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Telephotos and f/stops 8 or higher


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Hello if anyone can answer this would appreciate it.  Covid has forced me to do something I had no plans on doing previously and that is to purchase a long lens to try birding and small wildlife.  I know nothing about birds and have probably misidentified a few but I was desparate with almost a year in lockdown depression was starting to kick in so had to go out and shoot something.  I am a total newbie using a long zoom like the 200-600mm and  I shoot hand held in shutter speed mode with Auto ISO max set at 2000, and shouldn't forget to mention that it is on an A6600 which I recently also got after selling off the rest of my Nikon gear.

 

My question is: would it be wise  to push the lens to use f/stops 8 or higher by going into manual mode?  Would a zoom with that range perform well enough or is the 6.3 its best performing f/stop at 600mm for example?  Its all I have been shooting at so far.  I am tempted sometimes and wish I could go beyond the 6.3 especially in good light or when the subject appears very close but worry about pushing the ISO.  In fact looking through the EVF I am at times shocked how high an ISO the camera has chosen, granted I am shooting shutter speeds 1000-2000 at times, but to someone coming from shooting still life and static things most of the time at ISO of 100-400 it is rather alarming to see those high numbers.  Is this normal for these types of lenses?  Still very new and learning, can see the mistakes I am making composition wise and aim to improve and work on that also.

Thanks in advance

Helen

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Theres not really any one answer when it comes to birds. Although as with everything else, how you shoot depends on one thing - available light.

 

Broadly speaking (I am over simplifying) there two types of bird photography. 1) BIF - birds in flight 2) anything else. For BIF you need high shutter speeds (say 2000 and above). For non-BIF you can choose anything you want as long as you have a tripod, patience and image stabilisation. For forest floor birds I am rarely above 1/160 (on a 500 plus 1.4 TC) and a lot of my shots are at 1/30 to 1/60 at f5.6. Because I shoot in low light I am most often shooting 1/80, ISO 3200, 750 mm for static/feeding birds. If I get light then the first thing I do is reduce my ISO and then up my speed. I prefer A mode for this type of photography. For ISO, i.e. noise, you will soon fit into a modus were you now how far your cameras limit is and what can be post processed out. Mine is 3200 but the first sign of light on the meter and I am dialling it down.

Auto ISO can be a god send for off the cuff and BIF but for static birds its a bit of a putz, better to use a tripod and technique as the auto iso will take into account your lens length and decide you need a high speed to counter shake. 

For BIF its much more experimental as there is usually a lot of light available and you can crank up the frame rate and shutter speed and pray away to find you comfort zone but keep in mind the angle, amount and location of light on the bird is paramount. Early morning and late afternoon the best time as the sun is low enough to light under the bird as well. 

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Many thanks for your response Panthera tigris.  I have only had access to the common back yard / front yard type birds so far, some ducks and geese.  Hardcore birders would not even call this birding I am sure. Very helpul suggesgions about the shutter speed and ISO combo. Will bear that in mind.  I am also still getting used to the camera luckily it is tiny and all the dials and wheels are easily accessible to quickly dial things in the right direction.  As for best time for lighting , so agree with what you've said, I also choose late afternoon, early evening for the best light it brings out the colors in the plumage very well.  The morning with the approaching summer I am now finding, the light is a bit harsh even quite early in the morning.  Will try another shoot early-ish morning at the lake and see what I get.  BIF is not easy I will need to practice a great deal more, so far have only managed a few low flying, sort of cruising Gulls.  Ducks are too fast.  Thanks for your feedback and advice.

Helen

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Posted (edited)
On 17/05/2021 at 20:52, Panthera tigris said:

Theres not really any one answer when it comes to birds. Although as with everything else, how you shoot depends on one thing - available light.

 

Broadly speaking (I am over simplifying) there two types of bird photography. 1) BIF - birds in flight 2) anything else. For BIF you need high shutter speeds (say 2000 and above). For non-BIF you can choose anything you want as long as you have a tripod, patience and image stabilisation. For forest floor birds I am rarely above 1/160 (on a 500 plus 1.4 TC) and a lot of my shots are at 1/30 to 1/60 at f5.6. Because I shoot in low light I am most often shooting 1/80, ISO 3200, 750 mm for static/feeding birds. If I get light then the first thing I do is reduce my ISO and then up my speed. I prefer A mode for this type of photography. For ISO, i.e. noise, you will soon fit into a modus were you now how far your cameras limit is and what can be post processed out. Mine is 3200 but the first sign of light on the meter and I am dialling it down.

Auto ISO can be a god send for off the cuff and BIF but for static birds its a bit of a putz, better to use a tripod and technique as the auto iso will take into account your lens length and decide you need a high speed to counter shake. 

