Last week Andrew- see his blog here- and I travelled across town to have an evening with the Bird Life Australia Melbourne Photography Group Study Evening. What a great night a bunch of keen photographers and birdos sharing their knowledge.
I was fortunate to learn my profession as an assistant to several photographers, and it was in the sharing of ideas, techniques and great discussion that the art of it all became amalgamated with the science and still I reckon stands me in good stead to this day. The great part I’ve never forgotten was the wonderful way in which photographers readily share their skill sets with others. It means at any get together of photographers the talk fest is wonderful and the new ideas, applications and experiments pass on info to the beginners as well as the seasoned professionals.
And so it was on this study night. Great image makers talked about the hardware, the techniques and the art of making great bird photos. And it was supported in a number of cases with some stunning images. What a great night, and thanks to Andrew for transporting me across town. Hopefully we can do it all again sometime.
(This should be read with your tongue planted firmly in your cheek. It is written that way!!!)
What I suppose I did learn from all the passionate discussion is that I’ll never make it as a bird photographer. I just do so many things the wrong way round.
I don’t use Back-button Focus. Two reason, m’lord, one I have an arthritic thumb that doesn’t react fast enough and secondly, I am, strange as it may seem, Left-eye focused. Which means when I hold the camera up to use BBF, my big fat thumb pokes me in the eye. So I’ve learnt not to even try it out. I do prefer the method advocated by Geoff Jones, from the study group in March 2011. Geoff explained the system of ‘focus pumping’, where the camera shutter is lightly tapped to keep the focus working on the subject, until the moment you depress the shutter to make the shot. He learned it from Jim Neiger in Downtown Florida, at a wonderful place called Kissemee, where Jim runs training schools. That explains why on a given day, most of not all of my pics are out of focus. I knew there must be a reason.
I use a tripod in the field. Not a mono-pod with super duper camera attachments and not hand-held. So I cannot react quick enough to unexpected happenings, and miss most of the good photo opportunities that go by.
I don’t use a lens with VR or IS or OS or what ever the latest image stabilising system is. I’m happy with my old, outdated, antiquated, in need of replacement non VR lens. I also don’t use VR when the camera is on the tripod, for the same reason. No wonder my pics are so blurry and prone to camera shake.
I shoot at fairly high ISO levels, 800 being typical. I don’t overexpose the image, so I don’t gain the benefit of lower noise levels. I shoot highest speed I can get and higher if I have too, and I run it though a piece of Noise Reduction software, so I’ll have to put up with loosing sharpness at several levels there too. Noise Ninja, Topaz Sharpener, Neat Image and Nik Sharpener Pro, are all among my stable of fall backs. But I see now the error of my ways and will delete them from the workflow, just as soon as I work out what a workflow is supposed to work or flow.
I’ve been known to shoot JPEG and make no apologies for it. It stands for Joint PHOTOGRAPHIC EXPERTS Group. I understand such things as DCT (discrete cosine transforms) and how that affects the compression of the image. I used to make regularly 30 inch prints from my jpeg files, but as they only appeared to be sharp, I’ll have to rethink the workflow again and move on to raw images. (which is not an acronym and doesn’t stand for anything expect raw data, that is 2 bits of Green, 1 bit of Blue and 1 Bit of Red) So I’ll have to get an appropriate raw converter to make up for all that extra green data floating around in there. (BTW, the green data is where we get the detail, and jPEg doesn’t compress the green channels, so we keep the detail in a jPEg. )
A wondrous discussion on Color Management, moved to Color correction which moved to something called White Balance, and how it can only be controlled in raw coveters. Which is odd, ’cause I thought White Balance was a video term and used to describe the colour temperature of light, as in degrees Kelvin. But I probably slept through that class at college. I’m just not going to be much good at birds as I run my WB setting at Auto. I thought the camera to be very clever, but silly me, no wonder my pics don’t come out with the right colour temp. BTW, I have two colour temp. meters for sale.
I also learned that my practice of NOT doing colour correction on my laptop under any circumstances was a serious show of my lack of understanding of the technology now built into laptop screens. I’ll just continue to colour correct on a fully profiled colour monitor back in the office and turn out badly balanced pics I suppose.
I also learned that Brown Falcons should not be photographed in English Box-thorn bushes, so will keep a chain saw in the back of the car, to remove any offending box thorn I find. Which might just be a full time job out at the WTP.
We also learned about the wonders of a Grey Card. This amazing piece of equipment apparently is good for everything including putting out the cat at night and making a halfway decent Caffe Macchiato. It apparently reflects 18% of the light in a scene and because it is ‘neutral’ gives those of us with Lightroom or Photoshop somewhere to point our mid-tone eyedroppers when we ‘color correct’. (The question which didn’t get started was ” is that 18% reflectance or luminance?” a subject bound to take you to 2:30am on any given morning.
Nobody mentioned the need in the 18% theory to correct the given exposure by 1/2 of a stop. Now this is curious as the Kodak instructions. (Hey they made this stuff up, even before there was colour film, and long long long before digital cameras), state that it is necessary. If you can find a copy of Ansel Adams’s book “The Negative”, and check on pages 33 and 42 and 43, the old film master gives his reasons for 18% as a standard. But then he shot filum what ever that was!
BTW, as an added bonus point, Kodak’s instructions for the card changed in the ’70s ’cause some young-know-everything copy writer left the vital sentence out of the instruction sheet R-27. My archive copy (1948), has the paragraph, and it was reinstalled -red-facedly- at sometime in the 80’s. Presumably the copyrighter had gone on to be head of communications or something else like that at the great Yellow Father HQ in Rochester.
I also learned that a bird image should show the bird to advantage with no distracting elements like branches, twigs or backhoes. It should also show the bird in its environment, with an eye to good composition and a broader view of the overall scene to enable the viewer to gain an appreciation of the varying light and dark tones in the scene along with any leading lines patterns, textures and reflections that would add interest to the viewer and and understanding of birds in general.
Rodger once again convinced me that the red-gun sight is beyond any doubt the best thing since sliced-bread, and full credit to him as he showed a range of Welcome Swallow shots that would be the envy of any budding photographer. I want one.
Ohh, and as for the bloke with the beanbags he needs to get a life!
So, I’ll just have to accept that my best days as a bird photographer are ahead of me. I’ll need to spend a bit to update the tripod and the lens, and the software, and the chainsaw and get my eyes checked even more regularly, and most off all, not take everything, I hear seriously.
Remember rule one” Read this with your tongue planted firmly in your cheek”, and get ready for next year’s study night. There is so much to learn.
Thanks by the way to all those who put out their time and energy to help all of us gain a better understanding of the vast range of techniques that are available to this wonderful, challenging and rewarding past time.
You may now extract your tongue from the side of your cheek. Normal programming will resume shortly. <gggg>