to 40 and the Noise Suppression slider reduced from 50 to 20.


In all blog posts and Bulletins, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors.

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