An Important But Basic Bird Photography Principle: Use Wide Apertures in Low Light… « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

An Important But Basic Bird Photography Principle: Use Wide Apertures in Low Light...


Tuesday was a relaxing day. I had to head into town for some errands in the afternoon but did have time for an ice bath before dinner. This blog post, the 111th in a row, took about 2 hours to prepare. It was published just before 6am on Wednesday morning.

St. Augustine Alligator Farm Short-Notice Spoonbill and Wading Bird Chicks IPT: May 4-6, 2015. TWO FULL and TWO 1/2 DAYS: $1099. Limit 8/Openings 5.

Enjoy practically private instruction. Please call the office at 863-692-0906 for St. Augustine IPT Late Registration Discount info. For complete details see the blog post here and scroll down.

Canon’s Huge Megapixel Bodies

Many of you have read about the two new Canon 50+ megapixel bodies, the Canon EOS 5DS DSLR and the Canon EOS 5DS R DSLR. The two cameras look, sound, and pretty much are quite similar. I have withheld commenting until now because I did not have a good–heck, I did not have any–understanding of the single difference between the two bodies, that being the Low-Pass Filter Effect Cancellation.

If you missed the hugely popular “Canon’s Two New 50+ Megapixel Camera Bodies/You Must Read This Before You Buy,” you can click here to catch up and learn a ton to boot.

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Featured Listing

Canon EF 24-70 f2.8L II USM Lens

Dave Bourgaize is offering a used Canon EF 24-70 f2.8L II USM lens in excellent condition for $1499.00. The sale includes front lens cover and rear lens cap, EW-88C lens hood, original Canon bag, and insured shipping via UPS Ground to US addresses. Your item will not ship until your check clears unless other arrangements are made. Please contact Dave by e-mail or by phone at (310) 748-9547 (pacific time zone).

I own and use the 24-70II. It is much sharper edge to edge than the lighter, more versatile Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. I consider the 24-70II a must for serious landscape photographers. As it sells new for $1899 Dave’s price is lower than any I have seen for this lens in excellent condition. It should sell quickly.


This image was created on the recently concluded Fort DeSoto IPT by Phil Frigon with the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens (hand held at 11mm) and the Canon EOS-1D X. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2 stops: 1/250 sec. at f/4.0.

Center AF point/AI Servo Expand/Rear Focus AF on the grass just in front of and to the left of the photographer. Rear Focus is where it is at for landscape images. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image #1: Fort DeSoto photographer-scape. Image courtesy of and copyright 2015: Phil Frigon.

Stormy Skies/Low Light

In the Spoonbill Aperture Quiz here, I wrote, “You get the picture. Conditions were borderline crappy. There was not much light. And it was late in the day.” When I saw Phil’s wonderful image, I thought, that explains the conditions perfectly. Thanks to Phil for graciously allowing me to share his skillfully seen and beautifully designed image with you here. See more on the spoonbill aperture below.

The photographer pictured in the photo above is IPT participant Warren Robb, an easy-going gentleman from Texas. It is high tide and the view is toward the Gulf.

The Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens

I was never even aware of this lens until I saw it in Phil’s hands on the IPT. He used it quite effectively above. Heck, I am more of a super-telephoto guy. I wouldn’t mind having one in my bag at Bosque or in the Palouse….

The 11-15 is a truly versatile wide-angle zoom lens featuring an advanced optical design and constant f/4 maximum aperture, the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens is a member of the esteemed L-series of lenses designed for full-frame EOS DSLRs. One Super UD element and one UD element offer a significant reduction in chromatic aberrations while four aspherical elements help to minimize distortions throughout the zoom range and provide consistent edge-to-edge sharpness and illumination. Both SWC and ASC coatings have been applied to the elements in order to reduce lens flare and ghosting for increased contrast and color accuracy. Ideally suited for landscape and architectural photography, this lens covers ultra-wide to wide-angle perspectives and backs up its versatile zoom range with sophisticated optical components and intuitive handling.

In regard to focusing performance, a ring-type Ultrasonic Motor offers fast, smooth, and near-silent autofocus, which is further benefitted by full-time manual focus operation and an internal focusing design. The lens is both water and dust-resistant, and fluorine coatings have also been applied to the front and rear elements to protect against fingerprints and smudges from affecting image quality. It is compatible with full-frame EOS DSLRs, as well as with APS-C-sized sensors (like the EOS 7D Mark II) where it will provide a 17.6-38.4mm equivalent focal length range.

  • Constant f/4 maximum aperture offers consistent performance and light transmission throughout the zoom range.
  • One Super UD (Ultra Low Dispersion) and one UD element help to significantly reduce chromatic aberrations for improved clarity and color accuracy.
  • Four aspherical elements help to minimize distortions throughout the zoom range in order to maintain edge-to-edge sharpness and illumination.
  • Both a Subwavelength Coating (SWC) and an Air Sphere Coating (ASC) have been applied to lens elements to reduce backlit flaring and ghosting for maintained light transmission and high contrast in strong lighting conditions.
  • A ring-type Ultrasonic Motor (USM), along with an internal focusing system, high-speed CPU, and optimized AF algorithms, are employed to deliver fast, precise, and near-silent autofocus performance.
  • Full-time manual focus operation is available for fine-tuning of your focus position when working in the AF mode.
  • A weather-resistant design protects the lens from dust and moisture to enable its use in inclement conditions. Additionally, fluorine coatings have also been applied to the front and rear lens elements for further protection against fingerprints and smudging.
  • Nine rounded diaphragm blades contribute to a pleasing out of focus quality that benefits the use of shallow depth of field and selective focus techniques.
  • The lens is designed to accept rear insert-type gelatin filters, which are cut-to-size and inserted behind the rear lens element.


This image was created on the last afternoon of the Fort DeSoto IPT with the hand held Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens and the Canon EOS 7D Mark II. ISO 640. Evaluative metering +2 stops as framed: 1/1000 sec. at f/2.8 in Manual mode. AWB. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Center AF point/AI Servo-Surround/Shutter Button AF (right on the bird’s eye) as originally framed was active at the moment of exposure. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Roseate Spoonbill landing

The Spoonbill Aperture: f/2.8

It was pretty dark. There was very little light. I was fighting for shutter speed. I wanted to avoid raising the ISO. There was only one choice as far as the aperture: f/2.8. And I never worry about depth-of-field when doing flight photography…. In the blog post here, “Wide Open for Flight,” I explained why I often go “wide open for flight.” As it seems that that lesson needs to be repeated, that is what I will do here 🙂

Why Wide Open for Flight?

Most of the time when doing flight photography I will work wide open or close to it. Here, I went wide open to the max at f/2.8. To my eye, the depth-of-field is more than sufficient to cover the whole bird from wingtip to wingtip.

Here are the reasons in no particular order that I work wide open or close to it when doing flight photography:

1: The wider the aperture at a given ISO the faster the shutter speed. Fast shutter speeds are ideal for flight photography. My good friend Ned Harris, a skilled and oft-published hawks in flight photographer, once said to me, “If I could work at 1/8000 sec. all the time for flight photography I would do just that.”

2: Working at the widest aperture will always let you use the lowest ISO for a given shutter speed (always assuming that you are exposing to the right–as I did here in an extreme low-light situation–in order to come up with a good exposure).

3-In most flight photography situations the birds are far enough away to ensure sufficient depth-of-field to cover the entire bird. Remember that as camera to subject distance increases, depth-of-field increases. For me, the myth of stopping down either one full stop or always working at f/8 is pretty much bad advice. A secondary factor here that bolsters my argument is that though you would typically want more depth-of-field when working close to a lens’s minimum focusing distance, depth of field at close range is minimized…. In other words, stopping down in these situations will not help you much anyway….

Simply Put

With most bird photography, the wide apertures are usually fine. They pay off with high shutter speeds and lower ISOs. With birds in flight, you almost always have enough depth-of-field to cover the bird from wingtip to wingtip, even when working at the wide open aperture. And if you do stop down, you do not gain much. You should stop down when photographing birds at extremely close range, close to the minimum focusing distance of your lens. In those case be to sure focus on the eye or at least on the same plane as the bird’s eye.


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9 comments to An Important But Basic Bird Photography Principle: Use Wide Apertures in Low Light…

  • Warren Robb

    Many thanks to Phil for taking this shot and for your kind words. My only critique is that there were prettier accent subjects available than this old bird 😉 Thanks also Artie for your time, patience, and willingness to share so much of your incredible knowledge that made this IPT such a success for me. I look forward to accompaning you again at some point in the future. Meanwhile I wish good shooting to you and my fellow Fort Desoto participants.

    Warren Robb

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      You are most welcome. It was a pleasure meeting and working with you and the rest of the gang. I also enjoyed meeting your wife Cathy even though briefly. I hope that she had sun visiting family and friends in Tampa while we were playing with the birds. BTW, she really knew her birds. Send her my love. artie

  • Craig Wesson

    I love how you make us think, sometimes over think a problem. When we get the answer it becomes so clear. Thanks again for all you do !

  • David Peake

    F 2.8…. I knew it. ‘Nuff said!

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hey David,

      The analysis in your 3:37pm comment was spot on, and, you came up with the right answer. All that you had to do was quit then…. 🙂


      • David Peake.

        Hi Artie.
        Your are quite right.
        I should learn when to quit. Couldn’t help myself.
        I think you commented to someone else that there was something obvious that we were all missing.
        And I hate for a puzzle to get the better of me.

        fresh topic. 1
        Do you find it tricky to get your mongoose head sitting level when you set your tripod in a new position? Does it require any fiddling? I see from carefully looking at your videos that you don’t seem to use a leveling base. I bet you have a good reason for not using one, such as weight, ergonomics or complexity. And you pull the middle tripod leg thru for comfortable carrying.
        fresh topic 2
        The little Dunlin photo is superb. I really love the little drop of water perfectly captured on the end of it’s beak.

        as always

        • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

          You should always strive to have the tripod platform relatively square to the world. As long as it is not cockeyed, you will be fine. If it is quite a bit off kilter, you can learn to get it pretty level by shortening or lengthening the legs as needed. Or, you can rotate the lens in the barrel if need be to get perfectly square (using the in-camera level on the new cameras or a bubble level as we did for years before that). As I am always pointing my shadow at the subject (at least on sunny days) that is not too tough to do.

          If you need to get perfectly level as when you are gonna be shooting flight without moving the tripod for a half hour, take a minute to plant the tripod firmly and then adjust the leg lengths until the floating bubble is centered in the scribed bubble. With a bit of practice it becomes easy. I can level the head perfectly by adjusting the leg more quickly than most folks can with a leveling base. Only I do not get to carry around the extra pound or two or deal with the cumbersome design…

          Yes on correct carrying of the tripod. Not sure that I ever posted a photo of that. Glad that you liked the Dunlin image. Me too. later and love, artie

          • David Peake.

            Thanks Artie.
            Now to get me a mongoose for my 100-400 mk 2. I’ve been looking but there doesn’t seem to be a new Zealand supplier.
            As always, Love D

            The M3.6 is perfect for the 100-400 II. BAA is the NZ supplier. We have shipped them to both NZ and Australia. Shoot Jim an e-mail to learn the shipping options and costs. artie