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Q&A With Readers: Photography Tips & Techniques

Q&A with Readers: Photography Tips & Techniques

Last week, I asked the readers of my blog to ask one question about photography that they are eager to get solved. Here’s the question I asked to the readers: 

What’s one of the biggest issues in photography that you are struggling with?

I got a very good number of detailed questions which I answered to them personally. I thought I should share a few of them with you so that you too can benefit from these questions and answers. I had also asked to specify the equipment so that I can tailor my answers. Wherever I have got the information, I have included them in this article.

Most of these answers are unedited with just a few edits as necessary especially in my answers to bring more clarity.  If I have added something more, I’ve prefixed [EDIT] so that you understand it was not part of the original answer.

Also, I’ve removed any greetings and any personal information from the readers for maintaining the privacy.

Note: If you want your question to be answered, please write your question, describing the exact issue along with the equipment details, in the comments section. I’ll answer it directly in the comments section or add them to this list.

It’s a long post. But, you’ll be glad if you read till the end as I have a surprise annoucement for all the bird photographers.


Reader’s Question #1: Exposure Triangle

I do not understand what Exposure Triangle (Iso, Shutter Speed and Aperture – I am referring to the Exposure triangle as those use to describe…) is to do with exposure.

I understand the exposure depends on three values of Iso, Shutter Speed and Aperture. What is Triangle go to to do with  it?

Some photographers in their article/blog/book put these variable on the vertices of the triangle and some put them on the sides of the triangle. 

In my opinion the term triangle is not necessary.

I hope you understand my problem. I very well understand the meaning of Exposure and its dependency on three variable – Iso, Shutter Speed and Aperture. 

Can you explain why we need the triangle? 

— Thiru

My Answer

A simple answer is, it’s just a convenient way of explaining the fact that Aperture, Shutter Speed, & ISO together make an exposure. If one of these attributes change, the other two have to be adjusted to get the same exposure.

If you check my article on the same, I have given two representation of the above-said definition.

If you have bought my Kick-Ass Guide to Settings eBook, you’d know the practical way to set the Aperture, Shutter Speed, & ISO. In the book, I argue that the Exposure Triangle has no meaning when it comes to field photography. And, in the Kick-Ass Guide to Exposure eBook, I haven’t mentioned anything about any of these three parameters at all! 

Finally, what matters is, are you getting the results that you are after by properly using these three essential parameters–Aperture, Shutter Speed, & ISO–to make the exposure? And, since you know it already, it just doesn’t matter what others say.

As you said, the triangle is not necessary.


Reader’s Question #2: Lanscape Photography Composition

Would you be able to give me some advice regarding composition , getting the foreground, mid and distance correct so that the eye goes from front to back. 

Photography Equipment: Nikon D7200 + Tamron 10-24 mm lens

— Brian Eastwood

My Answer

You have the right equipment for taking vast landscapes. It’s normally very easy to get everything in focus with the ultra-wide angle lens like 10-24mm. 

Here’re a few choices for composition:

  1. Use leading lines to guide the viewer from the foreground to the background. You can find the details about the leading lines here.
  2. Including an interesting and eye-catching foreground makes for a very good composition especially with the ultra-wide angle lenses. Please readHow to Create Visual Interest and Depth Using Foreground.
  3. Use the framing concept to lead the eyes of the viewer to the scene as described in this article.

Here are a few things you can do to get everything in sharp focus.

  1. Use an aperture in the range of f/11-f/16. Apertures smaller than this will usually have the diffraction issues which will yield the entire frame softer.
  2. Use a tripod to make sure that everything is sharp. Otherwise, try using a high shutter speed like 1/125 – 1/250 or above to make sure there’s no camera shake.
  3. Use the AF-S mode with single point focus to make sure the autofocus doesn’t change.
  4. Focus at around 1/3rd the distance from the foreground object in your frame. Or, you can focus on an object which is at around 10 ft from the camera that roughly translates to the hyperfocal distance.

After you have done it all, make sure you do this critical step.

Check the sharpness of your photo on the camera’s LCD monitor from bottom to the top of the frame and everything in between. The only practical way to know if everything is in sharp focus is to check it. Make sure everything is in focus.

If you aren’t getting everything in sharp focus, then the Depth of Field is narrow. You can either shift the focus based on your previous photo. You can use Manual Focusing to control the focus shift now so that you have complete control. Keep shifting the focus until you get everything in sharp focus.

A point to consider:

Sometimes, it’s impossible to get everything in sharp focus with any changes you make. In those times, it’s better to aim for multiple photos focused on various points in the frame and then use focus-stacking method to stitch all these photos to get a sharply focused photo. For this, you have to use the manual focus.

