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Thread: Medly of Swallows

  1. #1

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    Medly of Swallows

    Well after nearly two weeks of uninterrupted fair weather, we're back to more typical Anchorage weather. 42 degrees this moring with fog and heavy overcast. So it's time to process a few images

    Bird off all species go bananas this time of year. In just a few short weeks they have to court mates, build a nest, incubate eggs, raise the chicks to fledge, and store up enough energy to fly several thousand miles back to where they came from. So for a wildlife photographer it's a lot of fun while they're here.

    One of the things I've aimed to do for several years is swallow BIF shots. Those little buggers are hard to hit. I finally made a deliberate effort to shoot a few and got a couple of frames when the camera happened to be pointed in the right direction and focused close to the right range. Most surely more random chance than skill I assure you

    Anyway, here's a collection of swallows.

    Nikon D800E, 500mm VR

    Violet-Green Swallow (my first)

    1.
    Medly of Swallows

    Tree Swallow

    2.
    Medly of Swallows

    3.
    Medly of Swallows

    The following shot with Nikon D7100, 300mm f4

    Bank Swallow (also my first)

    4.
    Medly of Swallows

    5.
    Medly of Swallows

    6.
    Medly of Swallows

    7.
    Medly of Swallows

  2. #2
    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    Stunningly gorgeous photos... I can't imagine (well, yes I can) how difficult it must be to capture such sharp, beautiful photos of a small bird like a swallow in flight!

    For some reason, the first image seems to be not quite as perfect as the rest of them, partly because of the reflection of the branch and something else I can't put my finger on. (to me, and only because the rest of your shots are so perfect)

    #3, #5, #7 are my favourites. Thank you for sharing such inspiring photos.

  3. #3
    Digital's Avatar
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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    Very good photos.

    Bruce

  4. #4
    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    I'd like to ask if you could share your focusing technique for #3 (the eye and head are so spot on) and also your metering... ie; how did you manage to capture the brilliant blue without over exposing the white portion of the birds head and belly. Hoping to learn from you.

    Thank you.
    Last edited by Brownbear; 1st June 2013 at 09:35 PM.

  5. #5

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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    Very sharp, colourful and interesting. Well done.

  6. #6

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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    A really amazingly beautiful set of images. Composition, colour, sharpness - ALL. Thanks for sharing.

  7. #7

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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. Glad you enjoyed the little birds. I know the first shot wasn't the best in the world but I'd never seen that species before.

    Quote Originally Posted by Christina S View Post
    I'd like to ask if you could share your focusing technique for #3 (the eye and head are so spot on) and also your metering... ie; how did you manage to capture the brilliant blue without over exposing the white portion of the birds head and belly. Hoping to learn from you.

    Thank you.
    Christina, in response to your questions:

    Exposure: I always shoot in manual mode. The reason for this is that if the animal/bird you are shooting moves across widely varying backgrounds (e.g. sky vs. green trees) and you are in matrix metering, the exposure chosen by the camera can change dramatically. If in spot or center weighted and you don't hold the target in center of frame, the swing in exposure can be even more dramatic than when in matrix mode. So to determine exposure, I take a few test shots around the area I'm working(before the critters show up), check the histogram, and then use my judgement based on the subject to choose my settings. Exposure is set to properly expose the subject and if BG turns out too light/dark that's just the way it is (see BG blown on first shot below). With a subject like the tree swallow with white and dark feather, my goal is to make sure that I touch the right side of the histogram. As long as you're shooting in RAW you have some room to correct. Shooting the right side actually gives you more color information to work with in post and will produce lower noise than the left side of the histogram. It has been widely publicized and many people have an irrational fear of irrecoverable blown whites. This is a legacy of most digital being shot in jpeg and is still good advice for anyone who doesn't shoot RAW. But like so many things, there are few blanket guidelines that cover all situations. Of course it is possible to totally blow your highlights in RAW too, but it has to be really bad. I also shoot in Neutral picture conrol (i.e.no sharpening, no saturation boost, no contrast boost). That way the histogram best reflects that actual conditon of the RAW image.

    focus: AF works best when it has plenty of contrast to work with. Of course conventional wisdom says to focus on the animal's eye. That is good in theory but how often do you shoot something big/close enough for the eye to be as big as the focus point in the camera? If one interprets that conventional wisdom as intended, I believe what it really means is to make sure that the animal's eye is in focus. So what I try to do is to pick some part of the animal with high contrast that is as close to being in the same focal plane as the eye as possible. Since that is not always possible it also helps to be familiar with the DOF of the lens you are shooting at different apertures and distances. So in the case of the tree swallow, I knew my DOF was less than an inch (more like half an inch) but there was that convenient high contrast line between blue head and white neck/breast just below the eye. So that's what I focused on.

