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Thread: Photographing birds in action over water

  1. #1
    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Photographing birds in action over water

    Now that I seem to be fairly competent (most days) at capturing birds in flight in focus, I have a new frustration and that is that my water always looks funky, either overexposed or looking over-processed even thought I have learned to just apply sharpening, clarity etc to the bird and nothing to the water.

    As an example here are a few images

    Gull (it's molting)... here the water is the best of the bunch, showing just a few funky swirls, and that may be because it is a little underexposed.

    Photographing birds in action over water

    Guillemot pigeon... those are clouds reflected in the water

    Photographing birds in action over water


    Same place, same water and WB just earlier/later in the day, in different lighting

    Photographing birds in action over water


    Photographing birds in action over water


    Two geese photographed on the same morning, note the funky water and clouds

    Photographing birds in action over water


    I've also noticed with my geese photos that sometimes the water looks grey instead of blue, and sometimes it looks blue but overexposed.

    I'm posting these photos not for feedback on the individual photos but to demonstrate the different appearances of the water from photos taken on the same day using matrix metering, which oftentimes looks very odd to me. I know that if I use spot metering I can darken the background or blow the water, but I'd really like to be able to capture the water in the image as well as the bird.

    I'm hoping for advice on how to photograph birds over water... resulting in a photo with decent natural looking water or water that one can fix easily in processing...



    Thank you.

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    Re: Photographing birds in action over water

    I've repeated this technique before...it is the reason that my exposure is generally spot on.

    I've been confused by that exposure compensation thing because the histogram was all over the place when imported into LR.
    Since starting to shoot in manual mode, utilizing Live View's histogram, those problems are a thing of the past. Technique is:

    That LV histogram is based on a jpeg rendition of your image so you need to "neutralize" (slide them to the left) all your "picture style" settings.
    Set-up your LV to display a RGB histogram and blinkies whenever it's opened. Now it's a simple matter to adjust SS, F/stop, and ISO to
    "push" that histogram to just shy of the right side, a technique referred to as "Exposing To The Right".

    Now simply input wanted/needed SS and f/stop and use the ISO to push that histogram to the right or...
    any combination of the three settings."

    Mt BIF settings are, generally, SS 1000, f/2.5-F/4 and ISO for exposing to the right...
    I try to get a shot before he takes off to dial in that exposure. I do follow up with PP in Photoshop.

    Reflections of the birds in the water are virtually mandatory.

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    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: Photographing birds in action over water

    Hi Chauncey,

    Okay, I will give your recommendations a go next time around, and I will stop taking jpeg photos for BIF and set all my camera settings to neutral/low contrast so I can see the real histogram.


    Thank you for your reply and sharing a few tips and recommendations. By any chance do you have a photo of a dark bird flying over water that you could post here for me to see?

    Any words of advice on achieving a balance between exposing for the water and a dark bird at the same time? Or is it as simple as just pushing the exposure a little bit to the right?

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    Re: Photographing birds in action over water

    I am not sure what you mean by 'funky' ... it is not a word in my vocab .... and I use an editing programme rather than LR so my normal practice on first opening a picture is to place an adjustment layer using the curves feature on top of it. In three of your four images I noticed it was over to the left of the graph.
    Normally I would move the top of the 'line' to match the righthand side of the 'shadow' and then bring the bottom left of the line to the right until it is darkened again and looks 'right'. I believe in doing this I am increasing the contrast of the image as the 'line' is now much steeper than the 45 degrees I started with.
    This strikes me as a pretty rough and ready solution but seems to work for most shots but as I started I am not sure I know what you are complaining about

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    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: Photographing birds in action over water

    Funky... swirls, over and underexposed spots, and colour that is not quite true to life. Also wonky colours in the water here and there... Perhaps because of using a high iso? When I was in Mexico I managed to take photos of birds over the blue ocean and the water looked natural, pretty and blue. The clouds reflected in the water in two of the above photos, just look especially odd to me.

    I have Photoshop elements and I'm trying to learn layers, so I will try your recommendation for a curve adjustment. Thank you for your help.

    my water!