If you consider my suggestion, I’d recommend you to consider leaving the background slightly out of focus but always get the foreground in sharp focus. Because, in reality, we see everything closer to us in sharp focus but not so with the distant object.


Reader’s Question #3: Basic Equipment

I have just read your book, great but I am a beginner and don’t have the equipment (can’t afford it) so am doing my best with a Nikon D3510 and a Sigma lens 55-200. trying to get the crisp shots is a challenge but I cant expect much with what I have.

Photography Equipment: Nikon D3510 & Sigma 55-200mm lens

— Raye 

My Answer

I can understand. However, have you tried photographing flowers, portraits, or some birds like ducks or geese who are approachable? Having inferior equipment might very well work to your advantage if you put all your energy into making best photos with them.

Don’t forget that I started off with Nikon D60 & 18-200mm lens and learned most of the things with them. You could do it too.

Here’s a simple tip for you. Instead of chasing the subjects that require better equipment, search for the subjects that you can shoot with the current equipment. And, then put your heart into it to make the best possible shots. You’ll be surprised to see what all you can do if only you believe in your own skills and use the camera as a tool.


Reader’s Question #4: Bird Photgoraphy Settings

I am using a Nikon 200~500 mm lens with a d7200. If you help us with some idea on the best ISO, aperture & shutter speed combination for stationery bird and one for the birds in flight with this lens.

It will be also helpful if you let me know the post processing technique to get smooth background from cluttered ones, given that I took utmost care to avoid clutter while taking the picture.

Photography Equipment: Nikon D7200 + Nikon 200-500mm lens.

— Sarajit

My Answer

Let’s leave the post-processing aside for now and concentrate on the other questions.

These are just the base settings that you can try, next time you are in the field.

For bird portraits, you could try using an aperture of f/6.3 to f/8 just to keep everything sharp. Then use the shutter speed of 1/500th of a second or more. If you are using a sturdy tripod, then you could get away with 1/250 also.

For bird in flight shots, it really depends on how fast the bird is moving. A safer bet is to shoot with an Aperture value f/5.6 to f/8 and use a higher shutter speed of around 1/1000 or above. 

In both cases, you can use the Aperture Priority and adjust the ISO accordingly to get the desired shutter speed.

Make sure to read article 6 Sure-Fire Steps to Creating Amazing Bird Photographs for Novice & Amateurs to get the best results and the creamy background in the field. 


Reader’s Question #5: Exposure Triangle

I find really issue in the reciprocity theory in exposure triangle.

I have seen you recommended to use Aperture priority mode in most of the situations. In this mode, the shutter speed is automatically selected based on the ISO value.

The theory of reciprocity says if I bump up the ISO value to double the shutter speed would also be doubled. Exactly where I am facing the trouble with my gear. The theory is really not working. I am just citing one situation where I was trying to capture a flying lineated barbet just coming out of the habitat after feeding its kid.

The light was low. Simply failed to capture it because with ISO 8000 even the maximum shutter speed way varying between 1/1000 sec. to 1/1200 sec.  The details are below.

Aperture: f/5.6 (in priority mode)

Initial ISO value: 400 (later on bumped up to 8000)

Photography Equipment: Nikon D750 + Nikon 300mm f/4 pf  + 1.4 mm TC

— Alokes

My Answer

I am not really sure I understand the problem here. Here’s what I understood. You are unable to capture the bird in flight in low light. However, what wasn’t clear is what was the end result after taking the picture? Was it dark or bright? Was the bird not in focus or blurred?

One of the things to note is that it’s better to avoid giving too much prominence to the theoretical aspects. Though they are necessary to be knowledgeable, they might not be of very much help in practice.

In practice, it doesn’t matter whether you are halving or doubling the value, what matters is if you understand what Aperture & Shutter Speed do you need. If you are using the Aperture Priority and set the Aperture, then you need to adjust ISO to get the required Shutter Speed as you mentioned it properly.

Now, if you ask me, you shouldn’t shoot (or, at least don’t expect good results) when the light is too low. Going with a very high ISO value like 8000 on any camera including Nikon D750 is not advisable. The result will be too noisy or grainy that your photo will be unusable on most occasions.

I think it’s required to understand that there are limits to what we can do and what our equipment is capable of doing. It might not be your problem at all. It’s just that you are attempting something beyond the capabilities of your equipment.

