Blasting Sunrise Highlights: Why hand hold and focus manually at 1000mm? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Blasting Sunrise Highlights: Why hand hold and focus manually at 1000mm?


There were five of us altogether at the Tuesday morning In-the-Field Instructional Meet-up Session: local meet-up repeater Ray Jusseaume, long time friends an many multiple IPT veterans, the fancy free Stokes and Pat Fishburne, and IPT left-over and great new friend Lee Sommie. After lots of sunrise fun and lessons my main goal was to re-find the strange heron that we had been seeing for the four newcomers. Mission accomplished. I will share images of that bird with you here tomorrow.

All but Ray joined for yet another great lunch at the Neptune Grill. During the IPT I had the jambalaya, an amazing spinach salad, and a great burger with absolutely the best sweet potato fires on the planet. Many in the group consistently went for the fish tacos and raved about them. Jim Miller had “the second best Cuban sandwich of my life.” Last year Carlotta Grenier had the pastichio off the Greek menu every day! And Jake Levin from Montreal who has been on several DeSoto IPTs, felt that his day was not complete without the Gyro sandwich, also off the Greek menu. Yesterday I had only a cheeseburger on a plate (no bun) so that I could have room for my first dessert; if you have a sweet tooth and are within an hour’s drive of Gulfport you would be considered legally insane if you did not drop by for a piece of their peanut butter pie … It is not always on the menu but is well worth trying for. And there were some pretty good looking alternatives in the dessert case!

I fly to Long Island on Thursday to visit younger daughter Alissa and her family and to see my two sisters.

Great IPT News

An amazing nine or ten folks — I need to check carefully — have already committed to the new, expanded UK Puffins and Gannets 2018 IPT with the Bempton Cliffs pre-trip. And all have signed up for the pre-trip. There is just one slot left so if you are interested in joining us, please do not tarry. You can learn more about this great trip here.

The Streak

Today marks sixty-three days in a row with a new educational blog post! This one took about 45 minutes to prepare. With all of my upcoming free time (or not …), the plan right now is to break the current record streak of (I think) four hundred eighty something … Good health and good internet connections willing.


Booking.Com came through for me once again with both my DeSoto IPT and next July’s UK Puffins, Gannets, and Bempton Pre-trip room reservations. And all the rates were great. If you’d like to give Booking.Com a shot, click here and you will earn a $25 reward. Thanks to the many who have already tried and used this great service.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of folks 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.

This image was created on the Tuesday morning In-the-Field Meet-Up session with the the hand held Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 2X III, and my favorite bird photography camera body, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. ISO 200. Evaluative metering -3 2/3 stop (not a typo): 1/8000 sec. at f/11. WB= K7500.

Manual focus.

Great Egret looking down at sunrise

Blasting Sunrise Highlights

It looked as if we might enjoy some relatively soft sunrise colors but once the sun peeked over a large cloud that was the end of those thoughts … Photographing directly into blasting highlights is always a big challenge. If you are not right on your game, you are doomed to failure. You can learn the basics of shooting into blasting hight=lights (including how to get the right exposure in these difficult situations) in the Art of Bird Photography II (ABP II: 916 pages, 900+ images on CD only or via download.) Only the very well prepared should attempt to answer the two questions below …

Why focus manually at 1000mm?

In a blasting highlights situation, why is it usually necessary to focus manually?

Why hand hold at 1000mm?

In a blasting highlights situation, why is it often a good plan to hand hold even when working at an extremely long focal length?

Group Blasting Highlight Photography

When photographing blasting highlights with two others why is it best to have one person sitting, one kneeling, and one standing?

Your Critique …

Do you like this image? If yes, what do you like about it? If not, what don’t you like? Could I have improved it in the field? How? Could I have improved it during post processing? How?

If In Doubt …

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As always, we sell only what I have used, have tested, and can depend on. We will not sell you junk. We know what you need to make creating great images easy and fun. And please remember that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail.

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8 comments to Blasting Sunrise Highlights: Why hand hold and focus manually at 1000mm?

  • avatar Glenn

    Well I think the answer to a couple of these relates to not destroying your camera:

    1. I’d move off to one side slightly so the ‘blasting highlights’ weren’t in my frame and therefore not potentially frying my AF sensor or viewfinder internals. I’d focus on the bird/subject, switch to manual once focus was locked then move back in line with the highlights for a shot or three. Provided I was careful about not moving out of the same plane where I locked focus and I was stopped down a little to get a reasonable DOF, I should be able to keep good focus. Anyway, I can always try a quick shot and see what it looks like. So when I’m ready to get some shots, I’d point the camera into the ‘danger zone’, quickly compose and fire off some frame then point the camera away quickly. Having pre-focussed, I won’t be wasting another second or so trying to lock focus and risk potential damage to the camera. And I do think the camera might also lock on the background highlights as the AF sensor works on contrast. Another reason not to muck around in the danger zone trying to lock focus.
    2. Handholding: yes fast SS should remove need for tripod but with handholding, I can point to the subject and point away really quickly and thereby reduce risk of damage to camera. As I’m prefocussed, I can concentrate on composition an fire off without delay.
    3. We all want to be in the same vertical plane to get the ‘blasting highlights’ so need to stand in formation like that. If someone is off to one side, they won’t have the highlights behind the bird.
    *** Fingers crossed and hope the bird doesn’t move out of the pre-focussed plane otherwise I’d need to start again.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Glenn, Thanks for commenting.

      1-If you move slightly to one side the image is gone … No color, no specular highlights. I have been photographing into blasting, blinding highlights for decades with both film and digital cameras and have never incurred any damage … Also, focusing on the subject with AF in these situations if pretty much impossible … Do see the follow-up post coming soon 🙂

      2-Once you move anywhere anyhow sharp focus will be thrown off at 1200mm … That is why I knee-podded it and focused manually. Even then some images were a bit sharper than others due to my movements …

      3-Good on this one 🙂

      with love, artie

  • avatar Ron Gates

    On item three…why one standing, one kneeling and one sitting. This event would be constantly changing and it would give everyone a chance to shoot. Depending on how far away the bird is, the height difference of the shooters would be negligible on the finished image.

    I like this image a lot. Well done, Artie.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Ron. Not exactly on #3 🙂 I believe that you are missing the main point of the question.

      with love, artie

  • I like the image, it is wonderfully graphic.

    1) Manual focus is required because autofocus would want to lock onto the bright background, and the subject would be out of focus. If your eyes aren’t up to it you could also try single-shot autofocus and pick the focus point carefully, then switch off autofocus.

    2) Handholding lets you frame the image the way you want it more easily, at 1/1000 or faster camera shake should not be an issue.

    3) No clue on this one.

  • avatar Ray


    I had a wonderful time blasting highlights with you at Ft Desoto.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Also the 400 discussion! You never fail to teach me something new.

    Ray Jusseaume

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks again Ray for joining us. The mystery bird walked right up to us on the beach after you left!

      with love till next time, artie

  • Hey Arthur,

    You focused manually because auto focus will hunt for focus due to the blasting highlights.

    Hand holding will give you more freedom to move around for different compositions and the shutter speed is fast enough to hand hold.

    So you don’t get in each others way.

    This is a nice image i like the composition and the silhouette . The s shape the neck makes is great.