What?? Shoot birds on an overcast day??


I have been thinking about the subject of this post for quite awhile.  Photographing birds on a heavily clouded, overcast day.  Today was one of them.  It reminded me of a close friend that almost refuses to try any photography if the sun isn’t shining.  The way to be sucessful is to forget about the color of the sky.  Think about the subject, your birds, and focus (pun intended) on photographing them, and not on the color of the sky.  If you want to photograph a blue sky, wait for a clear day.  If you want to photograph birds, be prepared to do just that.  You just do what you usually do.  In my case, I shoot shutter priority, set the shutter on about 1000/sec or higher depending on the lighting. I set auto ISO, and just let that exposure float along.  That is basically how I shoot birds regardless of the weather.

I also am prepared to boost the EV adjustment to the right about 1/3 or 2/3 stops.  Sometimes it may be necessary to go higher.  It may produce higher ISO exposures, but what’s the big deal?  Most popular SLRs have no problem with that.  It’s not going to keep me at home.  Like I said, just shoot what you would do on a normal day; cope with the usual exposure problems.  Focus on the birds and let the exposures fall where they may.  YOu will notice also, that in overcast weather, the color is nicely saturated.

On the subject of high ISOs, I know of a photographer that refuses to shoot if it is a high ISO day.  Hogwash!!  What kind of a photographer thinks that.  Not the kind that is very successful.  I hope my friend that doesn’t like overcast days, will think about what I have said, and go give it a chance.  Other than that quirk, she is a talented photographer.

Okay, now that I am through ranting, I will tell you about today.  I woke up with a forecast for the day, of cloudy with a 20% chance of rain.  The forecast held true.  It was very cloudy, looking like it could rain at any time.  In fact, a few times there was a hint of a few sprinkles on the windshield.  But they disappeared in a minute or two.  As usual, I didn’t want to stay home.  I am shooting with my Canon 7D Mk II and a Gen 2, Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  I will post the exposure data along with each image.  Click on any of those images to see enlargements.

We started out at Spring Creek Park at about 8:00 AM.  We were apprehensive about whether we would see any birds at all.  Most of the tiny birds were keeping themselves hidden.  However there were a few other hardy ones.  This yellow-shafted Northern Flicker was in a bush and I was able to get him in focus.

Northern Flicker - 1/800 sec. @ f6.3, +0.3 EV, ISO 6400

Northern Flicker – 1/800 sec. @ f6.3, +0.3 EV, ISO 6400

The resident Great Horned Owl made an appearance again.

Great Horned Owl - 1/1250 sec. @f6.3, +0.7 EV, ISO 6400.

Great Horned Owl – 1/1250 sec. @f6.3, +0.7 EV, ISO 6400.

After seeing that owl, we decided to go to San Angelo State Park, since it was pretty wet in and we were driving through some sloppy areas.  The state park provided some more paved roads.

White-crowned Sparrow - 1250 sec. @ f7.1, +0.7 EV, ISO 1000.

White-crowned Sparrow – 1250 sec. @ f7.1, +0.7 EV, ISO 1000.

Northern Cardinal, female - 1250 sec. @ f7.1, ISO 4000.

Northern Cardinal, female – 1250 sec. @ f7.1, ISO 4000.

As were taking a little drive through one of the picnic areas, we happened to glance towards the lake and saw hundreds of American White Pelicans and what looked like hundreds more of Double-crested Cormorants.  In this photo, I decided to change to aperture priority an set the camera to f8 to provide more depth of field, to capture more of this vast armada of water fowl.  This is just a small portion of the crowd.

Pelicans and Cormorants - 1/800 sec. @ f10, ISO 1000

Pelicans and Cormorants – 1/800 sec. @ f10, ISO 1000

That exposure set-up worked out fine, but I made a rookie error and forgot to set the camera back to my original setting of Shutter priority for the rest of the session.  But no harm, no foul, as the following photos came out very nice.  Buy this time, it was getting near noon, but the weather hadn’t changed except for the temperature, which was a little warmer.  Still very cloudy with occasional mist.

Eastern Meadowlark - 1/800 sec, @ f8, +0.7 EV, ISO 1250.

Eastern Meadowlark – 1/800 sec, @ f8, +0.7 EV, ISO 1250.

Curve-billed Thrasher - 1/1000 sec. @ f8, +0.7, ISO 1600.

Curve-billed Thrasher – 1/1000 sec. @ f8, +0.7, ISO 1600.

Lincoln's Sparrow - 1/640 @ f8, +0.7 EV, ISO 6400.

Lincoln’s Sparrow – 1/640 @ f8, +0.7 EV, ISO 6400.

As you can see, you can get great photos if you dis-regard the cloudy skies and just take what comes at you.  My ISOs varied, of course depending on whether the bird was in the open or in open shade or in the brush completely.  I came home happily with some good results for my efforts.  One additional thing I should mention, I am not foolish enough to shoot if it is raining.  Cameras and water do not mix well.

I hope you enjoyed this post and the images.  As I said, click any of the images to see some very nice enlargements.

Until the next post, Happy Birding!

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21 thoughts on “What?? Shoot birds on an overcast day??

  1. Great article! I also will shoot on cloudy days… I’ll even shoot in the middle of a snowstorm! Sometimes these days can produce more interesting photographs so why stay home? p.s. is your website snowing?! I feel right at home 🙂

    • Thank you. You sound like me, I don’t let anything keep me from shooting, except falling rain. Rain and cameras don’t get along well. Yes, there is snow falling on my website. Provided by WordPress fo all of their blogs, during winter months. Optional of course.

    • Richard, I rarely use flash. For one reason, usually the birds I shoot are to far away for the flash light to reach. I just adjust the EV more to the right if necessary. The beauty of a cloudy or overcast sky, is there is no harsh shadows. The light is nice and even, and the colors really pop.

  2. Great photos. I don’t usually mind overcast too much, although it’s much more of a challenge, but today it was quite chilly and I kept reaching for my gloves. Love the GHO.

    • Thanks, Lisa. You probably have more overcast days than we do. I do like the light on those days, as it is more even and no harsh shadows. But, I’d prefer it would be on warmer days. 🙂

  3. Enjoyed your photos. For me the goal is more about just being out in nature with any photos just reflecting the best I could do under the circumstances. I do like the fact that shadow values are often more well controlled when it’s overcast. On long hikes we often use our FZ200’s which even on overcast days can produce photos suitable to tell the story on a blog post. Thanks again for your post!

  4. Lovely photos – as usual :-). My only complaint about a cloudy day is that if I am shooting birds in the bush the shade can be so dark it pushes the ISO way too high to get a useful image.

    • Thanks, Sherry. Some cameras handle high ISOs better than others. Open you EV adjustment a couple of notches, then use a good noise reduction program and you can salvage some photos that you might otherwise throw away.

      • I know exposure compensation, the D750 is excellent in low light, LR and On1 both have good noise reduction. There are limits. Complete shade under a bush with heavy cloud. I find nothing can fix that situation except flash.

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