Here’s my suggestion:

Whenever the light is too low, try not to shoot. Or, at least try shooting some portraits of birds so that you can work with a smaller ISO. I try not to shoot at all in such situations when I have to push the ISO beyond 1600 or 3200 on my D750 & D4. Even if I did push, I know for sure that it’s not going to be a great one.

Follow-up Question

Loads of thanks for replying my query. Obviously the end result was blurry one. Since I am traveling now i won’t be able able to share the image. What do you think about the ISO pushup limitation of D750.

— Alokes

My Answer

That answers it all. The blur could be for many reasons like it could be that you lost the focus because of lack of contrast due to low light (the most obvious), or there might be some shake introduced while you moved the camera, or some other.

It’s not just about D750. Any camera for that matter including the D5 shouldn’t be pushed too far. I’d always recommend to keep it down to ISO 800-1600 as a safe bet. Anything more than that you got to know how to deal with the noise in the post-processing stage and also you should know what you’ll get as the end result. It’s a compromise for sure.

If you pushing the ISO too far, then most often it means the light is not good enough. So, I’d bet on waiting for the right light and make some record shots if necessary.


Reader’s Question #6: Teleconverter for Bird Photography

I am a new DSLR user. I have Canon 7D mark II camera body with a 100-400mm lens. I am considering a 1.4 or 2.0 converter. I use a tripod. Any thoughts on which converter. Do you think I should get the cross chest carrier with the tripod? 

I also know the 2 converter requires lowering the F stop by two. Both converters cost the same. Before, I have taken photos with two point and shoot cameras: Canon Powershot and Sony. I travel with Sony zoom camera.  I’m still cropping most pictures to get composition better. I feel lucky to get clear shot of bird. 

Any suggestions? I also would appreciate any specific suggestions on lining up shot. Do you try rule of thirds when focusing or change the focal point first? Currently I’m taking photo class but teacher is a portrait photographer not birder.

Photography Equipment: Canon 7D mark II + Canon 100-400mm lens.

— Carol 

My Answer

I wouldn’t recommend using a teleconverter with a Canon 100-400mm lens. It’s usually not a good idea to use the teleconverters with zoom lenses. You’ll only get more frustrated as the drop in f-stop result in a drop in the incoming light resulting in much slower autofocus which ultimately results in bad photos.

[EDIT] Here’s a good start for anyone considering to buy or use a teleconverter: Should You Use Teleconverters For Bird Photography? 5 Key Factors To Consider.

I’d suggest you do everything possible to get closer to the birds or to wait patiently until they approach you or perhaps shoot only those birds who are cooperative. After all, it’s more about photography and less about which birds you are shooting. It gives you immense pleasure to take an amazing shot of a duck or a goose in a great light than an exotic bird photo that’s poorly executed.

For instance, check this National Geographic photographer by name Andrew Parkinson who has done exceptional work with common birds. He has won numerous awards for the same.

Cropping for the composition is just what we all do, most often. It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.

[EDIT] Try to follow at least the Rule of Thirds for bird photography as noted in this article.

I normally tend to move the focus point on the bird while composing. However, it’s not mandatory. I’d say, try to get a sharper image and get the perfect exposure first. Once you are through with it all, you can then slowly start working on moving the focus points to get the best composition in the field.

[EDIT] I’d like to add that for most of the bird in flight shots you can use the centre point focusing as it’s the most sensitive sensor of all. More on this is coming in my forthcoming article covering the Bird Photography Settings questions from the readers. For now, you can read my article: Simple Bird Photography Settings for Beginners.


Reader’s Question #7: HDR Photo of Birds

Would you please help me to fix a issue, i.e. how can I capture HDR photo of any faster moving object when I am using high shutter speed?

— Saptarshi

My Answer

I think that’s not possible as far as I know. HDR is a combination of three images, most often, taken at three different exposure values—one underexposed, one at 0 EV, and one overexposed. So, whatever the shutter speed is, the time between these three images will be different even for a split second. When the subject is moving, it’ll not be possible for the HDR algorithm to put them together, as the three images don’t align. 

[EDIT] HDR image can only work when three (or more) images align with each other. That’s the first requirement. Whenever the images don’t align you get an infamous HDR effect called Ghosting.

Now, my question to you is, why would you want to shoot an HDR image of a fast subject? Can you tell me some more details?

Follow-up Question

Sir, I was trying to get a flying shot of a water bird with a clear foreground as well as the background keeping the complete details of the subject at the golden hours like sunset. 

My Answer

It should be possible to have details in both the foreground and the background in the golden hours, provided it is the front light situation. Meaning, the Sun is at your back.

In the case of the backlight situation, you might have to wait until the sun is almost close to the horizon when its brightness is low to get good details. But, that’s kind of a very small window of a minute or so.

