Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I am so glad I do not live in the US of A.

From: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/03/pregnant_woman_tasered/

A federal appeals court says three Seattle police officers did not employ excessive force when they repeatedly tasered a visibly pregnant woman for refusing to sign a speeding ticketSo... either you sign the ticket or they will shock you until you give in. We've put people on trial for methods like this 60 years ago in Germany. Nice little town called Nuremberg was home to most of those trials.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Red squirrel backlit

Red squirrel backlit
Originally uploaded by j_wijnands.
Recently I blogged about how I improved a horrible shot of a squirrel into something acceptable.

Normally I get maybe half a dozen photo opportunities for squirrel a year. Now the second one right after the first.

Problem here is that the squirrel noticed me at the same time I noticed him. And squirrel tend to flee when they notice humans. This little guy was rather curious about me so decided to watch me from the safety of a tree. I shot about 8 frames of tihs animal before moving closer and spooking it of course.

On reviewing it closely I noticed I've focused a bit too much in front of the animal. Despite that I decided to keep it. I love the way the ears are accented by the backlight.

So, basically the age old question comes into it, do I go for technical perfection? Or do I let the mood into the picture? I decided on the latter.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Procrastination isn't the problem, it's the solution. So procrastinate now, don't put it off.
- Ellen DeGeneres

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bird Photography Part 3

(all pics are clickable)

Sunday morning, solid grey sky which is supposed to be good for bird photography since it provides a uniform diffuse light.

Now, my D300 tends to produce a fairly exact white balance in this kind of weather. That means that all the pics on automatic WB will get a rather blueish tint. I like to produce pictures that are a bit warmer in tone so I set it to 5880K. A value I know from experience will produce something I like. I gambled that it would work and save me time in processing.

There must be spring in the air, everything was rather restless. First thing I noticed were some very common mallards. Probably the most common waterfowl species here but good practice nonetheless.

mallards getting out

Worked a bit on the exact crop and contrast. The result isn't too bad.

Exposure: 0.002 sec (1/500)
Aperture: f/5.6
Focal Length: 270 mm
Focal Length: 269.1 mm
ISO Speed: 1600

So, autoiso worked this time. I'd set the camera for 1/500 in S mode and the camera put the lens wide open and upped the iso all the way. Not very much light then.

The egyptian geese were feeling the spring as well, chasing eachother, even landing in trees to make noise at eachother. Using the AF button still does the trick:

Egyptian goose

Exposure: 0.001 sec (1/800)
Aperture: f/5.6
Focal Length: 300 mm
Focal Length: 302.0 mm
ISO Speed: 1600

Good thing I raised the shutter speed I think. Still, wide open at 300mm and iso 1600, it's not going to get me the best of pics.

In a stream in the woods I noticed a grey heron. Rather small bird for a heron. Not entirely sure what caused the focus error here but I do like the lines and the reflection.

grey heron

Exposure: 0.002 sec (1/500)
Aperture: f/5.6
Focal Length: 250 mm
Focal Length: 254.0 mm
ISO Speed: 1600

Now, the first red squirrel of the season. Rather tricky animal to shoot, they don't sit still and if they do its often at the top of the tree. Up there the challenge is an often bright background and a very dark subject. That requires careful metering.

The unedited shot:


Click it and you will see a squirrel. Settings:
Exposure: 0.002 sec (1/640)
Aperture: f/5.6
Focal Length: 270 mm
Focal Length: 277.0 mm
ISO Speed: 1600

Ah, the camera did what I told it to do. Shutter speed is the speed I set, iso is at the limit I set in auto iso and the lens is as far open as it can go. That it's underexposed is not the cameras fault, there just wasn't any more light.

But, I'm shooting a D300 and that allows for some room in post processing. So, into capture NX and see what I can do with it.

Sciurus vulgaris

By no means the best squirrel shot in the world but it's a lot nicer. I correct exposure here by almost 1.5 stops, played with the curves, cropped, adjust color balance somewhat, slapped on a contrast adjustment filter and this is the result.

Of course there is noise, there are limits to the D300 sensor and certainly to my processing skills. No matter how good your sensor is, when you underexpose and correct that you will get a load more noise than on a properly exposed picture.

Last shot, something you will encounter sometimes, the leftovers of a predator's meal. There's a big flock of pigeons in that area and occasionally the buzzards get lucky and catch one.

pigeon's head

Gruesome perhaps but nature all the same.

So, lessons learned

  • Auto ISO in S mode is good for birds in flight and rapidly changing light conditions
  • If there isn't enough light your pictures won't come out as nice.
  • Fieldcraft continues to be a challenge
  • There is at least some truth to diffuse light being good for birds.
  • Presetting white balance will save time in processing if you get it right.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Bird photography part 2

all pics are clickable

After blogging about my first problems here I decided to give it another try with the new settings in my camera.

First of all, using the AF button proved to be an interesting experience. It takes a bit of getting used to, at first you're jabbing the AE-L button by mistake but after that there's certainly a speed advantage there.

