Wild Bird Photography ‚Äď Calibrate Your Birding Lens

One of the ways for you to get super sharp bird photos is to know your gear like you know how crazy you are.

WARNING: This blog may have OFFENSIVE content if you have been feeling miserably lately. You may opt to skip reading this blog in its entirety, else, read at your own RISK!

Recently, my workhorse, the Canon 50D, was admitted to the hospital due to sprained shutter mechanism (one of the consumable/replaceable parts of a Canon DSLR). Advertised by Canon to have 100,000 shutter, I was only able to consume around 65,000 shots when intermittent issues popped up with increasing frequency. First was the black vertical arc appearing on my photos against extreme backlights and the last one was the intermittent Error 30 during 6fps bursts. I must have overused it to the point of exhaustion. But I thought there are 35000 shutters more left for me? Aaah, the beauty of advertising.

To cut the story short, I had the shutter mechanism transplanted with brand new parts. It took Canon Philippines a week to fix it and now I have another 65,000 shutters to boot. My Canon 50D is now back in action.

The core of this blog though was the consequence of having a brand new piece of mechanism in my birding rig. As soon as I got it back to working condition, I suspected that some shots were off in terms of sharpness that I used to have. I thought that the only way to get confirmation of this sharpness issue is to go out birding and have the gears tested and re-calibrated if indeed sharpness was off.

Unknown to many, bodies and lenses that you buy, aren’t perfect. The moment you have your lens mated with a camera, you may have brought with it some problems. The mating of the camera body and a lens produces unique combinations. Sometimes both are perfect combinations, sometimes both needs some tuning so minute imperfections are threshed out. One of the most important concern that a birder needs to look at his gears is ‘auto-focusing’. Having perfect ‘focus’ delivers super sharp images. In bird photography, having a mis-focusing rig, however minute, gives you images that are sharp but are not extremely sharp.

So if you really want extreme sharpness, you should know how to calibrate your camera and your lens to achieve perfect focus. You do calibration when one of these things happen:

  • after you combine a body and a lens (right after you have bought the set)
  • when something in the combination has changed (in my case, some mechanism that might affect focusing was replaced)
  • during some regular tune-ups (I typically re-tune my rig once every 6 months)
  • when you suspect sharpness is an issue

The good news is that, it is very easy to have your rig finely tuned to achieve perfect focusing. First, you just need to know if your camera body has some feature that allows you to calibrate auto-focus. My Canon 50D has one and it is called Micro Focus Adjustment (MFA). I would suggest at this point that you check your camera’s user’s manual if indeed your camera supports this. If you camera doesn’t have this feature, sorry, you may have to bring your rig to your service center for proper tuning. If you happen to have this feature, check the manual on how to use the feature. this might differ from camera to camera depending on brand and models.

As a bird photographer though this is how I calibrated my camera and lens upon suspecting some sharpness issue caused maybe by the installation of a brand new shutter mechanism.

NOTE: I purposely went to Angono, Rizal yesterday to shoot the Philippine Eagle-Owl and at the same time recalibrate my camera and lens to achieve perfect focusing. This is how I did the tuning:

  1. Mount your gear on a sturdy tripod. You must not move your tripod during the entire calibration process.
  2. There is no better substitute than to use the REAL THING and do it outdoors! Use bird feathers when calibrating your gears. Feather details are what you are after so using a feather would give exactly the same feedback as shooting birds. Since the Philippine Eagle-Owl is readily available yesterday, I ‘plucked’ a feather from it and use it for calibration. Place the feather at exactly just a bit right outside your MFD (minimum focusing distance). If you can’t get a feather, you are not a resourceful bird photographer. I suggest you shoot landscapes and sunsets.
  3. Format your cam’s media card.
  4. Set Timer mode to shoot. 2 seconds would do. Go for 10 if you want.
  5. Set rig to LIVEVIEW, lens at wide open and set to its longest focal length. Zoom in to the feather @ maximum magnification (10x for my Canon 50D). Focus manually or using contrast-detection focusing. This will enable you to have a visual confirmation on the sharpness of feather details via your cam’s LCD screen. Then shoot! Be sure that you produce an ultra sharp image using this process. Repeat Step 5 until you are able to produce a single ultra sharp image. This ultra sharp image will be used as your guide in achieving perfect focusing. Be sure to delete the ones that are not as sharp as can be. Retain only one image that is the sharpest.
  6. Set lens to auto focusing mode. Set the proper limiter (mine @ 3.5 meters) if your lens have these switches. Set lens wide open and its longest focal length (for zoom).
  7. Set MFA to zero and shoot at the feather. Using your cam’s LCD, view and compare the output from your previously saved ultra sharp image that was earlier taken via LIVEVIEW. If you happen to have the same ultra sharpness between the two images, then congratulations for having a perfectly tuned and focusing rig and your tuning is DONE. However, if sharpness is doubtful, you may either increase or decrease MFA setting and repeat Step 7. DO this until you achieve the same level of sharpness as the one you had using LIVEVIEW.
  8. After you are done, only then you can move the tripod. If you have moved your tripod during the process, then you consider repeating from Step 1.

