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Thread: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

  1. #1
    ktuli's Avatar
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    Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    All,

    I know that there are some stellar bird photographers on here, and I've really been trying to get some captures that even come close, but I seem to keep failing miserably. Here are a couple example shots, and then I'll explain what I tried to do right, and hopefully folks can help me identify what pieces I am missing so I can improve...

    Original
    Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    100% Crop
    Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    EXIF for Above shot: Canon EOS 7D, Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM at 500mm, 1/800 sec at f/8. OS Off. ISO 320. RAW conversion in Adobe Camera Raw.

    Original
    Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    Crop
    Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    EXIF for Above shot: Canon EOS 7D, Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM at 500mm, 1/1250 sec at f/8. OS Off. ISO 320. RAW conversion in Adobe Camera Raw.

    Ok, so here are the things I thought I did right...

    1. Tripod mounted (it was not windy, so tripod should have been stable, tree/bushes were not moving)
    2. High shutterspeed
    3. Moderate aperture for DoF while hopefully reducing CA
    4. Moderate ISO to achieve exposure without too much noise (noise reduction and sharpening done in ACR)
    5. Auto-focus with single focus point selected on the bird
    6. Remote shutter release (on second photo)
    7. Approached slowly and quietly
    8. OS turned off while on tripod
    9. Lens corrections applied in ACR to hopefully fix CA and distortion (I usually leave the vignette as is though)


    However, as you can see, these shots just don't hold a candle to the kind of stuff I've seen from others. So my questions are:

    1. How do you get so close to the birds? Do you use a blind and wait?
    2. How do you get such sharp focus? I can see individial feathers on other peoples' photos, but rarely on mine.
    3. Is there some technique I am missing?
    4. Could my lens be bad? I want to borrow a friend's Canon 100-400 to compare to see whether I can get better results with a different lens.


    Any and all help is appreciated!

    Thanks!

    - Bill

  2. #2
    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    IMO you need a larger image which would probably mean getting closer to the bird or alternately getting the bird to come closer to you...

    I don't have a lot of interest in bird photography but, here are some tips...

    http://www.prophotolife.com/video-ep...otography-101/

    My wife has the uncanny ability to spot wildlife. She will say, "Look at that hawk!" and then will have to direct me to look exactly where the bird is. She is able to do this with all types of wildlife, birds, mammals and even fish in shallow water. I wish I had her skills in this area...
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 13th March 2013 at 03:19 PM.

  3. #3
    jprzybyla's Avatar
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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    Hi Bill, I looked at your images and read the information you provided. I am not that familiar with Cannon cameras but I think yours has a crop factor of 1.6. Shooting at 500mm with a crop factor of 1.6 gives a full frame equivalent of 800mm. Looking at the birds in both originals they are very small, at that distance the feather detail is much too small for the sensor to resolve. In my opinion you need to be closer. When I shoot small birds with my 300mm (FFE 450mm) I am normally within 10 feet of the bird. In the image below I was within 10 feet of this bird. If you see a bird flitting around be patient, stay still and let the bird come to you. Decide where would provide a pleasing background and pre-focus on that limb and wait, let the bird come to it and be ready to get off a couple frames when it lands. It took a lot of images and time for me to learn to get closer, the feather detail has to be large enough for the sensor to resolve it. I shoot everything hand held, for my 300mm I use a minimum shutter speed of 1/400. A good way to determine the minimum shutter speed needed for a lens is to multiply the mm of the lens by the crop factor of the camera/sensor. Without a tripod I can respond quickly when a bird lands or if one flies by. For flying birds I use a minimum shutter speed of 1/1600 or faster if the bird is fast flying like a duck. Not conventional by some standards but I like to travel light and a tripod and large lens is just too heavy to carry for my liking. So I shoot what is within the range of my lens. Do I miss some oppurtunities... sure. Hoping this helps...

    Straight out of the camera...

    Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???
    Last edited by jprzybyla; 13th March 2013 at 03:25 PM.