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    Re: Photographing birds in action over water

    Christina, I've lived here on the coast most of my life and am having difficulty seeing anything odd about the water in these photos. The ocean can look so different depending on lighting, clouds, current, wind and wave action, etc. Now having said that, I know I didn't see the scenes you photographed so you may not want to pay too much attention to my comment.

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    Re: Photographing birds in action over water

    Hi Bruce,

    Thank you for sharing... I was thinking about my water backgrounds all last night, and I realized that these past few months are the first time I have photographed birds over water in Vancouver, in fact most anything in Vancouver.

    The water here is very different because it changes colour all of the time, and is often muddy or full of seaweed by the shore whereas in Mexico it was either blue ocean waters or brown estuary waters, so I will just keep practicing and figure it out.

    And in the city the water has reflections of buildings and machinery, poles and takes on those colours too, so it is challenging.

    That said, I do believe that something is still odd with my water and it has to do with my choice of metering and I am going to have to figure out what works best when. For example in the guillemot photo I used matrix metering on a dark scene which overexposed the water and the guillemot, and made the photo greyish... I could not see the clouds in the water when I was taking the photo so it must be overexposed... And matrix metering with the geese underexposed them a bit and overexposed the water. The other two shots, I can't figure out.

    If I take a photo of a white gull on water using spot metering the water goes black and the gull is nicely exposed which is okay sometimes... Its the same as using spot metering on the moon so the moon is not overexposed.

    Anyway, figuring this out is going to take lots of practice and reading but I also have to adjust to the different water here...

    Quote Originally Posted by Cantab View Post
    Christina, I've lived here on the coast most of my life and am having difficulty seeing anything odd about the water in these photos. The ocean can look so different depending on lighting, clouds, current, wind and wave action, etc. Now having said that, I know I didn't see the scenes you photographed so you may not want to pay too much attention to my comment.
    Last edited by Brownbear; 16th August 2013 at 02:50 PM.

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    Cantab's Avatar
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    Re: Photographing birds in action over water

    Quote Originally Posted by Christina S View Post

    The water here is very different because it changes colour all of the time, and is often muddy or full of seaweed by the shore whereas in Mexico it was either blue ocean waters or brown estuary waters, so I will just keep practicing and figure it
    Christina, your reference to muddy waters reminded me that when going by ferry from Twassessen to the Island you can often see a line in the water where the muddy waters from the Fraser extend into the ocean water. The location of that line varies depending on tide and the volume of water discharging from the Fraser at a particular time of the year. I wonder if you get muddy discharges from the Capilano on the North Shore, possibly not since it's tiny compared to the Fraser.

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    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: Photographing birds in action over water

    Hi Bruce,

    No, the water here is not like the waters in Tsawwassen unless it rains heavily for days. I often photograph birds where the rivers empty into the ocean and where it will be muddy depending on the tide, rain etc and off of boat docks where the water is less than pristine.

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    Re: Photographing birds in action over water

    Christina...I'm really not sure if this will help you.

    Photographing birds in action over water

    Be aware that when I'm in a situation that I know that the image's dynamic range, black subject/light background,
    I will take virgin "pre-shots" of the background (properly exposed) then take the subject shot
    (properly exposed for the subject) and proceed to blend them together in Photoshop, or...
    I might make a selection or the bird and PP it on a separate layer from the background.
    I often do that when egrets are my target, or in this case Swans.

    Photographing birds in action over water

  11. #11
    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: Photographing birds in action over water

    Thank you for sharing Chauncey.

    Yes, your reply is very helpful. I need to work on being aware of the image's dynamic range, and figuring out the best exposure options/compromises for the subject and the background.

    I do intend to learn how to use layers so it is also very helpful to know how one might create the perfect photo using layers. However I think that is a ways in my future because I'm still working on perfecting my photography technique, learning the basics of editing and also because I think that if one is creating an image from two images one needs to do it very well, with finesse as seen in your swan photo which is stunningly gorgeous. Perfect water and perfect exposure on the bird. Thank you for sharing.

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