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!!


Manual vs. Auto – Questions answered

I am not really a teacher, but I think I am qualified to correct several misconceptions.  Many newbies and some experienced at photography, including some of my friends,  believe that if you change your camera settings from AUTO, that you will be shooting manual.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  To be shooting in manual, you have to set your camera to the M, which is true manual.

Okay, let’s see what you are getting into if you decide to shoot in M (MANUAL).  First you have to measure the light, so you can decide on your shutter and aperture settings.  How do you measure the light?  You can use the built-in light meter in the camera.  Aim the camera at a neutral scene, or the palm of your hand, or a gray card, or at the blank blue sky about 90 degrees away from the sun.  Any of these can give you recommended settings for your shutter speed, and aperture, depending on how you have set your ISO.

ISO??  Yep, your camera meter needs to know about your film (or digital sensor) speed.  You can pick from a number between 100 and 6400, (most cameras.)  So after you obtain the settings recommended by the meter, then you have to know how to change the settings in the camera.  Your manual should show you how to do that.

If the recommended shutter speed is to slow or fast for your liking, then you can adjust, but then you have to re-adjust your aperture setting to compensate.  Remember,  Aperture means how much light you should let in, and Shutter Speed means for how long a time period that you want to let that light.  If you change Aperture to a large opening, you have to cut down on the time, so you go to a faster shutter speed to compensate.  You will still end up with proper exposure for the picture.

Now after all of this work, do you really want to shoot “MANUAL”?  I don’t think so.  After spending hundreds or thousands of dollars for a modern camera designed to make the job easier, why would you want to.  Heck, count me out.  But I do have the basic knowledge if I ever need to.

I began shooting seriously about 60 years ago, when I took a course through the New York Institute of Photography.  Then, manual was the only way to go.  Ugh!  It was work.  But it made me a better photographer as I learned the basics.  Cameras were all manual, except some had a built-in meter to measure the light.  Otherwise, you used a hand-held light meter.

Now with the modern camera, shooting AUTO is for the beginner, who is unfamiliar with the settings, and/or who just want to get pictures easier until they learn more.  There is nothing wrong with that.  The camera is designed to give you good photographs that way.  But you will get good photos only under ordinary conditions.

So getting back to changing from AUTO, I believe most individuals who turn that dial away from AUTO, think they are shooting in manual, when they are really not.  Most usually go to Av  (aperture priority), or Tv (Shutter priority).  One of these modes is what most photographers, including pros, shoot.  But, circumstances can come up where they need to know how to use the true Manual.  But please know, that just because the dial doesn’t say AUTO, doesn’t mean that you are shooting in Manual.

So let’s get back to changing from AUTO to one of some other settings.

ISO – set the camera between 100 and 6400, or Auto, in most cameras.  The higher the number, the more sensitive the film or digital sensor is to light.  If you set the ISO to Auto, you don’t have to worry.

P (Program)  (EDITED AFTER INITIAL PUBLICATION.)  This is nearly Auto, but you have a bit more control.  You can change the Aperture, and the Shutter automatically changes to the right speed.  The same if you change the Shutter, the Aperture will automatically change to the correct opening.

Av (Aperture Priority).   You set the aperture manually that you want, the camera will read the light and give you the right shutter speed.

Tv (Shutter Priority).  You set the shutter speed manually that you want, and the the camera will read the light and give you the right aperture.

There are other settings on some cameras to make things easier, too.  These are actually more Auto settings, but you can make adjustments if you need.

– A little flower symbol means macro or close-up photography.

– A running man symbol indicates fast action.

– A mountain or trees symbol indicates landscapes or scenics.

I rarely shoot in full Manual anymore.  Personally, when I am shooting birds, I shoot in Tv (Shutter Priority) with the ISO on auto most of the time.  Why??  Because if I shot in Manual, I wouldn’t have the time to measure the light and make the right settings.  By then it would be supper time and the birds would be gone. (Well, that may be an exaggeration.  But it would take more time.)

By shooting Shutter Priority, I know that will I have a high enough shutter speed to catch the action if the bird takes to flight.  I usually set the shutter at about 1/1600 of a second average.  Difference in light can dictate what figure I use.

If it is a really bright day, I may shoot Aperture Priority.  By setting my camera to a real large aperture opening, I will be assured that the camera will give me a fast shutter speed.

There are other fine tuning adjustments that can be made as you go, like adjusting the EV (exposure value), for darker or lighter situations, but that may come in a future “lesson”.

I hope this advice helps you a bit more.  But, like the doctor said, “if you still need help, take two pictures and call me in the morning”. 🙂

Gone for a few days, but I’ll be baaaaaack :-)

I will be gone from blogging for a few days.  I am scheduled for cataract surgery Tuesday and I don’t know if I will have time to post on Monday.  I have to go through pre-op stuff.  At any rate, I will be thinking of y’all.  I don’t know why I have to go through this surgery.  I thought it was only for old people, and I am only 76 years old. 🙂

I will show you a couple of pictures here, in keeping with my policy of having at least one picture in any given post.  Incidentally, the polls are still open so be sure to keep the votes coming in by clicking on this link, People’s Choice Award.  If per chance my photos don’t show up, just type Zeller (that’s me) in the search window.  Just click the green arrow next to the photo that you like best.


  • Canon EOS 7D
  • Canon 100-400mm lens
  • 1/2000 sec @ f6.3
  • ISO 1250
  • Lens focal distance  365mm
  • Shutter priority
  • Partial metering
Bullock’s Oriole
  • Canon EOS 7D
  • Canon 500mm IS lens with 1.4 tele-converter – hand-held
  • 1/2500 sec @ 6.3
  • ISO 2000
  • Lens focal distance  700mm
  • Shutter priority
  • Partial metering

These photos were taken at San Angelo State Park, here in San Angelo, Texas.  You can click on either of them to see an enlargement.  Don’t forget me, ‘cuz I’ll be back in a few days.

Tale of the Take: Great Blue Heron II

We were at Spring Lake Park yesterday morning with our friends Suzanne and Sid Johnson, who drove in from Eldorado.  As we drove slowly by this little lagoon, I spotted a Great Blue Heron wading along, searching the water for prey.  I had my camera on my lap and decided to get a photograph.  Just as I got the camera to my eye, I saw him tense, and I knew he was going to fly.  I immediately pressed the shutter and held it at approximately 8 frames per sec and got a series of photos.  Here are three of the resulting images.

The EXIF exposure data for these images is as follows:

  • Canon EOS 7D
  • Canon 100-400mm lens – hand-held
  • 1/2500 sec. @ f5.6 – minus 1/3 EV
  • ISO 400
  • Lens focal distance – 260mm
  • Shutter priority
  • Partial metering

I might mention one of my habits.  I prefer to adjust my EV by minus -1/3 most of the time, as I like how that slight under-exposure renders the tonal values.  Of course, if the whites are still extra bright, I go another 1/3.  And then, of course, there are my “senior moments” where I have forgotten to make the proper EV adjustments and have had to correct in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.  I use both, depending on……….heck, I don’t know.  I just do this stuff by feel, meaning I use whatever I feel like at the time. 🙂

It really makes me chuckle.  My work flow is so confusing and maybe “cluttered”, I sometimes wonder how I manage to produce the good work that I do.  If two people asked me how I did something, I would probably give two different answers.  But, for me, the fun is getting the job done with a great result, not how I accomplished it. 🙂

So, I hope you enjoyed the above images.  You can click on any of them to see some enlargements.  You can still vote for me at this link, People’s Choice Award.  I appreciate your votes.