Low Light Frenetic Shorebird Photography Lesson « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Low Light Frenetic Shorebird Photography Lesson

Hand Update

The hand continues to improve slowly each day. Stitches out next Wednesday. I made it out to Westhampton Beach on Thursday afternoon but it was pretty much a bust: wind against sun and few birds, all skittish….

You Be the Photo Contest Judge/Part I/Nature: Update

With 81 comments by early Friday morning, You Be the Photo Contest Judge/Part I interest is waning a bit :). So far nobody has matched my three picks; one poster–I am not saying who–has my three picks as their three picks, just not in the right order. If nobody get is perfect by late Sunday, she will be awarded the $10 discount good at the BAA On-Line Store. I will share my three choices and the reasons I chose them when I get back from Pennsylvania flower photography late on Sunday. If you would like to join Denise Ippolito and me on her workshop at Chanticleer Gardens in Wayne PA this afternoon at 4:30. call me on my cell at 863-221-2372 and bring cash. 🙂 Click here for details; feel free to apply a $25 late registration discount.

[Not a valid template]

This image of a breeding plumage Sanderling was created at Westhampton Beach, NY with the Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens, the EF 1.4X III TC, and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 1000. Evaluative metering +2 stops: 1/200 sec. at f/9 in Tv Mode with ISO Saftey Shift enabled. Lens Micro-Adjustment +3.

Beach clean-up as usual as per Digital Basics.

Low Light Shorebird Photography Lesson

I made this image early last Saturday, the day after I got out of the hospital. (My bad.) I was anxious to get to the beach at least for a while. (Please don’t tell my doctor…..) It was a cold, dark, windy Long Island spring morning. By 8am I was getting chilled so I headed home. The usual horseshoe crab egg-eating shorebirds were present. Stopping the action was a challenge…. Against all odds, I made a few good images.

Sanderlings are frenetic feeders. They rarely stand still for a moment and there heads are always going up and down like a sewing machine needle. And that goes double when they are feeding on the tiny horseshoe crab eggs as this bird was. (The depression below the bird’s head is the excavated nest.) Early morning, low light, fast moving birds, and worse yet, I needed the 1.4X III TC on my 800 in order to create the image that I wanted. That left me at f/8. What to do?

I opted to work in Tv mode and set a shutter speed that I thought would be fast enough to freeze the bird if it paused for an instant. With light colored birds and light sand I added two stops of light to my exposure and checked my histogram. It looked OK. With ISO Safety Shift enabled the camera would raise the ISO so that I could work at my desired shutter speed. (Auto ISO would have served the same purpose.) I could have added a bit more light but that would have meant that that camera would have set an even higher ISO…..

The key to success was doing something that I have trouble doing: putting the pedal to the metal, holding the shutter button down firmly once I had a good angle to the bird and a relatively clear view of the feet and a nice posture. Usually when “rapid firing” I hesitate–almost imperceptibly–for an instant between images. With the Sanderling’s frenetic head movements as they searched for the tiny eggs I made a conscious effort to hold the shutter button down firmly. Doing so worked perfectly here. Each series of images featured one or two sharp images along with at least half a dozen with the heads blurred from subject movement.

So the next time you find yourself trying to photograph active birds in low light, work in Tv mode, set a shutter speed that is fast enough to give you a chance, dial in the needed exposure compensation, set Auto ISO or ISO Safety Shift, and when the image is there, hold the shutter button down firmly. You will likely get at least a few sharp ones. (Note: in good light you could use a similar strategy by simply choosing a higher shutter speed….)

Shopper’s Guide

Below is a list of the gear that I used to create the image above (along with some related items). Thanks a stack to all who have used the Shopper’s Guide links to purchase their gear as a thank you for all the free information that we bring you on the Blog and in the Bulletins. Before you purchase anything be sure to check out the advice in our Shopper’s Guide.

Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens. Right now this is my all time favorite super-telephoto lens.
Canon 1.4X III TC. This new Series III TC is designed to work best with the new Series II super-telephoto lenses.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body. My workhorse professional digital camera bodies.

And from the BAA On-line Store:

Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod. This one will last you a lifetime.
Mongoose M3.6 Tripod Head. Right now this is the best tripod head around for use with lenses that weigh less than 9 pounds. For heavier lenses, check out the Wimberley V2 head.
CR-80 Replacement Foot for Canon 800. When using the 800 on a Mongoose as I do, replacing the lens foot with this accessory lets the lens sit like a dog whether pointed up or down and prevents wind-blown spinning of your lens on breezy days by centering the lens directly over the tripod.
Double Bubble Level. You will find one in my camera’s hot shoe whenever I am not using flash.
The Lens Align Mark II. I use the Lens Align Mark II pretty much religiously to micro-adjust all of my gear an average of once a month and always before a major trip. Enjoy our free comprehensive tutorial here.

Delkin 32gb e-Film Pro Compact Flash Card. These high capacity cards are fast and dependable. Clicking on the link below will bring you to the Delkin web site. There is lots of great stuff there. If you see a product that we do not carry let us know via e-mail; we will be glad to have it drop-shipped to you and save you a few bucks in the process.

I pack my 800 and tons of other gear in my ThinkTank Airport SecurityTM V2.0 rolling bag for all of my air travel and recommend the slightly smaller Airport InternationalTM V2.0 for most folks. These high capacity bags are well constructed and protect my gear when I have to gate check it on short-hops and puddle jumpers. Each will protect your gear just as well. By clicking on either link or the logo below, you will receive a free gift with each order over $50.

7 comments to Low Light Frenetic Shorebird Photography Lesson

  • I like your bird photo here but you really don’t have an eye highlight, well you have a little but other reflections, but not much, but I don’t think you really need much, because the background and the bird are light coloured and the eye with the tiny highlight is more effective.

    Beautiful shot Art! again

  • Hi Art: You just described a technique we use in rodeo photography. Only we use a faster shutter speed, auto ISO, and shoot a specific burst ( short burst of 1/2 to 1 second or less depending on the activity), for Auto Focusing I use the one central square (like just one, not one of 45), and one hopes to get the peak shot that one is hoping for.

    I tried this similarly with some bird photos, like grouse, which when they start to fly , just explode, prefocusing with one central square ( or just one square only no other support squares), using the AF-On feature, with shutter priority, (TV), and burst and hold, then hope you might have a shot , you likely won’t get two usable shots as they will be out of range, at 9 fps.

    I used this technique plus added info from your bluring technique to get some strange looking shots of their wing formation yet keeping their body in focus.

    Thanks for sharing the bluring info with us.

  • Glad your hand is getting better. Great image and good tips. Thanks.

  • M. Bruce

    Wonderful Sanderling and great tips too!

  • You guys are most welcome. There are always lots of great tips on the blog 🙂

  • Useful clues Arthur, especially part about ISO shift function. Thanks!

  • Great image and good tips!