Another thing you can try is to shoot in a situation where the sun is hitting the bird from a 2/3rd angle, which means at an angle of around 50-80 degree from the bird. Basically, you need to make sure that there’s enough light falling on to the bird, foreground, and the background that’s not having too much contrast.

Here’s my advice to you:

Rather than looking for ways to solve a problem with a better camera or a better software/algorithm like HDR, solve it with your field skills. If you push yourself to make the best use of the situation by using your thought process, a lot of practice, and perseverance, you can achieve a lot better results than what you think is possible.


Reader’s Question #8: Birds in Flight

How do you take good pictures of flying birds?  They are obviously moving, so motion blur is an issue.  Getting proper focus is for me quite hard.  The background is typically either a bunch of foliage or the sky.  The sky can turn out overexposed and can really darken the bird unless you only shoot front illuminated objects.  the foliage background can become the point of focus which makes a really bad picture.

— Hap

My Answer

There are multiple things that you need to take care of. Here’s a list of things I’d suggest:

  1. First and foremost, you have to make sure you are shooting in the front light. The reason is that you need the bird to be lit really well to get a decent shutter speed. And, when the bird is against the foliage, it’ll always pay to have the bird lit better than the foliage assuming there’s a good separation between the two.
  2. You have to start tracking the bird from far off distance so that you allow the auto-focus to achieve the focus on the bird before you start shooting. It might take a while for the autofocus to achieve the focus as the bird is moving.
  3. It’s always better to use a higher shutter speed than what you think is necessary. Say, use a 1/1000 or above even for the slow-moving birds so that you don’t introduce camera shake due to any possible error from your end.
  4. It always pays to wait for the bird to come close to [almost] parallel to the sensor, while it is flying sideways, before pushing the shutter. This gives you a lot more time to track the bird and make sure it’s in sharp focus.

In case of the foliage as the background, try to shoot only when the bird has a great separation. The greater the separation between the bird and the background, the better.

It always pays to remember the limitations:

  1. A bird flying towards you is always challenging to shoot as the autofocus is not good in tracking a subject moving closer. The apparent reduction in depth is quite difficult for the autofocus to understand.
  2. A lack of contrast due to poor lighting conditions almost always make autofocus to fail.
  3. High contrast [due to harsh lighting conditions] will almost always result in a poor photo.
  4. It’s always easier for autofocus to focus and lock to a bird when it’s against the sky than when the bird is against the foliage. That’s because there’s too much detail in the background and not as much contrast between the bird and the foliage. Whereas there’s always a huge contrast between the bird and the sky.
[EDIT] Use a single-point or 5- or 9-point (known as  Expanded AF in Canon) focus and keep the focus point in the centre of the frame for maximum sensitivity.

I’d recommend you to also check out my article 10 Surefire Tips for Photographing Birds in Flight.


Reader’s Question #9: Filters for Landscape Photography

I want to start landscape photography. I want to use filters like a circular polarizing and ND filters. Can you please help me on this topic.

Photography Equipment: Canon 7D Mark II + Sigma 18-35 1.8 Art Lens 

— Ankush

My Answer

I’d recommend you to go with a circular polarizing filter that’s a bit on the higher range like Hoya or something similar. You’ll have to do some research there. Most importantly, don’t skimp on buying the best one out there, because a cheaper filter will ruin the photo than make it any better.

About the ND filter, you got to be sure you want it. Because there are many varieties and they are expensive and are not very useful if you don’t shoot long exposure most often. If you do want to shoot long-exposure most often, then investing in a 10-stop ND filter will be a good starting point. Just go with one filter and try your hand with it. See if you are able to get the results you are after. 

In my opinion, Circular polarizing filter will be the most useful one. However, if you do want to shoot long-exposure, go with 10-stop ND filter.

The moral is that you have to invest in the best filter if you want good results. If you buy a cheap filter, it’s like putting a cheap cooling glass on your eyes. It’ll only hinder your vision than enhancing it.


Reader’s Question #10: How to Get Dark Background

I am copying the question I asked in DPreview forum and I have not succeeded in achieving what I was set to achieve. It could be that I am not that clever.


Hi,

I am trying to follow the steps given in https://chrisbrayphotography.com/tips/flash_basics.php to get a black background and it is not working for me.

This is what the above link says–

“Quick tip for awesome black backgrounds: I find that jet-black backgrounds can look amazing especially on close-up macro shots etc, and if your camera’s inbuilt +/- EC only goes down to say -2 or -3 then you mightn’t be able to get your background dark enough. To get this effect then, switch into Manual ‘M’ mode, and leave your Flash EC set to zero (or whatever flashed brightness you want), but dial your ISO way down, your f/# way up, and your shutter speed as fast as you can (usually limited the Flash Sync speed – see below) and this will give you as dark a background as possible. Depending on how bright the ambient light is, how large an f/# your lens can go etc, you might not be able to get it completely black but it’s worth a try sometimes! “

My camera is Nikon D5600 and the lens is Nikkor 18-300mm

Any suggestion welcome. Thanks in advance.


Photography Equipment: Nikon D5600 + Nikkor 18-300mm

— Thiru

My Answer

Coming to your question of getting a dark background, here’s my article on Histogram that has two such photos which give you a good idea.

Whenever you want the background to be darker than the subject and/or foreground, you need to have a situation like that. I mean, the subject should be bright or well lit and the background should be dark and dimly lit to get such a photo.

In other words, the contrast between your subject and the background should be such that when one is perfectly exposed, the other automatically goes dark.

For instance, consider an Egret with dark vegetation in the background. Now, add a front soft light to the scene where the Egret is lit perfectly and the light is so soft that the background is not so visible. Egret being so white and background being relatively dark, the contrast between the two is too much. So, if you expose perfectly for the Egret, the background automatically goes dark.

Now, if you want to completely turn the background to black, then underexpose the photo using the exposure compensation technique as described here, and you’ll get a darker background. More like a studio portrait.

It works with the bright flowers too, as described by the article you’ve shared because the same logic works as described above. Any bright subject against a dark background should yield you this result.

You could create the same effect with a spotlight (remember how it works in a stage show where only the actor is lit?) or a sidelight situation once you understand it well.

Remember that, if the contrast is less between the subject and the background, whether it’s Egret or Flower or any other, you wouldn’t be able to get the same effect.


Reader’s Question #11: How to Expose the Bright & the Dark Birds

My question is….it’s very difficult to make proper exposure while shooting completely white birds like egrets , herons etc and likewise it’s impossible to get details while shooting completely black birds like black drongo. The said birds either completely white or black without any feather details. I kindly request you to guide me to solve this issue

— Kishor

My Answer

If you follow these steps, you’ll see some success:

  1. Shoot in the soft light situation. The softer the better. Say early morning light from around 6:30 to 8 am.
  2. Shoot with Sun behind your back. Meaning, shoot in the front lighting situation where the bird is lit perfectly.
  3. Choose a background that’s mid-grey like green vegetation or some background that has not-so-bright colors. Don’t shoot against water or overcast skies.
  4. Use the exposure-compensation technique described here until you get the perfect exposure.
  5. Check the LCD monitor and zoom in to see if you have captured all the details. If not, just repeat the steps 4 & 5 until you get the desired result.

Don’t forget to try it as many times as it requires you to get the result. It might be weeks or months before you nail it. But, if you do, you’ll have the best skill you could acquire.

If you have bought my Kick-Ass Guide to Exposure eBook, go ahead and read it right now. I’ve explained this in detail.

[EDIT] Photographing a White or a Black bird is a test in your exposure skills. Just know that it requires the best light to expose these birds satisfactorily. First learn to expose them first without losing any details. Once you learn to expose them properly by understanding the proper usage of light, you can then switch your mind to searching for a background and/or the light that’ll make these look gorgeous.

Shooting in the golden hours with front light makes for incredible portraits of the dark/black birds. Shooting in the golden hours with the back light makes for incredible portraits of the bright/white birds because of their translucent feathers.


Reader’s Question #12: How to get Sharp Bird Photos

When I am using Canon 600d camera with Sigma 150-600 lens for bird photography. Some images are sharp and some are not that much sharp. I am using lens stabilization and handheld camera. Checking shutter speed also 1/focal length*1.6

Photography Equipment: Canon 600D + Sigma 150-600 lens.

— Avinash

My Answer

If the problem is not consistent then it might be for several reasons.

Here’s what I’d want you to try:

  1. Try shooting at a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 or above.
  2. Try to make sure you are using proper hand holding technique as described in my Bird Photography eBook.
  3. Don’t use the tripod collar to hold the lens. Instead, push the tripod collar to the top and directly hold the lens. Hold the lens little farther from the tripod collar to get better stability.
  4. Try using the Aperture of around f/7.1 or f/8 to get sharper results.
[EDIT] While I have shown myself holding the camera lens with the tripod collar in my eBook, I think it’s far better and more effective to hold the lens itself. Just push the tripod collar to the top so that you can safely and securely hold the lens in your left hand. This increases the stability and helps you manually focus if needed or sometimes zoom the lens for composition. I use to do both these while I was handholding my Canon 100-400mm lens.


