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Thread: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

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    Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    I have seen that a number of photographers shoot beautiful wildlife shots in Aperture Priority. I havenít had much success with that approach because what tends to happen is that I pick an ISO that seems suitable but the shutter speed chosen by the camera is too slow and the image is blurry. I usually have to fine tune the ISO to the point that I am forcing the camera to select a shooting speed that I am after. It is easier for me to just use Manual Mode. My camera is a Nikon P900 and either I donít have the options that other cameras have or I am doing something wrong - or both.

    BTW, I am going to start following a Lynda.com course today so hopefully I will understand a bit more soon.

    Thank you for your time.

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by CatherineA View Post
    It is easier for me to just use Manual Mode.
    Good for you!

    You will learn much about real exposure (of the sensor) by so doing.

    Having said that, have you considered using Shutter Priority for wild-life shots? You do lose all control of DOF, though.

    I am always in Manual myself, being old and suspicious of anything 'Auto'.
    Last edited by xpatUSA; 25th November 2017 at 03:28 PM.

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by CatherineA View Post
    I have seen that a number of photographers shoot beautiful wildlife shots in Aperture Priority. I havenít had much success with that approach because what tends to happen is that I pick an ISO that seems suitable but the shutter speed chosen by the camera is too slow and the image is blurry. I usually have to fine tune the ISO to the point that I am forcing the camera to select a shooting speed that I am after. It is easier for me to just use Manual Mode. My camera is a Nikon P900 and either I donít have the options that other cameras have or I am doing something wrong - or both.

    BTW, I am going to start following a Lynda.com course today so hopefully I will understand a bit more soon.

    Thank you for your time.
    Don't use auto iso. I never used it. You're the photographer, not the camera.

    George

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by george013 View Post
    Don't use auto iso.
    "Don't use auto iso."

    Are you saying that she normally uses Auto-ISO?

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by george013 View Post
    Don't use auto iso. I never used it. You're the photographer, not the camera.

    George
    Catherine,

    I would recommend that you take no notice of comments such as this when they are not supported by sensible reasoning or explanation. It is not clear if this statement is based on 'your specific camera model' or 'someone's personal preference'.

    Auto ISO can be extremely helpful in wildlife photography (and some other genres) when the user understands what is happening with their specific camera. It can remove one of the 'manual' adjustments that need to be made allowing more opportunity to get the shot.

    I will not explain further at this point as we would need to understand the capability and operation of your camera.

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Thanks for your reply Ted. I will give Shutter Priority a try again. I forget what didnít work well with it but I would be interested to investigate again. Setting the ISO is a bit of a nuisance with my camera- itís in the menu and I have to go in and out of the menu to check the exposure. That means I lose a lot of time and with wildlife shots moments count. I did experiment both with and without the ISO setting at automatic. There are two brackets for auto ISO: 100-400 and 400-800 and I often needed to switch between the two. However, if I concentrate, say, on trying to capture a bird flying, and not flick to looking at birds in trees,then I wouldnít need to switch and Shutter Priority should work better. It has the advantage of saving time because I donít have to check and adjust exposure.

    As to DOF, it hasnít been much of a factor for me. More something I use because I can adjust easily if my exposure is only a little off. I donít have much of a choice with f/stop settings. I zoom in to get the bird reasonably large and that means not many style choices. Maybe experience will change that. Also hope to branch out to try different types of photography and then I will explore Aperture more....Lots of ideas of what I would like to shoot and then, each day, I hear the siren call of the birds.

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Hi Grahame,
    The answers here have helped me figure out somethings that perhaps should have been obvious before but at least I am getting them now. If I stick to a certain background or scene, say birds against the sky or gulls on the ice, then I can use an Auto ISO bracketing of 100-400. That would save me time and let me take photos that I would otherwise miss by tinkering with the ISO. With automatic ISO I would also get access to a spectrum of settings. I could, for example, get an ISO 320, whereas if I were to set the ISO the nearest that I could get to that is ISO 200 or 400.

    I havenít had any success using the automatic ISO but I needed to think through when it has potential for me. If it doesnít help me, and I donít like the choices made by the camera, then there is always manual.

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Catherine - I have no issues with anyone who uses manual exposure, one of the automated modes, including auto-ISO, as long as one gets the shot.

    One of the first decisions I make when I go out to shot is whether motion (or lack of motion) is important in capturing the image or if depth of field (i.e. getting a blurred background is important). Once I have made that decision, the rest is easy. I generally do not shoot auto-ISO, unless I am in a situation where the lighting is quite variable, but on my camera, I don't have to dig into a menu and can in fact change ISO without taking my eye away from the viewfinder. That is the key selling point of higher end cameras; one can access key functionality without having to use the menu.

    For this type of shot I would go with shutter priority as freezing the motion is the critical aspect of getting the shot. I'd try to shoot at 1/1000th second or faster at the longer zoom lengths.