Here is the result of my calibration earlier using a real Philippine Eagle-Owl feather in Angono, Rizal. Click on the photo for high-resolution viewing.

Prior to my cam’s shutter mechanism getting replaced, my MFA setting was at +4. Long ago, it was at +8. Now with its brand new shutter, it is at +12.

This is all folks! I hope this article has given you an idea on how to know your gears better.

NOTE: No birds were harmed during the calibration process.

Check out my Philippine birds photos @ Facebook!

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1.5Terabytes of Photography Gone and Back, and How Windows 7 Installs and Fixes Itself!

Last Thursday morning, Windows 7 popped an ugly message … cannot read Drive S: and after I closed the message, I immediately opened Windows Explorer and there was no more drive S:. Suddenly, a rush of panic engulfed my senses. It was in that drive that I recently consolidated all my photos, and yeah …. 1.35TB of RAW files since I got into the digital photography madness. I load up event viewer and one item says, “The device, \Device\Harddisk1\DR1, has a bad block.”. Loaded up Disk Management and Drive S just wasn’t there. I rebooted and my PC’s BIOS telling me I had a bad disk.

After a fresh restart, I immediately opened Windows Explorer to check on drive S:. Thankfully it was there but it cannot be opened and accessed. I immediately went on recovery mode. First thing I did was to test if my chances for recovery is high. I ran an old Sandisk tool RescuePro and recovered files without subjecting the faulty hard disk of any write operation. Though very effective, RescuePro just went on and dumped every file it can recover in a single folder with the recovered files named as 00001.cr2, 00002.cr2 …. xxxxx.cr2. After a few files recovered, I realize it would be a nightmare trying to check each file for its content. I cancelled RescuePro and run TestDisk which I had used with my faulty CF and SD cards before. This tool is very advanced in terms of disk/file recovery but its UI is as old as those character based DOS apps of the 80s. Running TestDisk, I was able to peer into the folder structure of the faulty hard drive, and have each recovered to another disk 1.5TB disk. It took me almost 24 hours to have everything recovered. Yeah … ALL files were recovered.

Just as I thought my woes are over, while verifying each folder if it indeed been recovered, Windows 7 PC blue screened. If you are just a street away from me that time, you could have been deaf by the curses you have heard from me. I restarted the PC and it says something about a missing BootMgr. What the !@#$!!!!! Upon further scrutiny, I realized the problem started some couple of years ago when I had this PC freshly formatted when I added some new hard drives. I remember when I had the first HDD upgrade, I set the BIOS to boot on the new 1.5TB HD instead of the switching cables so that boot order would match corresponding disk ports. What happened was I had the following setup:

  • BIOS Boot Order on Device 1
  • Device 0, 320GB, Active Primary D:\, …
  • Device 1, 1.5TB, System, Boot, C:\, ….

Earlier this year, I replaced the old 320GB with another 1.5TB and forgot to reset what was in the BIOS all these times. So I had the following setup:

  • BIOS Boot Order on Device 1
  • Device 0, 1.5TB (new)
  • Device 1, 1.5TB (old)

Without this HDD crash incident, I could not have known that Windows 7 did the following when I had it reformatted right after installing the new 1.5TB HDD some months back.

  • BIOS Boot Order on Device 1
  • Device 0, 1.5TB (System, C:\, C:\Windows)
  • Device 1, 1.5TB (Boot)

As you can see, BIOS tells the PC to boot from Device 1. Since it has crashed, it could NOT find the necessary boot info, thus I got the “BOOTMGR is missing” message. I attempted to BCDEdit, but the app hangs as it accessed the faulty drive. I have tried Windows repair and all to no avail. Windows repair only managed to fix the partition issue but it does not repair BOOT miscue. All these until I got Hanselman’s blog on BCDBoot where he happen to be in a similar situation.

I immediately ran BCDBoot and restarted the PC, changed BOOT Order to Device 0 and it just wont boot properly.

Thinking, BCDBoot had already corrected the BOOT miscue, I thought Windows Repair could do things differently this time. I popped the Windows 7 installer and went on Repair mode and voila … the PC booted normally. Checking on Disk Management, my rig now says:

  • BIOS Boot Order on Device 0
  • Device 0, 1.5TB (System, Boot, Primary Partition, C:\, C:\Windows)
  • Device 1, 1.5TB (Active, Primary Partition)

I then physically removed the faulty hard drive for one last reboot … and everything just are back, all 1.35terabytes of RAW files and some new knowledge on how Windows 7 installs and fixes itself!

Google+ … And What It Means For Photographers Like Me

First of all, BIG thanks to my friend Rhamille for sending me a Google+ invite.