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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    I look forward to the replies to this thread, as am also struggling with getting those sharp bird photos. Just my thoughts in your situation; for small birds it is best to be very close. With my 400mm, I get the best results at about 30 feet for birds the size of a cardinal to a chickadee. It may be cheating in some minds, but I have been using a feeder to attract the birds and am able to shoot out of a window.

    I am finding that a tripod is not practical for birds, I think that using a stout monopod is more practical. I am able to follow small birds as they flit around in the brush readily with the single pivot point.

    My current rule of thumb is shutter speed= 1/focal length*2; I usually have to shoot wide open and a high iso (i.e. f5.6 and iso 800)

  5. #5
    Shadowman's Avatar
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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    These links should be helpful also.

    Understanding Camera Lenses.
    http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tut...htm#calculator

    Using telephoto lenses.
    http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tut...oto-lenses.htm

  6. #6
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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    I agree that you need to be closer. Unfortunately birds do not like this and fly away. That is why you have to hide which is very boring when the birds are not around and restricting even when they are.

    I would suggest you test your lens on some very tame birds. Get a garden bird feeder, research the type of food needed to attract the local wildlife and then keep it stocked. The birds will become more predictable in their appearance times and you will be able to practice at closer range. Or find some ducks at a local pond. They have little fear of people and you can get close. You will soon build up an idea of what settings to use for different size birds and the distances you need.

    Images of truly wild birds are special because they are hard to capture. I would also add that most of the time the situation used to capture the image is not revealed. A lot of 'wild' bird photos are done using bated birds which is not very far removed from shooting pictures at a zoo. Birds are bated using regular feeding and then a nice 'natural' perch is prepared for them to land on when they go to and from the food. This is not cheating. This is a type of bird photography.

    If you prefer to keep your bird photography to natural encounters then you will get a lot of bad bird images. But once in a while you will be rewarded by a great situation. That is why you must maximise the chance of a good situation with practice of field craft skills and your equipment.

    Alex

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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    You don't appear to be doing anything obviously wrong, Bill.

    As others have mentioned, your subject is too distant for good results. Have you tried manual focusing? Auto focusing requires a good sharp target with plenty of contrast to work well and soft edged birds on thin twigs don't produce the required information for reliable auto focus.

    One other natural problem which can occur with both birds and other subjects is the actual quality of light. Moisture in the air or direction of light can produce reduced clarity.

    I often find that my north facing shots (in the UK) are much sharper and 'cleaner' than when facing other directions, particularly south.

    Try some controlled tests with other scenes where there are better auto focus targets; and with manual focus. Sigma did have some quality issues with early 150-500 lenses and it appears that this problem does occasionally still occur.

  8. #8
    Shadowman's Avatar
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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    Bill,

    You might also find this link of interest.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_year

  9. #9
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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    Ok - let's see if I can get responses to all of these helpful suggestions...

    Quote Originally Posted by rpcrowe View Post
    http://www.prophotolife.com/video-ep...otography-101/

    My wife has the uncanny ability to spot wildlife. She will say, "Look at that hawk!" and then will have to direct me to look exactly where the bird is. She is able to do this with all types of wildlife, birds, mammals and even fish in shallow water. I wish I had her skills in this area...
    Richard, Thanks for the video link - that was definitely helpful. I will have to give some of those ideas a try in the field. As for your wife spotting things, my wife too is also a great spotter. I'm not terrible myself, but it is always good to have a second set of eyes looking for things. What I have found is that I can busy myself shooting one subject and while I do that, my wife is busy looking for the next subject. Both of us will observe an individual for a bit and watch for favorite perches and such that they return to repeatedly. This kind of stuff works both for birds and just as well underwater when we're scuba diving!