    Depth of field will be less of a factor for you because of the characteristics of your camera. With its relatively small sensor (1/2.3") and relatively limited light gathering abilities at the longer end, this is not something that is going to be all that important to you.

    As for shooting on manual, that is something I rarely do unless I am shooting a panorama or using flash. Studio flash has to be shot on manual. Not shooting on manual and using shutter priority is probably giving you a higher success rate than you would using other approaches. If using auto-ISO is easier than not, given the lighting conditions, don't hesitate to use it.

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    What is the maximum Iso for that camera? I frequently use 800 for birds but my maximum option is considerably higher. A relatively high Iso is often possible in good light where you are simply attempting to use a faster shutter speed. Not so good in poor light conditions though, where excessive noise particularly in the shadows can be a problem.

    When arriving at a location I try to take a number of test shots to work out average required settings for expected subjects under those conditions. The tests include the amount of exposure composition for extreme items which are likely to come my way. For example, white birds against a dark background when using an averaging exposure metering setting. Spot metering can be good in the correct circumstances but it is often difficult to keep that small focusing point in the required place when a subject is moving and even worse for flying birds.

    If possible, checking the required spot metering setting then manually entering those values into the camera is often a good idea. However, when the subjects keep changing that method can lead to problems; so for general use, I tend to work out my average setting then frequently adjust the exposure compensation from one shot to another. The downside is that it does take a bit of experience to quickly guess the required amount of compensation for quickly changing scenes.

    Also, my camera has very easy exposure compensation adjustment from a large wheel at the rear of the unit so any changes can be made while shooting.

    For other subjects such as insects, I tend to enter manual values then adjust flash output compensation as required. Flowers and fungi are other special circumstances but at least you have time to stop, think and experiment with settings for them.

    Wildlife photography is another of those situations where you need to be familiar with the exposure triangle of shutter speed, aperture and iso. Deciding which one of them has priority comes from experience with various situations and knowing the limitations of your equipment as well as understanding your subjects.

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Thanks, Manfred. It's helpful to me to understand your approach. DOF must be a fun thing to work with but no, it isn't a factor in my camera. The small sensor is going to mean that indoor shooting won't work easily for me - something I was going to try over the winter. There is no hot shoe mount (never used one of those) so I don't think portraiture would work well. Not a good lens for it anyway. Have to think of winter projects with this camera.

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    I use aperture priority all the time for wildlife photographs. That stated, I like to shoot with wider apertures, so in many cases it's at f5.6, f4, etc. Now, I'm usually aware of the light and adjust the ISO upward, so I can use faster shutter speeds. It's my personal preference.

    A lot of the judgement comes with experience. I've been shooting for over 50 years, and the number of scenes and subjects are embedded in my brain's "hard drive" are many and varied.

    In the film days, when color was generally limited to ISO 400 (and grainy at that), and telephoto lenses which could open up past f5.6 were terribly expensive, capturing birds in flight, and animals moving at speed on the ground was a real challenge. Not as much now since you can shoot @ ISO 800 at relatively low noise levels, and get great images. Shooting @ 1200 and above will get great images with good sensors and excellent glass.

    Just this morning, I saw a squirrel on the neighbor's porch, feasting on a small pumpkin. I used a D500, Nikkor 300 f4 @f4 1/2000 and ISO 800. Distance was around 20 feet. Set at aperture preferred.

    Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography
    Last edited by pendennis; 25th November 2017 at 09:09 PM.

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Thanks for replying and for the information Geoff. The max ISO is 3200 but I have never tried it. I thought that higher end cameras could deal with higher ISOs than my mine but I should at least experiment. I hadn't even thought of using a high ISO in good light conditions - I will give it a try to see what it gives me.

    I can't change exposure compensation as easily as you can and I would like to one day get another camera that will let me make adjustments more easily. I think though that before I make another purchase I need to earn it. I will try to learn things like spot metering. I have a white dog and I will try taking photos of her in the snow and then against dark backgrounds. And as to "flash output compensation"... well, clearly there is a lot for me to learn. Learning is good.

    Edit: max IOS is 6400
    Last edited by CatherineA; 26th November 2017 at 07:30 PM.

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Thanks Dennis! Does that mean that you chose f4 because you wanted that DOF and you chose an ISO of 800 because you knew that it would give you low noise and a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action? I wonder whether my camera, because of its smaller sensor, would have shot a slower speed.

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Getting a shot that is clear in both focus and no/acceptable movement is the priority. Obtaining low noise is just the icing on the cake....

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by CatherineA View Post
    I usually have to fine tune the ISO to the point that I am forcing the camera to select a shooting speed that I am after. It is easier for me to just use Manual Mode. My camera is a Nikon P900 and either I donít have the options that other cameras have or I am doing something wrong - or both.
    Hi Catherine

    As Grahame has mentioned, it depends on what features your camera has. The other photographers you mention may have a camera that allows them to set a maximum ISO value and minimum shutter speed when working in Auto ISO and Aperture Priority (many higher DSLR's have this feature, not sure about your P900).

