How I Shoot Birds (With my Camera)


I have been asked many times about how I capture my images.  Well, to begin with, I no longer use the big Canon 500mm that you see in my photo at the head of this blog.  That camera and lens set-up got to big for me after using it for about twelve years.  At 82 years of age, there are times that those heavy lenses are to much.  (However I still wear a camo cap.)  I like to keep that photo, though.  It makes me look macho, don’t you think.

For my bird photography, and other wildlife, I basically use a Tamron 150-500mm zoom lens.  With it attached to one of my two Canon EOS 7D Mark II cameras, I get comparable photos to what I got with the 500mm.  I either use a tripod, or when shooting from my car, my favorite way, a SafariPack bean bag on my window sill.  When I want to walk or hike, to make things a bit lighter, I use a Canon 100-400mm lens in place of the Tamron, sometimes carrying a monopod.

When shooting, I go against what a lot of purists would do.  I seldom shoot in Manual mode.  Why in the world, would I do that when I have a high dollar camera that is designed to figure the exposures for me?  That’s why I paid the big bucks.  When shooting wildlife, lighting situations change by the minute.  There is no time to make quick decisions or I lose the shot.  I use Manual mode for flowers, landscapes, etc.  My subjects are not constantly on the move then.

But make no mistake, I don’t use AUTO either.  With my set-up I have found that what works best for me, with my Canon 7D Mark II, is to shoot Shuttter Priority, that’s Tv on your camera dial.  Depending on the time of day, or lighting, I generally set the shutter anywhere from 1/1000th or 1/2500th of a second, I use auto-ISO, and auto-white balance. The camera generally gives me a large aperture at those settings.  I like to shoot in high-speed bursts.  I use spot-exposure.  I usually use spot-focus, but I am ready to toggle the button to go to zone-focus if I need to acquire a fast moving bird or animal that is in the open.  Oh, one more thing.  As I shoot, I always have my thumb on the back dial, so I can quickly adjust the Exposure Values on the run, should all of a sudden the bird is backlit, or deep in the shade.

I am not recommending that you use the same set-up.  I am only saying what works for me with my own camera/lens combination.  As you can see, by looking at my results on this blog, I have been very sucessful with it.  I will say that I tried using Aperture Priority, (Av), and my results were mixed.  Not as consistent as I have gotten with Shutter Priority.

Perigrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

I photographed this juvenile Peregrine Falcon as he was lifting off to begin flight.  Exposure was 1/1250 sec @ f6.3, +0.3 EV adjustment, because of it was slightly backlit.  ISO was 125.   Click the image to see an enlargement.

If you have any comments or questions, I would be happy to hear from you.

Happy Shooting!!

 

Canon 7D Mk II and Tamron 150-600mm, another comparison


As many of you know I have coupled my Canon 7D Mark II with a Tamron 150-600mm lens.  I have been learning much lately about that new camera, and with that lens I have been excited about the image quality.  This is a photo that I shot a couple days ago.  First I show you the original, straight out of the camera, but converted from the RAW format.  The 150-600mm lens was zoomed out to the 600mm mark.  Notice there is no loss of sharpness at that end, like some zooms have when fully extended.  The second image is my cropped finished version.  I did no sharpening whatsoever.

Original female Northern Cardinal

Original female Northern Cardinal

cropped female Northern Cardinal

cropped female Northern Cardinal

Notice the image retained the sharpness after cropping.  One more thing, there is a distinct lack of noise.  I must say that this one of the rare times that I was able to crop and use an image without any other editing.  ISO was 500, exposure 1/1000 sec @ f6.3.  I am finding that this new 7D Mark II is leaps and bounds better than the original 7D.