    Quote Originally Posted by jprzybyla View Post
    Looking at the birds in both originals they are very small, at that distance the feather detail is much too small for the sensor to resolve. In my opinion you need to be closer. When I shoot small birds with my 300mm (FFE 450mm) I am normally within 10 feet of the bird. In the image below I was within 10 feet of this bird. If you see a bird flitting around be patient, stay still and let the bird come to you. Decide where would provide a pleasing background and pre-focus on that limb and wait, let the bird come to it and be ready to get off a couple frames when it lands. It took a lot of images and time for me to learn to get closer, the feather detail has to be large enough for the sensor to resolve it. I shoot everything hand held, for my 300mm I use a minimum shutter speed of 1/400. A good way to determine the minimum shutter speed needed for a lens is to multiply the mm of the lens by the crop factor of the camera/sensor. Without a tripod I can respond quickly when a bird lands or if one flies by. For flying birds I use a minimum shutter speed of 1/1600 or faster if the bird is fast flying like a duck. Not conventional by some standards but I like to travel light and a tripod and large lens is just too heavy to carry for my liking. So I shoot what is within the range of my lens.
    Joe, some great advice there. I am hearing more and more people prefer a prime 300mm over a bigger heavier zoom like my 150-500. Perhaps I'll have to look into something like that.

    Quote Originally Posted by rtbaum View Post
    With my 400mm, I get the best results at about 30 feet for birds the size of a cardinal to a chickadee. It may be cheating in some minds, but I have been using a feeder to attract the birds and am able to shoot out of a window.

    I am finding that a tripod is not practical for birds, I think that using a stout monopod is more practical. I am able to follow small birds as they flit around in the brush readily with the single pivot point.

    My current rule of thumb is shutter speed= 1/focal length*2; I usually have to shoot wide open and a high iso (i.e. f5.6 and iso 800)
    Randy, I don't consider it cheating at all. My wife has many feeders setup in the backyard, and I do practice shooting with them. However, we're limited in what species we get at the house, so I want to learn better techniques that will help me in the field with the species we don't get there. My tripod has a trigger grip ball head which is very smooth and easy to move, so I don't feel it hinders me very much, but perhaps I will try the monopod suggestion. I'll also see about bumping up the shutterspeed to see if that helps as you suggest.

    Quote Originally Posted by herbert View Post
    I would suggest you test your lens on some very tame birds. Get a garden bird feeder, research the type of food needed to attract the local wildlife and then keep it stocked. The birds will become more predictable in their appearance times and you will be able to practice at closer range. Or find some ducks at a local pond. They have little fear of people and you can get close. You will soon build up an idea of what settings to use for different size birds and the distances you need.
    Alex, thanks for the suggestions - as I said in my reply to Randy, I do keep feeders at home, and will certainly continue to practice there - but that is definitely a good suggestion that I'm sure others will find helpful.

    Quote Originally Posted by Geoff F View Post
    As others have mentioned, your subject is too distant for good results. Have you tried manual focusing? Auto focusing requires a good sharp target with plenty of contrast to work well and soft edged birds on thin twigs don't produce the required information for reliable auto focus.

    One other natural problem which can occur with both birds and other subjects is the actual quality of light. Moisture in the air or direction of light can produce reduced clarity.

    I often find that my north facing shots (in the UK) are much sharper and 'cleaner' than when facing other directions, particularly south.

    Try some controlled tests with other scenes where there are better auto focus targets; and with manual focus. Sigma did have some quality issues with early 150-500 lenses and it appears that this problem does occasionally still occur.
    Geoff, these are all very interesting and helpful suggestions. I'd never thought about the directional difference to the lighting. And the AF points are definitely valid - perhaps if I am closer, AF will be able to work better, but at those longer distances, perhaps live view + magnification + MF will work better. Definitely worth a try!

    Quote Originally Posted by Shadowman View Post
    John, are you in cahoots with my wife? She would love to do all kinds of travel just to go birding. Have you seen the movie with Jack Black and Owen Wilson? Pretty funny movie!

    Anyway - thanks again everyone who shared suggestions, I will definitely give them a shot.

    - Bill

  10. #10
    Shadowman's Avatar
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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    Quote Originally Posted by ktuli View Post
    Ok - let's see if I can get responses to all of these helpful suggestions...

