Compromising on Shutter Speed to Avoid Mega-high ISOs « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Compromising on Shutter Speed to Avoid Mega-high ISOs

What’s Up?

The first morning of the 3rd San Diego IPT was on the challenging side. Both Barbara and Brannigan needed lots of help. There were lots of pelicans down below with only a few up top due to the low surf. As more and more pelicans flew in up top, it became difficult to isolate single birds. We enjoyed a long working brunch at Shorehouse Kitchen and headed back to La Jolla for an interesting Brandt’s Cormorant afternoon session.

Today is Friday 20 January 2023, the second day of the 3rd San Diego IPT. The forecast is again calling for clear and sunny in the morning with a bit more of breeze from the NE. This blog post took about an hour to prepare (including the time spent on the image optimization) and makes two hundred ninety-seven days in a row with a new, educational post. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope that you too have a great day.

I fly back to Florida this coming Tuesday. Please remember to use my B&H or Bedford’s affiliate programs for your new gear purchases.

There are just two spots left on the 2023 Spoonbill Boat 1-1/2 DAY MINI-IPT. Scroll down for details.

The plan is to continue to post every day until the streak reaches one year and one day and then go back to posting every other day.

Please remember to use the B&H and Amazon links that are found on most blog pages and to use the BIRDSASART discount code at checkout when purchasing your new gear from Bedfords to get 3% back on your credit card and enjoy free second-day air FedEx. Please, also, consider joining a BAA IPT. You will be amazed at how much you will learn!

You can find some great photo accessories (and necessities, like surf booties!) on Amazon by clicking on the Stuff tab on the orange/yellow menu bar above. On a related note, it would be extremely helpful if blog-folks who, like me, spend too much money on Amazon, would get in the habit of clicking on the Amazon logo link on the right side of each blog post when they shop online. As you might expect, doing so will not cost you a single penny, but would be appreciated tremendously by yours truly. And doing so, works seamlessly with your Amazon Prime account.

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Induro GIT 304L Tripod

Out of production for more than two years, BAA just sold its last one. The good news? We have located two more new-in-the-box tripods. They will be available for shipping at the end of January. Best to order yours now to be sure that you get one. We will not run your card until your item ships. The 304L was my go-to tripod for more than a decade. Best to grab order yours right now to avoid being disappointed.

This image was created on 17 January 2023 at La Jolla, CA. While standing at full height, I used the no-longer available (except from BIRDS AS ART) Induro GIT 304L tripod/Levered-Clamp FlexShooter Pro-mounted Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and The One, the Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless digital camera. ISO 3200. Exposure was determined via Zebras with ISO on the rear dial: 1/1250 sec. at f/4 (wide open). When evaluated in RawDigger, the raw file exposure was determined less than 1/3 from perfect. AWB at 7:23:40am on a dark, wild weather morning.

Tracking: Zone AF-C with Bird Face/Eye detection enabled performed perfectly even at 1200mm. Be sure to click on the image to enjoy a high-res version.

Brown Pelican scratching in flight

Compromising on Shutter Speed to Avoid Mega-high ISOs

As I have been preaching here for some time, it is generally best to shoot birds in flight at shutter speeds of from 1/2500 to 1/3200 second or faster. After struggling hopelessly for ten minutes with the borrowed Sony a7R V body, I ran back to the car, grabbed an a1, and went to work. As the birds were relatively distant, I needed the reach of the 600 so the faster 400mm f/2.8 stayed in the vehicle.

Working at +2 1/3 stops off the grey sky at 1/2500 second got me to ISO 6400, with a very good exposure on the pelican. Not wanting to work at such a high ISO, I cut everything in half and wound up at 1/1250 second at ISO 3200. With the strong NW wind the pelicans were hanging in the air, barely moving at all. In less than four seconds, I created 103 images of the scratching pelican. I kept 22. From three very similar images, I chose this one as it had the best look at the bird’s left foot, the scratching foot. Even at “only 1/1250 second, all 103 images were sharp on the bird’s eye or eyes.

It helps to remember that with film we were happy to get a shutter speed of 1/500th second for flight.

The Lesson

We can often make sharp flight images at lower shutter speeds than usual while enjoying lower ISO settings,.


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

8 comments to Compromising on Shutter Speed to Avoid Mega-high ISOs

  • Adam

    Care to explain what happened with the a7RV? Was it struggling under these conditions? There is an important subtext in this discussion, namely that there are times when superzooms (Canon, Sony, Sigma, etc.) can’t cut it due to their aperture restrictions for BIF. If I did the calculations correctly based on your settings, you were shooting with a light value of EV 9.3. Even though those are light values approximating a nighttime football game under stadium lights, here in the Midwest that’s almost blinding sunshine!

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      As I stated, the camera was not set up at all. I sat in the car for 30 minutes and set it up for bird photography. I tried it for a while. It was 100% obvious to me that when compared to the a1 for bird photography, the a7R V is a worthless, $3498.00 toy. I will expound upon why in a future blog post.

      I have no idea how to calculate EV and I can assure you that conditions were cloudy-dark, many, many times brighter than a nighttime football. game. As I said, it was cloudy dark.

      with love, artie

      ps: had I been using the Sony 200-600 I would hav been at ISO 8000 (if my math is correct).

  • Anthony Ardito

    “It helps to remember that with film we were happy to get a shutter speed of 1/500th second for flight.”

    It is kind of remarkable the difference between the old film days and now. I used to go to the Morning Call (Allentown, Pa) newspaper’s dark room to develop my pictures in H.S. 1/1000 sec was the fastest shutter my camera could handle. ISO/ASA 100 or 400 film was the only choice.

    I bought my Minolta XG7 from “some NYC store” mail order from the back of Popular Photography magazine…cut out the order form with scissors and mailed it off with my hard earned $350. I waited many weeks, but the camera finally showed up!

    I recently acquired some 35mm film for the ‘ol Minolta. It still works, except for the built-in light meter…I have to determine exposure the old way. Kinda stinks, so I put it back up on the shelf and use my a1 😉

  • Sue Jarrett

    When I go around different areas and photo birds and animals I haven’t seen a lot of Brown Pelicans! Your photo is cute and interesting and well made!!

  • Ted Willcox

    I never realized how beautiful Brown Pelicans were until viewing your images! It has been my pleasure to view all the pelican images you have posted, thanks.

  • Jordan Cait

    Hi Artie,
    I really like this perspective of the bird scanning the water for fish.


    W enjoyed a long working brunch
    s/b We

    while enjoy8ing lower ISO settings,.
    s/b enjoying (and remove the trailing comma)

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