In other news, I did send my Tamron 150-600mm lens off to the factory.  Not that it needed anything, but since my lens was one of the first built, I found there was an updated firmware available for it to further speed up the auto-focus, so I thought why not take advantage of it.  I will say that I was already was impressed with it’s fast auto-focus, so I am anxious to see how much more it can be improved.  So I will miss it for a few days, but I have my Canon 100-400mm zoom lens as a backup and I will put a 1.4 teleconverter on it.   I will make do.

Birding South Llano River State Park


Note:  This post is best viewed on your computer.  You can then click the images to see the fine detail in the fourteen different enlargements.

We have visited the South Llano River State Park on a few other occasions, but I have never posted about it.  It is located about five miles south of Junction, Texas.  Junction is about 95 miles southeast of San Angelo.  What I like about visiting that park is that they have four distinct blinds.  It seems that each blind has it’s own characteristic.  Each presents it’s own lighting positives or negatives, depending on what time of day you visit each one.  Plus, it seems that, although it may be my imagination, sometimes you might find a bird in one blind, that you won’t find in the others.  So we always visit each blind each time we make the trip.

On our visit this past weekend, it seemed that the Agarita Blind, (they each have a name), seemed to have the most bird activity.  On other days one of the others may be more bird active.

But as I said, with so much activity in the Agarita Blind, we didn’t spend much time at the others.  Here is a sampling of the birds that I photographed, in no particular order.

Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee

Black-throated Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Northern Cardinal - female

Northern Cardinal – female

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow

Western Scrub Jay

Western Scrub Jay

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Bewick's Wren

Bewick’s Wren

Black-crested Titmouse

Black-crested Titmouse

American Goldfinch - adult breeding female

American Goldfinch – adult breeding female

After arriving back in San Angelo, we drove by our “K-Mart Creek” and saw this Norther Pintail to finish our day.

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

All in all, it was a great way to start the week, and we added six more to our 2015 Big Year list, to bring our new total to 92.  I hope you enjoyed this.  I appreciate any and all comments.

Thanksgiving Birding


Ann and I are thankful that, at our age, we can still get out and enjoy the outdoors and wildlife.  That said, we have no encumberments, no close relatives, so we are free to do as we please regardless of what the calendar says.  Besides, I wanted to play some more with my new Canon EOS 7D Mark II.  So, a few days this week, including Thanksgiving morning, we got out and did what we love to do best.  Here are a few highlights from those outings earlier this week.  Enjoy.

Osprey on Monday

Osprey on Monday

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Great Egret

Great Egret

Great Egret

Great Egret

Mr. and Mrs. Hooded Merganser

Mr. and Mrs. Hooded Merganser

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Osprey on Thanksgiving Day.  He loves this spot to do his hunting.

Osprey on Thanksgiving Day. He loves this spot to do his hunting.

We saw many bird species, averaging about 30-35 each day.  However, most photos were not display materiel.  Just grab shots for ID, etc.

We added one more to our 2014 Big Year list.  A Forster’s Tern a Lake Nasworthy.  We are now at 198 in our goal to get to 200 by December 31.  However, we are heading to the Davis Mountains area in two weeks so hopefully can get those two that we need out there.

Birds and warmer days…….


Since my last post the weather has gotten more seasonable here.  That means I was able to get out more without having to layer on stacks of clothing.  I am still experimenting with my new Canon 7D Mark II, and I am enjoying it more and more.  Here are a few pics from the last few days.

This Golden-fronted Woodpecker was at least 40 yards away.  I am amazed that I was able to get a photograph that was sharp enough to heavily crop the image.  I think the better processor on the Mark II is making for better image quality.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

These titmice are one of the more difficult birds to photograph.  They flit in and out of the brush quickly, never perching anywhere for more than a few seconds.

Black-crested Titmouse

Black-crested Titmouse

When I first saw the Warbler in the brush, I thought it may be a Nashville or a MacGillivray’s Warbler.  However, after getting home and studied it along with my various guides, I realized that was first year winter Orange-crowned Warbler.  The deciding factor was the split eye-ring, a slight whitish brow, and the streaked breast.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

I almost passed up trying to get this photo of a perched Osprey.  He was at least 80 yards away.  In my viewfinder, he wasn’t much bigger than my little focus point.  But since I have been in a trial mode with my new camera I decided to give it a shot.  I steadied the camera and 150-600mm Tamron lens on my driver’s side window.  Obviously the photo is very heavily cropped but the result is excellent.