    Below is what the unprocessed RAW file looked like. The grey border shows how I cropped the image and the red box is as close as I could re-create the focus box as shown in ViewnNX2.

    Hope this helps.

    Medly of Swallows

  8. #8
    dje's Avatar
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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    Great set of shots Dan, excellent clarity and colour.

    Dave

  9. #9
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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    Dan, these are ALL absolutely amazing shots. I am in love with #2 and #3. #2 is so sharp, perfect pose and background. #3 is such a hard shot to capture and so well done. Also love #4, 5 & 7. I would also be so proud to get shot #6 but would be equally frustrated with those pesky things that get in the way when we're doing this type photography. But definitely still a keeper!

    Thanks for sharing. Always an inspiration!

  10. #10
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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    Dan, Thank you so much for taking the time to share your technique and knowledge...

    I'm going to have to read it a few times to fully comprehend... (I am trying to shoot to the right) and then a few years of practice. It'll be worth it, if I manage to capture just one comparable image.

    Yes, indeed inspiring!

  11. #11

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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    Thanks, everyone.

    Yes, Terri, I debated with myself whether I should post no.6. But that was the sharpest BIF I got that day and I liked the way the feathers were flying up on the bird's back. Plus it kind of gives context to where the birds were. I was shooting right along the bank and most of the shots I was able to get were of birds flying parallel to the wall of the bluff and right up against it. There were a lot of roots sticking out and hanging down. The AF was constantly switching off of my target and onto a root or sitting bird. I got a couple dozen unintended shots of perched birds in various poses. Never would have had the patience when I was younger

  12. #12
    BCrose's Avatar
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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    Beautifully done. The 7100 looks to be a good performer.

  13. #13
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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    Hello Dan, wonderful images of beautiful birds. Such little jewels and so fast in flight.

  14. #14

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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    Thanks, guys. I'm really liking the 7100 so far. As one would expect with such high pixel density the ISO performance is a stop or so less than the D800. But the AF and sharpness are amazing.

  15. #15
    GeorgeM's Avatar
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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    Terrific Series!!!!

  16. #16
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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    These are beautiful and if they're random - I'd take that.

  17. #17
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    Hi Dan,

    Great series and I'd concur with pretty much all your advice regarding focus and exposure for Christina.

    There is just one occasion where (in my recent experience) I found Aperture Priority was more successful than Manual mode and that's when the subject itself was hopping around in and out of sunlit patches under trees - I found in Manual I didn't always have time (or remember) to 'spin the wheel' to re-adjust the exposure before taking the shot.

    I too am a recent new D7100 owner and still exploring the exposure 'headroom' it affords over blinkies and histogram, especially using ACR in CS6, which is also new to me. So I am trying to conquer the irrational behaviour

  18. #18

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    Re: Medly of Swallows

    Thanks for the comments, folks.

    Quote Originally Posted by kaye leggett View Post
    These are beautiful and if they're random - I'd take that.
    I'm not proud, I'll take them any way I can get them.
    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Humphries View Post
    Hi Dan,
    Great series and I'd concur with pretty much all your advice regarding focus and exposure for Christina....
    Thanks, Dave. Just to clarify my post wasn't intended as advice. Rather it was in direct response to questions regarding how I shoot. One interesting thing about photography is that we all have to find our own way. I'm always willing to share openly if asked but always try to keep it in the context of what works for me. What works for one may or may not work for another. Personally I'm simple minded. I have to pick a method and optimize it as best I can, recognizing that there are limitations which are likely to make me miss/blow shots sometimes. One of my weaknesses involves changing exposure or focus modes in the field. I get so engrossed in the field craft that I almost always forget to change back and end up with half a card full of blown shots rather than one or two. So I just don't go there. Can't do it...

    Or maybe I'm just a control freak and don't want the camera AI making any decisions

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