For BIF its much more experimental as there is usually a lot of light available and you can crank up the frame rate and shutter speed and pray away to find you comfort zone but keep in mind the angle, amount and location of light on the bird is paramount. Early morning and late afternoon the best time as the sun is low enough to light under the bird as well. 

 

I am posting again becuase I have just visited your https://paulthompson.gallery/ , impressive; nice images; I have a lot to learn.  Thanks again for the your tips.  I will struggle to achieves sharp images at the 1/30 to 1/60 at f5.6 without a tripod so might have to look into purchasing one.  All hand held so far.

 

Helen

Edited by hsessions
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Like yourself I took to wildlife photography just to shoot something during the boring lockdowns, learn by your mistakes and carry some bird seed or a pack of hazlenuts for squirrels etc.

I use the Tamron 150-600 and will i normally shoot on shutter priority and most shots will come out at f6.3 which create a nice bokeh on the background. I've not been tempted to go for the Birds in flight yet, but that will mean ISO being ramped up, which either Lightoom or Topaz AI can sort out.

 

Keep trying!!

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Posted (edited)

In the olden days, the rule when shooting hand-held was to use a shutter speed at least as big as the focal length. So 500th sec. for a 400mm, 1000 for a 600mm. Image stabilization has made this rule largely redundant as far as camera shake is concerned, but it hasn't stopped birds moving. I use a 500/600mm and rarely go below 500th sec out in the field. With a very lazy/tired bird, you can go a lot lower.

Assuming you have a decent lens, f6.3 should be fine.

 

Just had a look at your recent pics and you seem to be doing fine as it is.

One thing I can suggest is adding the location to your captions - country / state. It can be useful to potential buyers (and nosy fellow contributors)

Edited by Phil Robinson
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Posted (edited)

 

Helen, I'm a city boy and not someone to think of as a wildlife shooter. But I had the extreme privilege to watch as Pale Male, the world's most famous red hawk, defend his nest against a mob of hungry crows. That was in Central Park, NYC. I've forgotten when. It was awe inspiring. 

 

Two things I shall point out: birds are never still. That's never. And I've found in my shooting that anything above 300mm needs to be on a tripod. 

 

Good luck.

Edited by Ed Rooney
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10 minutes ago, Ed Rooney said:

 

 

Two things I shall point out: birds are never still. That's never. And I've found in my shooting that anything above 300mm needs to be on a tripod. 

 

Good luck.

 

Ed, all my bird shots are at 400mm on a cropped sensor, and all hand held, be it some good help sometimes from Topaz Sharpen AI.  As you get used to the weight of the big lens, you have less and less issue with camera shake.

 

Jill

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1 hour ago, Ed Rooney said:

 

Helen, I'm a city boy and not someone to think of as a wildlife shooter. But I had the extreme privilege to watch as Pale Male, the world's most famous red hawk, defend his nest against a mob of hungry crows. That was in Central Park, NYC. I've forgotten when. It was awe inspiring. 

 

Two things I shall point out: birds are never still. That's never. And I've found in my shooting that anything above 300mm needs to be on a tripod. 

 

Good luck.

Or monopod (sports guy)

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3 hours ago, Pete Snelling said:

Like yourself I took to wildlife photography just to shoot something during the boring lockdowns, learn by your mistakes and carry some bird seed or a pack of hazlenuts for squirrels etc.

I've not been tempted to go for the Birds in flight yet, but that will mean ISO being ramped up, which either Lightoom or Topaz AI can sort out.

 

Pete, 2F4G1E2 is very nice.  I do carry seeds, nuts etc. always think its a bit rude to go visiting empty handed, kind of like showing up at someones house with, no box of chocolates, bottle of wine.  I felt such guilt when I did once show up without and a suirrel stopped and looked at me in expectation.  I have attempted birds in flight, 'attempted'.  I think a birder would know bird behaviour and be able to anticipate their movements better.  I can never tell when a mallard is suddenly going to take off and they fly by quite fast.  I have got one or two gulls flying quite low and slow but failed at the composition, I think it might be too tight they have no room to fly.

 

1 hour ago, Phil Robinson said:

Assuming you have a decent lens, f6.3 should be fine.

 

Just had a look at your recent pics and you seem to be doing fine as it is.

One thing I can suggest is adding the location to your captions - country / state. It can be useful to potential buyers (and nosy fellow contributors)

Thanks for mentioning that Phil.  I had the location on some of them at first not in the captions but removed, thinking a buyer may decide to go for an image that had a specific location like the UK for example even though it is the same bird, can never tell with buyers.  I have an image captioned as scented candle with no labels on it or anything has licensed many times with the search term being specifically 'scented candle', go figure.  But you might be right, I will put the location in the captions and keywords.

 

1 hour ago, Ed Rooney said:

Helen, I'm a city boy and not someone to think of as a wildlife shooter. But I had the extreme privilege to watch as Pale Male, the world's most famous red hawk, defend his nest against a mob of hungry crows. That was in Central Park, NYC. I've forgotten when. It was awe inspiring.