Reader’s Question #13: How to Shoot Dark Subject on a White Background

I shoot a Canon Rebel T6i with a Tamron 16-300 mm lens. Going to the Galápagos islands next week. Will also be at Machu Picchu and in the Andes Mountains cloud forest…. very dark with lots of interesting foliage and flowers. My main problem and this is my question…..I have had major issues there before with harsh contrasts— a dark Black Sea lion on white sand. I am embarrassed to say that I have been taking photographs for over 40 years and I leave my camera on auto or sports setting. I don’t understand aperture and shutter speed settings. 

Is there a simple setting I can default to in these high contrast situations? Would any type of filter help? I also get over exposed skies in these situations. 

Photography Equipment: Canon Rebel T6i  + Tamron 16-300 mm lens

— PM

My Answer

I think it’s always a challenge to try out something new when you are not sure if it yields the results or not. Using Auto or Sports mode is not a sin. But, I’d like you to give Aperture Priority mode a try this time around.

Here’s what you do whether you are shooting a sea lion against white sand or anything else, just make sure the light is right. High contrast situations are not ideal for photography no matter what equipment you have. 

  1. Shoot when the light is soft.
  2. Make sure to keep the Sun behind you so that the animal is lit properly.

Here’s a quick guide for you to give Aperture Priority a try.

  1. Turn the mode to Aperture Priority.
  2. Turn the Primary dial that’s right behind the Shutter Button while you see the LCD monitor. This will essentially change the f-stop. Just get used to it by meddling with a bit. 
  3. Set the Aperture to around f/8 to get a sharp result as the lens you are using will not be very sharp at maximum aperture.
  4. Find out how to ISO to Auto on your camera, and set it.
  5. Now just go around and shoot any subject you get.

Here’s what you do now. Very important.

Once you get a shot with above-said settings, change the mode to Auto. Try taking a picture. See, how they differ. Do this as many times with as many subjects as you can. Perhaps, 100 different shots will do.

For reference, you can read my Manual Mode article that’ll give you some hints.

Once you are getting some good results with Aperture Priority, it’s time to work on getting the perfect exposure. Meaning, exposing the sea lion properly or the sky properly or any such thing. For that, go ahead and read my exposure compensation article and try that out.

Here’s something to remember. You’ve spent 40 years shooting in Auto or Sports mode. It might not be so easy to switch to Aperture Priority and get going soon. It’ll take some time. Perhaps, several weeks to months before getting comfortable.

What’s important is you try that every single time. Just keep switching between Auto and Aperture Priority and see what’s working and what’s not working. Soon, you’ll realize what you need to do for a particular situation.

Slowly, you can start working your way out with ISO & the Shutter Speed.


Reader’s Question #14: Birds in Flight

I practice always to obtain the best wildlife pictures of birds. Its very complicated but I like it.

I don’t have much money for best gear. I have the Nikon D700 and Tamron 150-600 g1.

I always think if I had One Nikon 300 mm AF-S f4 its possible to do best pictures at move like birds in flight but I think the birds are to small for this focal distance.

I use 600mm 90% of 600 shots of birds but success is too low.

But I prefer to crop files that use my Nikon D3400 .

My dream team is Nikon D850 with Nikon 200-500 mm and best work in the field.

Resume :

With good tech and work with camera body f8 to f11, 1/1250 to 1/4000, ISO 800 to 2000.

Best photos appear with best gear or very close work and best light?

PS: After I read your books I don’t have many questions and I know how edit photos because I am Designer.

Best regards and many thanks for your beautiful and amazing work, thoughts, books, photos…

Photography Equipment: Nikon D700 and Tamron 150-600 g1.

— José

My Answer

To be honest with you, you already have very good gear compared to most others. You have some good bird photos too. But, what I feel is you have to work on shooting in good light and also your processing skills.

Nikon 300mm f/4 wouldn’t be a very good choice unless you use it along with a 600mm lens. It’s too short as you noted. Using it with teleconverters is a bad idea.

Have you tried using a battery grip with Nikon D700? It seems it’ll give you an 8 fps burst rate. This will be a great advantage if you ask me. You can then try and combine this with a 200-500mm whenever you have saved enough money and you have a very good combination.

All said I’d like to tell you that having limitations with your equipment is indeed good for you. Though it seems counterintuitive, it’s a fact. Because if you push yourself hard to improve your skills and find out various ways to make the best use of the equipment, you’ll be amazed with the results. Maybe you can’t shoot everything, but you can shoot some birds with great results.