    With this arrangement, your camera will select the minimum shutter speed chosen and a suitable value of ISO to get good exposure (for the aperture value set). So for example if you select a minimum ss of 1/500 sec, and a maximum ISO of say 1600, as light level decreases, the ss of 1/500 sec will be maintained by increasing the ISO until it reaches 1600. After that the ISO will max out and the ss will drop to maintain good exposure.

    This allows you to get the best shutter speed possible automatically, subject to the constraints you want to put on it with ISO.

    Dave

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Thanks, Dave, that explains a lot. I have tried looking up other cameras to understand what features they have but photography is a new world to me and I really donít get a lot of the terms and quickly get snowed under. I didnít realize there were those features available on some cameras. Good to know.

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by CatherineA View Post
    . . . My camera is a Nikon P900 and either I donít have the options that other cameras have or I am doing something wrong - or both.
    Totally off-topic, Catherine, but you are not alone . . .

    https://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/60426544

    Enjoy.

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by xpatUSA View Post
    Totally off-topic, Catherine, but you are not alone . . .

    https://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/60426544

    Enjoy.
    Thanks Ted! Dec 3rd is marked on my calendar because itís not just a full moon, itís a super moon (and a ďcold moonĒ but I donít know the significance of that). I think moon shots are a specialty of this camera. Hope so.

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by CatherineA View Post
    Thanks Dennis! Does that mean that you chose f4 because you wanted that DOF and you chose an ISO of 800 because you knew that it would give you low noise and a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action? I wonder whether my camera, because of its smaller sensor, would have shot a slower speed.
    Catherine, I chose f4 primarily because I was hand holding the camera, I had some shots @ ISO 400, and 1/1000, but I could see a bit of blur in some of them; 1/2000 was needed to keep down movement. The D500 has a DX sensor, and there was a heavy overcast. All critters like squirrels move at lightning speeds, even when eating. The "computer in my head" told me to up the ISO from 400 to 800, giving me at least 1/2000 @ f4. As I mentioned in my original post, these calculations are almost automatic based on prior experience.

    As an aside, but along the same lines, I took up trap shooting in 2008, after a layoff of 40 years. I talked with a top pro, took lessons, and practiced a lot. However, I knew that I could never compete at the highest levels because I just had not accumulated enough targets committed to memory just from seeing them. Your mind will file away a target flying away, to the side, etc, and whether into the wind, etc. The best trap shooters have shot targets for as much as 40 years, mostly several times a week, and under all sorts of conditions (wind, sun, clouds, rain, etc.). When I restarted at age 61, I could never see enough targets to keep them in memory to help me be more proficient in competition.

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    Re: Aperture Priority for Wildlife Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by CatherineA View Post
    I have seen that a number of photographers shoot beautiful wildlife shots in Aperture Priority. I havenít had much success with that approach because what tends to happen is that I pick an ISO that seems suitable but the shutter speed chosen by the camera is too slow and the image is blurry. I usually have to fine tune the ISO to the point that I am forcing the camera to select a shooting speed that I am after. It is easier for me to just use Manual Mode. My camera is a Nikon P900 and either I donít have the options that other cameras have or I am doing something wrong - or both...
    Hi, Catherine. The typical reason for shooting aperture priority for wildlife is to control DOF as a means of isolating the subject. As Dave(dje) pointed out, most advanced DSLRs have the ability to program a minimum shutter speed beyond which auto ISO kicks in to achieve exposure. This helps avoid the issue you are experiencing.

    That said, the P900 has an extreme zoom range. At maximum zoom the P900 has a magnification factor equivalent to a 2000mm lens on a full frame DSLR. There is an ages old rule of thumb(based on 35mm format) that says when shooting hand held shutter speed should never drop below 1/focal length. In other words on your camera at full zoom that would be 1/2000s. The P900 deos have VR but regardless of what Nikon may advertise it's not likely more effective than one f-stop equivalent. So in other words you should never shoot hand held at ss lower than 1/1000s. Which also happens to be a good minimum for shooting birds in flight. Though with that much magnification and such a light camera sticking to 1/2000s is advisable. That's a pretty tall order in anything other than perfect light without cranking the ISO up a bit.

    There's nothing wrong with shooting in manual mode. I've been shooting that way forever. Not that that's necessarily a meaningful endorsement. But we each have to do what works for us with our chosen subject matter and with the equipment at our disposal. It's only in the past year or so that I've started using any sort of auto mode and that is auto ISO. But never when shooting birds in flight. I always shoot full manual mode for them due to the possibility of widely varying background lighting which can cause gross over/under exposure. Many other people I've met do otherwise but that's what works for me.

    I understand the lure of the birds. Those who aren't drawn to them think those of us who are to be a bit daft. And they are probably right. At any rate, you're biting off quite a challenge trying to shoot birds in flight with the P900. But if it wasn't a challenge we'd likely not do it Enjoy the journey.

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