My first chance I got when an egyptian goose decided to fly around. Came almost directly over me to give me this shot:

egyptian goose in flight
Not bad at all but not quite the level of sharpness I am aiming for. Let's look at settings:

Exposure: 0.001 sec (1/800)
Aperture: f/13.0
Focal Length: 270 mm
Focal Length: 269.1 mm
ISO Speed: 640

Hmm... 1/800 and still movement? Why? According to a quick google the canadian goose can fly anywhere between 50 and 90 km/h. Let's assume this goose can do the same and let's assume it was doing 40 km/h. That's 11.1 meters/second which means still about 1.4 cm of movement in that 1/800. Of course part of it was compensated for by my panning movement but still... So shutter speed remains an issue there. Spot metering worked very well here.

Next I encountered a flock of great tits and blue tits in a pine grove. Even though these are about as common as muck they are still good practice. Working distance is a factor with these birds. If you can get as close as 5 meters it's already a lot and then it's still a tiny bird.

Blue tit feeding

Exposure: 0.001 sec (1/1250)
Aperture: f/5.6
Focal Length: 300 mm
Focal Length: 302.0 mm
ISO Speed: 640

The issue here is that my settings didn't do what I'd expect them to do. Despite auto iso I was shooting wide open here and the 70-300VR isn't at it's best wide open.

1/1250 is enough to freeze these birds if they are just sitting there. If they flutter from one branch to the next it doesn't do it.

great tit in flight

OK, so shutter speed remains a focus.

Now, standing still about 5 meters from the trees did allow the birds to get used to me and ignore me which resulted in these two:

great tits


great tit posing

On this shot you can see a few ticks around the bird's eye.

Now, later in the day this setting came back to bite me in the behind.

stork 3

Granted, it's a unique moment, pre-mating activities of Storks. And yes, I had about 30 seconds before she fled the nest. And 1530 is not a good time for black&white birds. But why is this pic unsharp?

Exposure: 0.003 sec (1/320)
Aperture: f/20.0
Focal Length: 300 mm
Focal Length: 302.0 mm
ISO Speed: 640

There we go. At f20 most consumer zooms the diffraction spook rears it's ugly head. According to Thom Hogan the d300 itself shows diffraction from f11 onwards.
What happened is that my spot metering adjusted perfectly for the focus point on a white part of the stork And since I was at a relatively low shutterspeed the camera raised the aperture to prevent overexposure.

Next stork shot, a bit later.

stork 2

A lot sharper and no wonder since I was at f9.

So... lessons learned?
- shutter speed is so important with birds
- watch your metering, you don't want to enter the diffraction zone
- Birds in flight depend at least as much on you and your reaction speed as they do on your gear
- A 70-300mm zoom is short but it's still possible to get some decent bird shots with it.

I'm already looking forward to my next experimental session.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Anyone familiar with me, this blog or my photostream on flickr knows that I try to go at least once a week for a walk in nature. Usually I visit the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen and usually I carry my camera.

I’m skilled enough to get decent fallow deer shots almost weekly and the occasional good bird shot. I’ve been doing that slightly over a year now and I was so overconfident that I thought I was pretty good at it.

Now this Wednesday I visited the Island of “Tiengemeten”. It’s a small island about 30km south of Rotterdam that is being returned to nature. Lovely oasis of piece and quiet that is so rare in this country. A dyke has been breached to create a wetland area and the island is populated by several hunderd very noisy Barnacle Geese.

But, let’s start with this shot, the common shellduck


Looks good this small, best of about half a dozen. Click trough to the big version and you see there’s a few problems with it.

Next shot:


Click on that and it will be sharper. Too far away but sharper.

Let’s look at settings. The first;

Exposure: 0.001 sec (1/800)
Aperture: f/8.0
Focal Length: 300 mm
Focal Length: 302.0 mm
ISO Speed: 400

And the second pic:

Exposure: 0.001 sec (1/1250)
Aperture: f/8.0
Focal Length: 260 mm
Focal Length: 261.4 mm
ISO Speed: 400

Substantial difference in shutter speed.

Number three:


Exposure: 0.001 sec (1/2000)
Aperture: f/8.0
Focal Length: 260 mm
Focal Length: 261.4 mm
ISO Speed: 400

I got a few more but all in all perhaps 2 dozen keepers out of more than 200 pics. Not a good result. So I started looking for help.


Now it turns out my errors had a few causes.

1. Pretty lousy fieldcraft on my side. I’ve been spoiled by a landscape with loads of cover and animals and birds used to humans. On this island I encountered about a dozen other walkers the whole day. In my weekend walks I meet that many in 20 minutes.

2. Poor understanding of my camera. “automagic AF" just doesn’t hack it. I found this: http://johnfriend.blogspot.com/2009/10/nikon-d300-auto-focus-for-sports-i.html which explains a sports shooter’s setup for his D300. Most of that will be useable here.

3. No knowledge of my surroundings. Every encounter was a surprise, most flight paths were unexpected.

4. No knowledge of my models. I met at least 4 new species.

So, I now know more or less where it went wrong. I used my D300’s AF system ineffectively. I was overly optimistic on my shutter speeds and I was unrealistic in my expectations. A 370 euro zoom is no substitute for a 3000 euro zoom and a casual shot when walking is no substitute for spending 4 hours in a hide. Next step, go to a place with loads of seagulls and practice.

One final shot: