North Shore Birding Festival

Thank you for joining my workshop at the North Shore Biding Festival. Below I will be going over some of the items we covered in the program for your reference.

Exposure Basics

One of the most important aspects of successful nature photography is understand how your gear works and performs under different situations. Metering in particular and how your camera deals with extreme highlights and shadows is very  important. I mentioned the use of Auto ISO in Manual exposure mode as the most effective way to ensure within range exposures, not perfect, but close enough that minimal post-processing may be required. Since this is a semi-automatic exposure more, I also mentioned when and how to use exposure compensation.  That little  +/- button on most cameras is there for a reason. Being able to override the metered exposure to protect highlight information or open up shadows is the key to better exposures with more latitude for post-processing. Don’t forget that you should be shooting in RAW format to really take advantage of the exposure latitude provided by your camera’s sensor.

Remember you can always predict how much compensation you’ll need by comparing the subject’s reflectivity to the rest of the frame. In the case of the Great Egret to the right the bird as surrounded by a close to middle tone background. If the background had been darker I would have used more compensation to avoid losing too much highlight information.  Remember is really important to recognize the subject tonal value in respect to the tonal value scale and how it relates to the background tonal value to adjust the metered exposure on the spot. Also don’t forget to remove any exposure compensation before moving to a different subject otherwise you’ll be exposing using the exposure compensation you just dialed in.  As long as the subject continues in the same light you should be able to keep your exposure compensation.  Also the above suggestions apply to metering mode like Matrix in the Nikon or Evaluative in Nikon any other camera systems will use something very similar 

The above shot of the Great Egret was taken using the metered exposure for my settings of 1/1000sec. @ f8, AUTO ISO. The result was a slight overexposure of the highlights as noted by the spike on the right side of the histogram.  The solution was as simple as dialing -2/3 stop compensation. The good thing is that little overexposures like this are easy to fix in your RAW editor by simply adjusting the exposure or the highlight and white values. 

AF Basics

We also discuss how to setup the AF system correctly in your camera to maximize its performance for birds in flight. First point was to setup your AF-Only back- button focus.  This is easily achieve through your camera’s menu.  Doing so allow your camera to continue to focus independently of whether you depress the shutter button. The main advantage is that you can always stop focusing while in continuos AF mode (AF-C) to recompose or when your subject simply stop moving or walks behind obstacles that will otherwise confuse the AF system

The AF-ON button allows you to focus when you need it and will help you track your even when the photo is being acquired by the sensor thanks to predictive AF. For this you must use Dynamic-Area AF in AF-C.  In this particular AF mode, you select one of the many AF sensors and the camera utilizes the additional surrounding sensors to track the subject if it leaves the area covered by your selected sensor. Understand that every camera manufacturer have a very similar AF modes as described above, but due to patents they may call it differently.  For example: Nikon AF-C is the same as Canon AI-servo. Dynamic AF-mode in the Nikon is called AF Point Expansion on the Canon. With that said, it’s very important that you read your camera manual to understand all the features your AF system can provide. 

Below are the AF-ON setup screens for Nikon, Canon and Sony respectively.


Below is  a chart with all the AF modes available in most Nikon Cameras and the best scenerario for their use.

ApplicationPinpoint AFSingle-Point AF(AF-S)Dynamic-Area AF (AF-C)Wide-Area (S)Wide-Area (L)Auto-Area AF
Candid Photography    ● *5
Portraits    ● *5
Weddings/Events   ● *5
Concerts, live events    
Macro (food / flowers)    
Group Photos    
Trains, vehicles    
Wildlife / Birds *6     
Sports *6     

The sequence below was done using the Dynamic AF mode with 72 sensors and pressing the AF-ON button through the whole sequence. The sequence contained over 17 frames as I was shooting at 10fps.  Only 5 of them showed a bit of softness. This AF mode in combination with 1/2000 shutters speed improved the number of keepers.

Always remember to start focusing early and how your posture and panning technique has a big influence on your final product.  Always support your lens from the bottom using your open hand while bracing the arm against your body. Another note of caution always use a shutter speed no less than the reciprocal of the focal length being used(adjust for cropped sensors). If using a full frame camera while handholding a 500mm focal length, you should use no less than 1/500 sec. to prevent camera shake. On a cropped body that same lens will require a 1/750 sec. shutter speed. Now, remember this is only to prevent camera shake, but motion blur from your subject can only be fixed with a shutter speed faster than the subject’s motion, therefore I prefer to shoot birds in flight at no less than 1/2000 sec. Slower birds could be photographed at a slower shutter speed, think of a pelican in flight, you may be able to stop it with only 1/1000 sec., but a hummingbird’s wings beat too fast to be stopped with the same shutter speed.

Below are some other pics I captured while leading the field Workshop on Sunday. Again thank you for your participation and feel free to send me an email with any questions your may have.


Posted in Photography.