Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Photographing Birds: Camera Settings

In my last blog entry, I forgot to mention two pieces of equipment I use when taking bird photographs.  As I mentioned, I usually carry two cameras.  I also bring along a spare charged battery, which I can swap out with a low battery in either camera.  Both cameras carry two-gigabyte memory cards.  Bigger cards are available. Although I also have a spare memory card, I have never had to use it. (Some cameras have trouble with even larger cards.)  I always transfer my photos to my computer at the end of the day, so the cameras always start out fresh. Make sure that your trash is empty on your computer, in case trashed photos are stored on your memory card.

Trying to get a shot of an exciting bird is no time to be fiddling with camera settings.  I set my camera for an ASA rating of 400.  Presumably a lower setting would give me better quality images, but, for me, setting the camera lower results in many more blurred images.

I always set my camera for automatic function.  I have been disappointed in my results whenever I have experimented with shutter or f-stop priority settings.  One problem I have is that, unlike previous cameras, my Canon, with the Leica scope, will not shoot photos in automatic mode--there is no diaphragm.  With this camera, I match the speed with the 400 ASA setting, at a 400th of a second. On a bright day I set the speed a little higher, on a cloudy day, sometimes much lower.  Most days I take an experimental shot at the beginning of fieldwork.

The Carolina Wren below was taken along the boardwalk at Corkscrew Sanctuary near Naples, Florida.  The conditions were not ideal.  The bird was in the shade, and, although the wren was standing at attention, he was boisterously singing and moving up and down. The photo was taken through the spotting scope.  The speed was at a 60th of a second.  Despite using a tripod, this speed is about as low as you want to go.  Even at this speed, the resulting photo is not very sharp. The ASA, as always, is set at 400.
Finally, I always take photos in RAW format.  Using this large-file format often results in superior images.  RAW files contain more data than jpegs.  You can always delete data from files, but you can not add what is not there.  Check that your file developing software, to be covered in my next post, can handle the type of RAW file that your camera takes.  To figure this out, look at the ending of the file name.  CR2 appears at the end of my RAW file names.  Then read the small print on the software.

The next steps in producing digital photos of birds are to be covered in my next blog post.

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