Once you are so good with slightly inferior equipment you’ll feel like a rockstar when you finally get the gear that supports your improved skills. The other way around seldom works. By which I mean, without the right skills, no equipment can get you better results.

Yes, always work with the best light and work with the birds who are more accommodating. 


Reader’s Question #15: Birds in Flight + Birds on Ground

Is there a way to work out better with a setting on the camera, to quickly shoot birds in flight when one was set for still shots on the ground. I use 7D Mark II with 100-400 IS II, mostly on the tripod.

Of late, given the good light at evening time in Delhi and Noida, I use AV mode by manually choosing a suitable ISO to get the desired shutter speed. Kelvin set at 5800.

Photography Equipment: 7D Mark II with 100-400 IS II

— John Mathew

My Answer

I would say you can circumvent this problem in two ways:

  1. Use the AI Focus AF mode which automatically switches between the two. But, I don’t recommend it as it’ll be slow.
  2. Use the AI-Servo mode all the times and make use of the Auto Focus lock technique to make it work like a Single-Shot focus for a short while.

Here’s how you can use focus-lock (coupled with AI-Servo) if you aren’t already using it.

  1. If you are using the back-button focusing technique, then once the focus is achieved, you can release the back-button to lock the focus.
  2. If you are using Shutter Button to focus as well, then you’ll have to use the AE/AF-L button to lock the focus after the focus is achieved when you are shooting the stationary bird. Once you release the lock, the autofocus will start working again immediately.

All said I’d like to say that it always pays to take a good shot of the stationary bird with Single-Shot focus, if you prefer, and quickly go back to AI-Servo to be ready for any possible action of the same bird or any other birds flying. This way you have the best of both worlds.

If you are shooting in the evening, around the Sunset when you get golden light, try choosing a higher Kelvin of say 7920K or 8330K or similar. This will give you that golden glow that’s otherwise will be lost if you set it to moderate temperature like 5800K.

Follow-up Question

Thanks Prathap, that was very helpful and was happy to have been following it partly.

Just to complete my query, hope you wouldn’t mind this last question.

In fact, I was for some time working with one back button dedicated for AI Servo and the other for One shot. This gave such incredible speed and flexibility to switch over. The problem was with getting the right exposure when I switched suddenly from One shot still to AI Servo flight. Aiming to the sky suddenly changes the metering I guess, leaving little or no time for a change of exposure settings.

My Answer

Exposure is completely different from what focusing mode you are using. It has no bearing whatsoever. When the scene is completely changed, you’ll have to expect a change in exposure.

That’s where taking test exposures help you.

Whenever you are shooting a bird on the ground and also waiting for some action in the sky, you can try this: 

  1. Take a test exposure for the sky. 
  2. Use the exposure compensation to get the perfect exposure for the sky. 
  3. Remember the exposure compensation setting. 
  4. Since no bird will be brighter than the sky, all that you have to do when shifting your attention from the bird on the ground to the bird against the sky, you just dial in the required exposure compensation value and start shooting.

It might seem too much to do and probably too hard as well. That’s where practice matters a lot. Just try doing this exercise as many times as you can without the bird. Just pick two spots which are very different. Shoot alternatively these two spots with different exposure compensation value. You’ll soon find yourself doing this effortlessly.


Reader’s Question #16: How to get Sharp Bird Photos?

Yes, I do have a teething problem and that is not able to get very sharp photo. I am a birdie. I love taking pictures of birds. I used a 6D Canon and a 100-400mm zoom Mark 2 – Canon lens for my birding shoot.

Was wondering those pictures I seen that were so sharp, did they go through editing?

I am thinking of upgrading my camera body but not sure which one to upgrade to.

Photography Equipment: 6D Canon + 100-400mm Mark 2

— David Phua

My Answer

There could be many problems with sharpness. Let me give you some tips based on some assumptions.

If you are getting sharpness issues every single time, then it might be a lens issue. I’d recommend you to check it once.

If it’s a hit and miss case, then here’s what I’d recommend you to try:

  1. Make sure to use an Aperture of f/6.3 to f/8 while shooting. These zoom lenses are not very sharp at their maximum aperture which results in slightly softer images. Using f/6.3 to f/8 will yield sharper results.
  2. Make sure to use at least a shutter speed of 1/500 or above. If you are struggling to hold the lens properly, then try going with 1/1000 or above. This will compensate for any camera shake issues.
  3. Since 6D has only 4.5 fps, it could be that you are introducing some shake while dipping the shutter button to take burst shots. It might be wise to try and practice dipping the shutter button with ease. You can do it just whenever you have time and wherever you are.
  4. Shoot with soft front light as much as a can. Keep the Sun to your back yielding you much better light on the bird that helps in focusing and getting higher shutter speed and also a better exposure.