Would have been a great capture Ed.  Something not so uncommon maybe but a first for me.  Watched a male red-winged blackbird chase a squirrel through the trees, probably away from a nest.

 

I tend to agree about lenses longer than 300mm would need some kind of support.  I can shoot handheld at high shutter speeds but the camera will choose some wicked ISOs even in bright, sunny conditions but for really good shots especially in low light situations, while keeping ISO low I know a tripod or monopod is a must.

 

Thanks everyone for your feedback.

Helen

 

 

 

 

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15 minutes ago, hsessions said:

would know bird behaviour and be able to anticipate their movements better. 

 

 

Raptors generally poop right before they take off, lighten the load I guess.

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2 hours ago, Jill Morgan said:

 

Ed, all my bird shots are at 400mm on a cropped sensor, and all hand held, be it some good help sometimes from Topaz Sharpen AI.  As you get used to the weight of the big lens, you have less and less issue with camera shake.

 

Jill

 

That's great, Jill. I envy you. I must pass on wildlife and long telephotos. Those optics are in my passed now. 

 

 

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Sally R said:

 

You have some really nice wildlife images there Helen.

 

 I most commonly select f7.2 or f6.3. Often I choose 7.2 as it can avoid getting part of the bird out of focus by having a bit extra depth of field, but usually still get a nice, soft background.

Thanks Sally. 

 

And this is exactly what I was trying to find out is if anyone shot higher f/stops without seeing a degradation in IQ.  When the bird is too close and there is no time to move back or it could take flight, it is filling the frame; a f/stop of 6.3 is not going to get most of that bird in focus, so wondered if anyone in this situation would dial to manual from shutter and change it to 8.0.   Or like yourself shoot in Aperture mode. 

 

So, Sally, when you shoot at 7.2 what shutter speeds and what ISO do you end up with and is this for birds that are fairly still or hopping around like they have landed on hot coals?

 

Forgot to mention I invested in a sony 200-600mm.  Huge investment but with the recent contract changes, birds and flowers might be the only thing I might be uploading anyway.  And some of my other very risky trademarked stuff might have to be removed.  So don't regret spending the money anymore now.

 

Helen

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35 minutes ago, Sally R said:

 

I've been looking at your website Paul and the images are spectacular!

They are aren't they, and I am especially impressed by the images shot in low light.  Something to aspire to.

Helen

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Posted (edited)
17 minutes ago, Sally R said:

 

It varies quite a bit. I meant to say 7.1 not 7.2 (I always get my f numbers mixed up!)

 

I can give you some examples to give an idea of settings I've used for both stationary and moving birds.

 

This one was stationary in a tree. The settings are:

Aperture Priority

Aperture f7.1

Shutter 1/320

ISO 640

Focal length 250mm

Square image of an Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides) in a Eucalyptus tree at Herdsman lake in Perth, Western Australia Stock Photo

 

This one was coming in to land

Aperture Priority

Aperture f7.1

Shutter 1/2500

ISO 800

Focal length 250mm

A juvenile Bridled Tern coming in to land alongside a row of other Bridled Terns at Penguin Island, Western Australia Stock Photo

 

This one was flying at some distance from me (I have cropped it quite a bit. The f/stop could have been lower for this one but I was photographing some birds at ground level when I suddenly saw this one so not enough time to change settings).

Aperture Priority

Aperture f8

Shutter 1/2000

ISO 1250

Focal length 450mm

Nankeen Night-heron (Nycticorax caledonicus) in flight not long before sunset at Lake Gwelup, Perth, Western Australia Stock Photo

 

When I first started doing bird photography I used Shutter Priority the same as you. This is an example of one on Shutter Priority:

Aperture f7.1

Shutter 1/160

ISO 400

Focal length 500mm

A juvenile White-necked Heron (Ardea pacifica) at Bibra Lake in Perth, Western Australia. Their necks become more white as adults Stock Photo

 

I don't know if that all helps, but basically I find 7.1 seems to usually work for me. However, if very close to your subject you might want that extra depth of field and go up to f8 or higher. There is usually a point at which you start to lose a bit of sharpness, but as I rarely go beyond about f8 I'm not sure where that point is on my lens. When shooting with a wide angle lens for landscape I usually find it is higher than about f13 where you start to see image softness, but I'd have to trial out higher f/stops on the telephoto to get a sense of the difference it would make. If you go too high, you will start to lose the softness in the background making it harder to separate your subject from the background. But with a bird in flight against a blue sky it won't matter.

 

You could go fully manual but I find I like to control the depth of field the most and find it easiest. I started with bird photography using shutter priority because that was what I was initially trying to control the most. Now I find it much easier to keep the aperture controlled where I want it, adjust the ISO and then see what kinds of shutter speeds that's giving me. In the first shot above of the raven I've got a speed of 1/320. I always find it easier to keep the telephoto lens steady when holding it upwards, in this case to the tree.

