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Here’s a pretty standard shot of a Western Gull, which I captured a few weeks ago while leading my San Diego Birding photo safari. Gulls are relatively easy targets for practicing your bird shots, and while this shot isn’t remarkable by any means, my choice of gear still made a difference.
First, I was using the Nikon D850 DSLR. The outstanding dynamic range of this camera allowed me to capture the entire gamut of shadows and highlight details in a single exposure. Should I decide to print this image, I could go as large as 24×34 without any resampling.
Second, I used the versatile Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 VR zoom lens. For a “consumer” lens, it’s really hard to beat. But why this lens was perfect for this shot was because it was not only light enough to hand-hold, but also that it’s minimum focus distance of 7.2′ (2.19m) allowed me to get really close to my subject and create a really smooth out of focus background.
For my last two birding safaris, I’ve eschewed my heavy tripods for the flexibility of a monopod with tilt-head and shoulder-stock. The monopod is lightweight and mobile, but when combined with my Arca-Swiss shoulder stock, I get a very stable configuration in the field, with my legs replacing a tripod. This isn’t easy to do with a monopod alone; the shoulder-stock creates a solid contact point between my camera and my body.
Finally, because processing the final image is just as important to me as the capture itself, I used Adobe Lightroom Classic CC to fine-tune the exposure, tone, and detail in the RAW image. I leveraged Adobe’s Nikon Camera Neutral profile to open the shadows and protect highlights while giving me maximum control over global and local tone and color.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve struggled with photographing birds in flight for years. The number one problem I and others have is focus acquisition. With birds in flight (BIFs), the ideal situation is to lock focus early while the animal is still at distance, track the approaching bird, and then capture a rapid burst of shots when the bird begins to fill the frame.
For me, my struggles have always been two-fold. First, when birds are very far away, it’s often hard for the camera to discern the difference between the subject and the background. Often times the camera will focus on the background instead of the bird. When this happens, you need to quickly re-cycle the focus system (pump the focus). The other challenge is when the bird drops below a background object such as trees or a mountain ridge. Again, the focus system can quickly lose track of the subject unless it’s fairly large in the frame. Continue reading My Go-To Focus Setting For Birds In Flight→
After a long ten days in the field with two groups of clients, I’m back home from south Texas. What a week! We photographed over 30 unique species of birds from the private blinds, and everyone walked away with some fabulous keeper photos that you just couldn’t get anywhere else. I captured the shot above on the final session of this year’s safari. I used the incredible combination of the Nikon D500 (see current pricing) and 300mm f/2.8 AFS G VR Nikkor lens and TC-20EIII, which gave me an effective focal length of 900mm!
It’s been my privilege to be among a handful of photographers selected to serve as bird photography guides at the Dos Venadas Ranch, where most of my images were captured. 2018 safari dates are TBD. If you would like more information on joining me on a private safari at this location, please sign up for my email newsletter so you’ll be the first to know about all my events.