In case you are using a tripod, it’s possible that you are using an inferior tripod. It ruins the result instead of improving. Also, make sure that you use the Tripod collar to go on the ball head, not the camera body.

About post-processing:

I am assuming you are referring to other photographers getting sharper results with the same equipment. It’s possible that they are doing a lot of things right in the field. 

While all said, it’s possible to get sharper results in the post-processing. But, not if the RAW file from the field isn’t sharply focused. In case your results are soft but perfectly focused, then you can easily sharpen it in any post-processing software.

About upgrading:

At present, I think Canon 7D Mark II is your only option. If you can work with the current body and push yourselves to get the best results, you might think twice. But, nothing wrong with upgrading to a better body or lens.

Follow-up Question

Thank you so much for your wise advise.

Yes, I will try what you have proposed and I am already looking at upgrading to 7D mk2. Since this is an old model now, I will go for second hand. Will try it and let you know the result.

I realised that it is not sharp when I zoom it in… is that got to do with my aperture?

My Answer

When you zoom in and use a higher focal length like 400mm, then the proper hand-holding technique becomes crucial. Because the lens is away from the body if it zooms out, you’ll have to move your left-hand away, as I said earlier, in order to provide good support.

Also, when you are shooting at maximum focal length, it always pays to stop-down the Aperture to f/6.3 to f/8 and make sure you have a shutter speed of 1/500 or above to get sharper results. The faster the shutter speed better it is.

[EDIT] For flight shots, I’d recommend 1/1000 or above.

It’s a smart move to buy a second hand. Once, 7D Mark III comes out you can perhaps see if it makes sense to upgrade.

[EDIT] Read Best Lens for Bird Photography for Beginners and Experienced Photographers & Choosing the Camera Body for Bird Photography.


Conclusion

I loved this exercise more than I expected. Most often, I try to guess the issue or perhaps infer from my earlier experiences about the most probable problems that other photographers might be facing.

It’s one thing to be able to infer but it’s altogether a different experience to know the exact problems. 

If you haven’t been able to share your photography question with me, please feel free to do it right now. Just write down the most pressing issue that you have, describing it in exact details, and also specify the equipment you are using, in the comments section. I’ll answer them all to my best knowledge and hopefully update the article with your questions too.

I hope this was a great read for you too. Please do consider sharing this with other photographers on social media or in your respective photography clubs as many photographers might be facing the same issues. 

Good News for Bird Photographers

There’s something that I am working on that I am quite kicked about. It’s about bird photography and it’s something that I never thought, even in my wildest dreams, that I’ll do it. Never. 

But, sometimes, life pushes you to do somethings that are inevitable and are good for the community. For the first time, I am venturing into something that I feel will be little bit controversial but at the same time a necessity for most bird photographers.

My first line is perhaps a hint to all those who attended my photography workshops. If you are one of them, you might be able to guess.

Will you be able to take a guess? Perhaps, a wild guess? Let me know what comes to your mind in your comments.

In the Making: A Bird Photography Product That’s Useful But Controversial.

Have a great time! Have fun shooting. 

Best Regards,

Prathap

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Prathap

Prathap is a professional nature photographer and founder of Nature Photography Simplified blog. He aims to simplify every photography concept to help beginners and amateur photographers.

Download his highly recommended FREE eBook "Bird Photography – 10 Mistakes and Solutions" which has been instrumental in helping thousands of bird photographers.

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This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. My gear is Nikon D7200 and nikon 200-500 lense.I prefer to use back button focussing to capture birds in flight.My question is when I achieved focus on a flying bird by pressing af-e/af-on button ,does the focus locks on the bird all the time or i will have to continuously press back button to regain focus repeatedly.please reply sir, i have face this problem many times.

    1. Hi Sandip,
      Thanks for the question. I am assuming that you’ve configured the AE-L/AF-L button to do back-button focusing. If not, please reply back.
      You have to keep the AE-L/AF-L button pressed as you track the bird all along. If you leave it in the middle even for a split second, then the focus will be gone. So, keep the back button pressed as long as you track the bird and take the shots simultaneously. You can release the button while you are taking the photos to disengage the autofocus if you are seeing a sluggishness in the burst rate.
      I am assuming that you are using AF-C mode to make sure that the autofocus is continuously focusing.
      I hope this answers your question. Please let me know if you need further clarifications.
      Best Regards,
      Prathap

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