 

I've just found another shot (a bit dark) I took at 1/30 handheld, f6.3 (aperture priority), ISO 1000 and at 270mm. In this case it wasn't quite the whole bird though, but f6.3 seems to have been adequate. I don't often get sharp shots holding the telephoto at 1/30, but it sometimes happens, and is a bit easier at 270mm compared with 500mm.

Portrait of a Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) Stock Photo

 

That is just my way of doing things and I know others do things differently. We have quite bright light here in Australia which means I don't have to put the ISO up as far a lot of the time. When I was in NZ the forests are so dark there so many of my shots are grainy from there because of the high ISO.

 

I've read that the Sony A6600 is good for wildlife. Keep enjoying your wildlife photography!

Sally thanks, very much.  That is very helpful and for taking the time, especially for the examples.  My next outing I will set it to Aperture mode and see what I get from that shoot.  To be honest I am not quite ready to go Manual with this lens, so will have to test between Aperture and Shutter.  I did once go manual and messed up, the combination of settings chosen by me rendered some very dark and some very blurry images.

 

Very nice shots btw, especially the bird coming in to landing.

 

Helen

Edited by hsessions
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Posted (edited)
13 minutes ago, Sally R said:

 

You're welcome Helen. Yes manual is fiddly. I've mainly used it when photographing long exposures at night such as trying to capture the stars and night sky.

 

I think trying to do manual with birds that are constantly moving something, is difficult.  I stick with aperture priority, leave it on AI Servo, set my ISO and just check what shutter speeds the camera is choosing before I start shooting.  I'll adjust the ISO based on that.

 

Jill

Edited by Jill Morgan
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Different camera/lens but.... What I do for birds is work in aperture priority, set minimum shutter speed to 1000th in auto iso controls, cap iso at 3200 and just play with the aperture according to the shot. I have to watch the shutter speed dropping if light is poor,  subject movement is as big a problem as camera shake once speeds drop. If opportunity allows and iso high I'll spend some time at lower iso and shutter speeds to try and improve noise levels. This is with Nikon D7200 with 300 f4 and tc 1.4.

If f6.3 is your widest aperture it may not give the best qhuality. Stopping down even a third of a stop should give an improvement. F6.3 also gives no depth of of field at close distances,  like less than shoulder to eye distance even on a small bird side on. Diffraction shouldnt be a problem till higher than f11.

Have fun!

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Posted (edited)
On 24/05/2021 at 03:05, Keith Burdett said:

Different camera/lens but.... What I do for birds is work in aperture priority, set minimum shutter speed to 1000th in auto iso controls, cap iso at 3200 and just play with the aperture according to the shot. I have to watch the shutter speed dropping if light is poor,  subject movement is as big a problem as camera shake once speeds drop. If opportunity allows and iso high I'll spend some time at lower iso and shutter speeds to try and improve noise levels. This is with Nikon D7200 with 300 f4 and tc 1.4.

If f6.3 is your widest aperture it may not give the best qhuality. Stopping down even a third of a stop should give an improvement. F6.3 also gives no depth of of field at close distances,  like less than shoulder to eye distance even on a small bird side on. Diffraction shouldnt be a problem till higher than f11.

Have fun!

 

Didn't want to go out yesterday I was exhausted, but forced myself to;  just had to put into practice everything suggested here and couldn't wait.  Again, thanks to everyone for their tips, and taking the time to share it has been super helpful, now shooting in aperture priority thanks to Jill's, Sally's and your suggestions.  I think it worked out well will take some getting used to.  I have many things to fix yet, things I know I might be doing wrong, but pretty determined to not give up and get better at birding.  Respect to all birders, and probably should include sports/action photographers, never thought it would be so difficult. 

 

Thanks everyone!

Helen

Edited by hsessions
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16 hours ago, hsessions said:

 

Didn't want to go out yesterday I was exhausted, but forced myself to;  just had to put into practice everything suggested here and couldn't wait.  Again, thanks to everyone for their tips, and taking the time to share it has been super helpful, now shooting in aperture priority thanks to Jill's, Sally's and your suggestions.  I think it worked out well will take some getting used to.  I have many things to fix yet, things I know I might be doing wrong, but pretty determined to not give up and get better at birding.  Respect to all birders, and probably should include sports/action photographers, never thought it would be so difficult. 

 

Thanks everyone!

Helen

 

 

great that you went out, i've hit a bit of a wall currently.  As for taking picture of birds, after 6 months focussing on them it has to be some of the hardest photography I've ever taken, some days i come back feeling like i just got myself kicked silly, and it just got worse currently with all the leaves and harsh sun. I also have so much respect for those who do that professionally. 

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