    John, are you in cahoots with my wife? She would love to do all kinds of travel just to go birding. Have you seen the movie with Jack Black and Owen Wilson? Pretty funny movie!

    Anyway - thanks again everyone who shared suggestions, I will definitely give them a shot.

    - Bill
    Yes I have seen the movie and they used the honor system to tally the sightings. Not a photographer amongst them. For shame.

  11. #11
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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    Bill, I am a little late to the party here and things have been covered fairly well. I will say the biggest boost to my bird photography was improving my staulking skills. Though I hunted most of my younger years and considered myself fairly stealthy......It did me little good!

    What you have to realise is that you can not sneak up on a bird. They know you are there before you get there. lol The trick for me was to study the bird, their habits, when you can move close and when they will not allow it.

    Example.... Snowy Owls. They like to sit on stumps or logs, if there is obstacles between you and them they will allow you to move closer but slowly. The obstacles make them feel safe. However if you make eye contact and move straight towards them...they are gone. If you move in a zig zag 45 degree angle to them stopping and pretend to take pictures elsewhere....they will let you get quite close. Sometimes I pull a little grass from the ground and then drop it every few feet. Why? Because these birds are used to seeing grazing animals and know they are not a threat. If I act like a deer....I must be a deer. lol

    Now take that same Owl and he is sitting in a farmers field at your level and it is just flat dirt and grass between you. You will be lucky to get within a 100yrds.

    It is similar but different for every bird. Get to know your prey and you will get close. Being I use a 400mm ,Small birds such as a Robin or woodpecker...I prefer about 8-10ft but will shoot them as far as 20ft. Ducks I will shoot about the same but often have to shoot as much as 30-35ft. Big birds like Herons and such can be a little further but I rather 20-30ft. I have gotten so close to some herons that I could not get the whole bird in my 70mm end without backing up.

    Now, if there is no way to get closer, I will shoot further but I never expect much unless I have perfect light. Which is another thing.....great light will help as much as getting close. If you want great detail....get close with good light.
    Last edited by jeeperman; 14th March 2013 at 01:43 AM.

  12. #12

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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    Is there a filter on the lens?

  13. #13
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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    I am not a bird photographer let alone a stellar one; but something bothers me with the first image (of the blackbird):

    500 mm FL shot at 1/800 second (f/stop and ISO aren't part of the problem).

    It looks like a double image I see on the bird's head, and it also seems visible on the branch on which the bird is sitting.

    If there is a double image, something moved during the 1/800th second the shutter was open, and if there is a double image, any detail (let alone feather detail) will not be achievable. It would seem that your 1/800 shutter shouldn't be the problem, but somehow it is.


    The largest collection of online bird images I know of is at:

    http://www.naturescapes.net/forums/v...a72eab34e32130

    Some of them have EXIF data, and from what I can see, very few use shutter speeds as high as 1/800 (except for birds in flight - BIF), many of them are using 500 mm lenses, some with extenders, and most are using APS-C bodies (D700 and 7D for example). Of the photographers that use tripods they often use gimbal heads (600 mm lenses are heavy).

    I know that some of them shoot handheld, and if so they likely always use OS/IS/VR, (because it's talked about on the forums).

    It is apparent that they know how to get very close - it's a skill that can be developed.


    Glenn
    Last edited by Glenn NK; 14th March 2013 at 03:55 AM.

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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    Perhaps this one will get you on the right path. Long read but covers it from top to bottom.

    http://digitalbirdphotography.org/cover.html

    Go out often, observe the birds, pick on for study, follow it around. Then another and then another. After a while you will get attuned to basic birds behaviour and from there on you will know how to get close, and get the shots you want.

    My base settings are always f5.6 (lens limitation), 1/1250, ISO to suit. Push the shutter speed higher for birds further away or small.

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    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    Thank you for posting this.. great info.

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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    I don't do a lot of wildlife, but from what I have seen and heard those that get the best images are well versed in the behaviour and patterns of the animal or bird they are capturing and the best image they get are when the defences are lowered feeding or mating time!. For garden birds feeding is the the solution that works for me.. feed them and they will come, this allows you to reduce the range to the subject to capture details and isolate your subject.

    Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

  17. #17

    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    Thanks for your reply JPRZYBYLA it has helped me to understand things a lot more, i know it was a while ago that you posted this, but i was just curious to know what settings you were using when you took this picture? Thanks Charlie

  18. #18

    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    Quote Originally Posted by jprzybyla View Post
    Hi Bill, I looked at your images and read the information you provided. I am not that familiar with Cannon cameras but I think yours has a crop factor of 1.6. Shooting at 500mm with a crop factor of 1.6 gives a full frame equivalent of 800mm. Looking at the birds in both originals they are very small, at that distance the feather detail is much too small for the sensor to resolve. In my opinion you need to be closer. When I shoot small birds with my 300mm (FFE 450mm) I am normally within 10 feet of the bird. In the image below I was within 10 feet of this bird. If you see a bird flitting around be patient, stay still and let the bird come to you. Decide where would provide a pleasing background and pre-focus on that limb and wait, let the bird come to it and be ready to get off a couple frames when it lands. It took a lot of images and time for me to learn to get closer, the feather detail has to be large enough for the sensor to resolve it. I shoot everything hand held, for my 300mm I use a minimum shutter speed of 1/400. A good way to determine the minimum shutter speed needed for a lens is to multiply the mm of the lens by the crop factor of the camera/sensor. Without a tripod I can respond quickly when a bird lands or if one flies by. For flying birds I use a minimum shutter speed of 1/1600 or faster if the bird is fast flying like a duck. Not conventional by some standards but I like to travel light and a tripod and large lens is just too heavy to carry for my liking. So I shoot what is within the range of my lens. Do I miss some oppurtunities... sure. Hoping this helps...

    Straight out of the camera...

    Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???
    Thanks for your reply JPRZYBYLA it has helped me to understand things a lot more, i know it was a while ago that you posted this, but i was just curious to know what settings you were using when you took this picture? Thanks Charlie

  19. #19
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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    Bird photography has always interested me but for one reason or another i have done little in that line. Thanks for that link Bobo.

    Odd comments I have seen kicking about on dedicated sites are such things as a prime lens and converters is a better option than zooms and to forget zooms plus converter which may well be a bit of an extreme view. I would be interested to here Bobo's view on that. Another is that as soon as a person gets a longer lens the birds move further away.

    Over the winter I have been looking for reasonably local bird hides. There are 2 fairly close, one may have a bit of a problem where it is - might get mugged but the other should be ok. Another option is a rather strange "nature reserve" that in linear terms is only a few hundred yards from my home even though I am a couple of miles out from the centre of Birmingham. The main aspect of places like that is that resident birds are used to seeing people walking about, the resident heron for instance doesn't care at all. I understand there is a king fisher there as well but there is a need to keep still. Other things might appear while waiting for that one. I hope to find a local ornithological group as they are likely to know where certain birds actually are in a particular region. I feel a bit of research like this could help many people also keeping an eye out while driving around. I noticed red kites have recently moved up the motorways to the outskirts of B'ham now. Actually getting good shots of garden birds is a bit of a challenge - I can't shoot through an open window. I've noticed as spring comes along that increasingly certain birds turn up at certain times in the day. That may help.

    John
    -
    Last edited by ajohnw; 14th April 2014 at 01:05 PM. Reason: Hit wrong button too soon.

  20. #20

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    Re: Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???

    Hi, Bill.
    I have the same Sigma lens as you. I use a D5000, which is a 12 MPixel camera, and ISTM that something is really wrong with what you are getting from your setup. Here is a sample that I took last week, and a 100% crop. I'm not saying that this is a great photo, but the crispness at this extreme distance seems massively more appropriate than what you are getting. My EXIF is 500mm at 1/500 an f/9. I use continuous focus, which might be part of the difference. But you should be getting crisper photos. Or so ISTM.
    Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???
    Uncropped.
    Bird Photographers: What am I doing wrong???
    Cropped.

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