to Photograph Birds in an Acrylic Aviary (cont)
general, when shooting birds, you want to use a wide aperture,
or lens opening (see the side bar). The reason for this is that
a wide aperture gives you a shallow depth of field. The bird will
therefore stand out in focus with a soft, blurred background behind
him, which is usually the desired effect. Using a wide aperture
is usually not a problem, since indoor lighting is less than ideal
and the wider the aperture, the more light comes in, and the better
exposed your picture will be. Sometimes, however, I found that
I get too shallow a depth of field, especially when working with
a telephoto lens, which narrows depth of field even more. The
bird I focused on will be in focus, but the bird right beside
it would be out of focus. Sometimes this worked (I liked the effect
in this photo of my blue caps), but other times it made the picture
unusable, because the subject was really the pair of birds. In
these cases, I have to make sure I narrow the aperture a little
bit, so both birds appear sharp.
working with a narrow depth of field, the focus
point (2) is exceptionally critical. I try to
focus as close as possible on the eye of the bird, since this
is the point that will draw you into the picture. If the eye is
out of focus, the picture is usually unsatisfactory. (If taking
a picture of a sleeping bird, focus on the beak instead.) The
rest of the bird can fall out of focus somewhat, as long as the
eye is sharp. I even sometimes blur the feathers of the bird in
Photoshop because the picture is too sharp and the lines of the
feathers stand out in an unnatural way. This tends to happen with
my blue caps for some reason - they end up looking like they have
bristly hairs, which is not the case.
on the eye of the bird for the best effect.
this picture, I got the focus point wrong. The feet are
clearly sharp and in focus, but the eye, beak, and face
are a litttle too fuzzy. Focusing on the eye of the bird
would have improved this shot significantly.
this shot could have been improved by using a slightly faster
shutter speed, it was fast enough to freeze the wings in
there is more to it than just aperture and depth of focus. There
is also shutter speed and freezing motion. Birds move quickly
- even their small movements while sitting perched are quite fast.
In order to freeze the bird's motion, you must use a fast shutter
speed. But how fast? Ideally, 1/250th of a second. That would
be great. Except the indoor lighting in my house is not ideal
and shooting for 1/250th of a second, even at a wide aperture,
will result in a severely underexposed photograph. So a lot of
compromises have to be made. With regard to shutter speed, I've
found I can drop down to 1/60th of a second (sometimes even 1/30th).
I get a lot of blurry pictures, but I take a lot of pictures,
and I invariably get lucky on some. I delete most of them and
keep the sharp ones or the ones I think I can work with. (This
is a luxury of working digitally).
compromise that can get you some faster shutter speeds is working
with higher ISO settings (or using higher ISO film). My standard
for shooting my birds is ISO 400, because on my camera it is the
highest ISO setting that still does not produce distracting noise
when viewed full size. However, if I need that extra boost, I
will shoot 800 or even 1600. In these cases I use software to
remove noise - Noise Ninja
works well to remove noise without sacrificing image sharpness.
Photoshop has some noise reduction capabilities, but they frequently
lead to a blurry image.
you are working digitally, you can also shoot some underexposed
pictures. If they are not underexposed too badly, software can
greatly improve the image. I use Adobe Photoshop's Levels tool
to do this and it works nicely on slightly underexposed images.
there is flash. Flash is not ideal for photographing birds. For
one thing, it will probably disrupt the birds somewhat (although
I was very surprised to find that mine don't really react badly
to it at all). For another, you will have to get close enough
to the birds for the flash to reach them - and your presence will
definitely disrupt them. While telephoto lenses are ideal for
getting close up shots of birds without them being disturbed by
the photographer, flash with a telephoto lens is pretty useless.
Flash is also a somewhat unnatural and unflattering form of lighting,
and it casts harsh shadows. Finally, flash will reflect in the
Plexiglas panels and may ruin your shot. Although this is true,
I've found that if I stand very close to the Plexiglas, the flash
usually does not get in the way. When it does, it is usually only
when I shoot at certain angles and I try to avoid those angles.
Of course, if I am standing close to the Plexiglas, the birds
are usually flying away, so it is a tricky situation. One thing
about flash - if you see that it is adversely affecting your birds
- don't use it. It is not worth stressing them out for - settle
for a slower shutter speed or a higher ISO and/or hope that software
might be able to compensate for the underexposure.
is a technical term for the lens opening. A wide aperture
is a large lens opening. A narrow aperture is a small lens
opening. A wide aperture gives you a shallow depth of field,
which means that the subject will be in focus, but the background
will be significantly blurred. A narrow aperture gives you
a large depth of field, which means that both the subject
and the background will be sharp. Aperture sizes are represented
by an F number. The smaller the F number, the larger the
opening (eg, f/5.6 is a larger opening [wider aperture]
Return to Article.
IS SHUTTER SPEED?
speed is a measure of how long the shutter stays open. Longer
shutter times let in more light because the shutter stays
open longer. However, if your subject is moving, longer
shutter times are more likely to result in blurred pictures,
whereas shorter shutter speeds freeze the motion.
Return to Article.
is the sensitivity of film (or the digital camera's sensor)
to light. A higher ISO setting requires less light to successfully
expose the picture. However, the trade off is noise (both
on film and in digital pictures). A picture taken with a
higher ISO will have more noise (little off-colored speckled
dots) than one taken with a lower ISO setting.
Return to Article.
cameras allow you to choose different focus points within
the frame. If this is the case, position the active focus
point over the eye of the bird. Some cameras will only focus
at the center of the frame. In this case, you will have
to position the camera such that the bird's eye is centered
in the frame. Many times, cameras will allow you to lock
the focus and then reframe the shot. To do this, frame the
shot so that the eye of the bird is in the center of the
frame, depress the shutter half way to lock the focus, and
without releasing the shutter, reframe the shot the way
you want it, and fully depress the shutter to take the shot.
Return to Article.
am currently switching to Adobe Photoshop to edit all of
my pictures because of its support for color-managed workflows.
Photoshop, however, is very expensive and overkill for what
most amateurs need. Photoshop Elements is a relatively inexpensive
version of Photoshop that contains most of the features
your will ever use. Some digital cameras come with a version
of Elements. Jasc Paint Shop Pro is another low-cost alternative
with good powerful features. Prior to learning Photoshop,
I used Microsoft Picture It to improve my photos. This application
is a little buggy, but it has an automated fix function
that I found to be better than the average auto-fix. Most
casual users who don't want total control over their editing
find that auto-fix improves their images significantly without
requiring effort or skill.
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