Osprey

Osprey

Below is an adult female Eastern Bluebird.  It was back-lit but I was able to make Exposure Value adjustments in the camera.

female Eastern Bluebird

female Eastern Bluebird

This Great Blue Heron was across the river.  I was hoping to get a photo of him in flight, but he wasn’t interested in moving from his perch.  I waited about ten minutes, then I drifted on, looking for other photographic opportunities.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

We stopped by the shoreline of the lake to check out the gulls.  All were Ring-billed except for one lone Herring Gull.  It left the building before I could get a decent photo.  I was trying for some in-flight and I captured this Ring-billed as it was flying directly at me.  (BTW, that Herring Gull was number 197 in our quest for 200 birds in our 2014 Big Year.  Three to go.)

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

This photo below of the slate colored Dark-eyed Junco presented me with the most challenge.  We had seen it the previous day, but was unable to get any photos.  On our return the next day, we spotted it in some dense brush.  It probably was aware of us, even though we were about 30 yards away.  We waited for it to make a move into the open, while all the time I was trying to get it in focus through the twigs and branches.  It was dark and shadowy in there and the camera bumped the ISO to 6400.  The resulting image is below.  Even with that large ISO the noise is hardly noticeable.  I didn’t use any noise-reducing software as I didn’t want to take a chance on reducing the sharpness.  Again, the photo is, like most of my photos, heavily cropped.

Dark-eyed Junco - slate colored

Dark-eyed Junco – slate colored

I hope you enjoyed my photos.  Click on any of them to see enlargements.

Canon EOS 7D Mark II – my first trial


I got my new Canon EOS 7D Mark II on Wednesday afternoon.  I hurriedly perused the manual to read the most important points, made my own desired settings, and inserted the time, date, and my copyright info.

Thursday  morning I was ready for the maiden run.  Ann and I took a drive out by O.C.Fisher Lake at San Angelo State Park.  Friday, we drove through our local city parks at Lake Nasworthy.  Today, Saturday, we had contemplated going to the San Angelo State Park, but found it was closed for the weekend for hunting.  So, back to the Lake Nasworthy area we went.  We didn’t stay very long, as it was getting windy and there were white caps on the lake.  What we do tomorrow, Sunday, is anyone’s guess.  We may just take to some country roads for a change.

Anyway, my first impression of the camera was Wow!!  The focusing is  instantaneous.  The shutter feels almost like it has a hair trigger.  I love the 10fps burst also. The camera feels like a good fit to my hand.  I miss the touch-screen that I had on the 70D, but I feel that with all of the other improvements, I could well do without it.  The original 7D didn’t have it either.

But I have had it for only a few days, so I am not really able to give you a complete assessment.  But I can show you some of my photos that I got with it the past few days.  Bear in mind I was testing all kinds of exposures, etc.  So I was shooting anything that got in the way of my lens.

 

White-crowned Sparrow in the grass at San Angelo SP.

White-crowned Sparrow in the grass at San Angelo SP.

female House Finch in tree.

female House Finch in tree.

first-year male Vermilion Flycatcher

first-year male Vermilion Flycatcher

White-tailed Deer approached my mobile blind, AKA my car.

White-tailed Deer approached my mobile blind, AKA my car.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Pied-billed Grebe in early morning light.

Pied-billed Grebe in early morning light.

Pied-billed Grebe with crawdad (crawfish).

Pied-billed Grebe with crawdad (crawfish).

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

So you can see that I had a lot of fun with the new gear.  Hope you like these first pictures with it.  Click on any of them to see enlargements.