Thursday, 5 February 2015

The Birds

The recent snow has meant a daily top up of the feeding station for the garden birds. We dont get anything exotic but have a good number of Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Blue Tit, Cole Tit and Robins. Apart from the ornithological need to keep the numbers up the feeding station is set up to give me picture making opportunities without too much effort. Birds that use feeders seldom fly straight in and land onto the feeder. They prefer to land on something close by (about a metre away), sit, have a look around (there are Sparrowhawks in the area and will take any of these for a meal of their own), wait their turn if its busy and then eat. By placing suitable perches close to the feeders, it is at these you get the photographs. Photographing a bird on the feeder is a waste of time as they have little use, commercially or ornithologically. The perch (only use one) is a branch found locally and screwed to a post. I have changed it from time to time but for now it is set at an angle of about 30 degrees to produce a bit more shape to the composition. The feeding station is set about 7.5m from the door to my office and editing room. 7.5m is not a random distance, it is just outside the minimum focusing distance of my 500mm lens, therefore filling as much of the frame as I can. Shooting this close does have a draw back, the 500mm at f4 has a very shallow depth of field and even a small bird is too wide to fit in the focus area. This has to be overcome by going to f8, which together with the need for a shutter speed of at least 1/250 sec (small birds move very quickly) means shooting in good light at a low ISO, upping the ISO or adding some artificial light. Before looking at lighting and ISO etc there is still the issue of getting a frame filling image. I have a 1.4x and 1.7x teleconverter, both of which bring me closer but the loss of either 1 or 2 stops of light has its disadvantages. The problem was solved by moving to a 36MP camera. The Nikon D800 allows me to shoot at full frame and there is plenty of pixels for a closer crop. A 1.5x crop still leaving me with 24MP. In addition being able to see more than you will use allows me to see outside the frame and move the lens to aim and compose, similar to using a range finder. Daylight fill in flash is not possible with a normal studio flash, well any that need you to use a normal flash sync speed (1/125 sec) as this is too slow. Useing the Nikon SB800 flash is one solution. It can be set up away from the camera and fired remotely and performs at much higher sync speeds. It needs to be used with a diffuser and on manual and around 1/16 power to fill in the shadows and make a highlight in the eyes. This works up to a point. The flash going off does seem to spook them, so it isnt used anymore. The current set up is continuous light. It is a 150w Halfords garage/workshop floodlight mounted on a standard studio light stand (little bit of engineering needed) and fitted with barn doors. The barn doors dont really mask any light as they would normally, but it conceals the light source and doesnt put off the birds from coming close. It is all black and is positioned about 2.5m from the perch, at camera height and just to the right of the subject. It is obviously not daylight balanced but that doesnt concern me. On the image below with the snow I did have to whiten it in Selective Colour Adjustment but that is all part of the post process anyway. The doorway into the office is covered with camouflage netting, a hole cut into it for the lens to protrude through, the camera and lens are on a tripod with a gimbal. I sit on a comfy office chair and wait. After working on the set up outside it will take about 20 - 30 mins for the birds to return as they are very suspicious of change. Camera settings are set to M, shutter speed 1/250 sec, aperture f8 and auto ISO. The speed and DOF far more important than ISO. Clearly the lower the ISO the better but up to 1000 ISO is perfectly OK. The metering is set to centre weighted and the auto focus is set to 5 point continuous. I prefer to use the electronic cable release rather than the button release, preferring not to have to hold the camera all the time ready for a frame. OK, I know none of this is conceptual art photography and in the time it has taken to set all this up I could have made fifty street images and talked about Robert Frank, but none the less it is image making and it is therefore worthwhile. 

Use of additional perch. The ubiquitous garden tool handle which works well but really needs snow for the perfect Christmas card image.

The normal perch, made to recreate a natural setting look. The light from the RHS producing just enough fill. On the web the background is a bit too dark.

No comments:

Post a Comment