I started with Flickr, using a Canon A40 point and shoot and remained a paying customer for years to publish my photos when I realize I want more. At first I thought Flickr was all that I wanted. Hi-resolution, un-tampered photo quality, album management, peer feedback, specialized photo groups, and Explore!!. Then I realize my friends, the people that I also want my photos shown, were not there.

Then Facebook came. I am actually a late Facebook adopter as it has been quite sometime before people were able to convince me to take the social networking plunge. I resisted Facebook for some time but as soon as I experienced the power of the “Like”, I never looked back. I still have my Flickr account, which I don’t update anymore since August 2010 and it says, “Hey Toto Gamboa (Not Uploading Pics Here Anymore)! Your Flickr Pro account has expired. Don’t panic! You can only see 200 photos, but the others are safe & sound. You can see them if you renew.”. As if I care if I don’t renew! ūüėõ

I have used Facebook’s photos for my photographs since last year but there is so much to be desired from Facebook’s Photos. And there are lots of negative things a photographer can say regarding Facebook’s photos. And you will always hear from everybody that Facebook is, first and foremost, a social networking site and not to be compared with against photography centric sites such as Flickr and the likes. And, did I say that the first note I wrote in Facebook was on how I was so disgusted with its photos? Lols! I had sworn that the moment there is another social networking site that will give photos some importance, I wont hesitate to quickly adapt to it.

And voila! G+! seem to be the answer to my prayers. Not to bore you with what Google+ is, but as a photographer, it’s like Facebook and Flickr rolled into one and then some and A LOT MORE! Here is my quick experience with Google+ Photos:

  • (UPDATE As of Aug 02 2011) Hi-resolution. Great implementation I must say. Documentation says one can upload as large as a 2048 x 2048 image. Though true, you can only view “as is” this size in your browser if your monitor is large enough to contain this big of an image. But since most monitors are way smaller, you cannot. G+ adjusts the size of the display of your image to the size of your browser. The rationale is that, you must be able to view a photo in its entirety without forcing you to scroll horizontally and vertically. However, you can still get the 2048 x 2048 photo by downloading this. There is one quirk with this design though, since most monitors are orientated to landscape, vertically cropped/framed photos are re-sized on display that the result makes them really small. This is done so you can still view the photo in its entirety. Wish G+ have an option to turn resizing off on vertically framed photos.
  • (UPDATE As of July 14 2011) No compression, No Re-sizing. I uploaded a 1280 x 720,¬† 782KB photo, and Google+ retained all its gory and glory. It seems that when you upload photo that is within the limits of Google+ (as long as your browser size is capable of displaying your photo’s full resolution), no compression and resizing is done. Woooohooo!+1.
  • Image linking is HTTPS-based which assures me that my photo won’t be further degraded by any other means. You can check out my other blog on this very issue.
  • Linking with Picasaweb. This means that I can now reach another set of audience for my photos. The photography-centric ones, which I lost, when I stopped using Flickr.
  • EXIF. I don’t have any issues showing the shooting info of my photos to everybody so this can be a plus to me.
  • (UPDATE As of July 20 2011) Auto Language Translation. Ever wonder how to understand when someone post some comments in your photo in Italian or French? Google+ does the translation for you!
  • It’s FREE. No limits. You can upload as many photos as you like as long as you upload via the Google+ interface. If you upload via PicasaWeb, you are only limited to 1GB of space.
  • And my friends, other than those photography-centric folks I interact with, can see and appreciate like they are in Facebook.

Google+ is just 2 weeks old since invites were started. And a lot of things remain to be seen. However, despite being in beta, it looks very promising and most of the things I wanted from Facebook are there.

Of course, for things to get better. All my friends in Facebook need to join Google+ first! ūüôā

Now it’s for you to find out what is in store with Google+ photos! … check out my Google+ albums! ūüôā

Wild Bird Photography – Oriental Skylark

One of the most uncommon but conspicuous birds out there in the field is the Oriental Skylark (Alauda gulgula). Conspicuous, in the sense that when it gets excited, it would stand tall and proud with its crest raised despite its minute size,  and would give a very loud distinct shrill. However, you often get to see these birds in photographically boring dry open fields as this species does not perch on bushes or trees. With these circumstances, shooting the bird at an angle higher than its eye level, you will get the boring ground as its backdrop (as shown below).

In the few times I have encountered this species, I would often wish to capture it on camera properly. What I intend to have is to¬†get a creamy bokeh/background. To do this, you can’t shoot from an elevated angle (as shown above), unless the bird is on an edge of an elevated mass that would eliminate the ground as the backdrop or would make the ground far enough not to be included in your thin depth of field. Instead, you need to be down on all four. This means you need to be on a prone position to achieve the effect (as shown below). This enables you to avoid shooting the ground as the bird’s backdrop.

 

Shooting the bird on the ground on a prone position gives one an eye level shot with both the foreground and background seem to merge and melt leaving the subject greatly emphasized. Below is a sample of this effect.

Shooting Disclosure

  • Gears:
    Canon 50D, EF 400mm f5.6L, 2-Pound Rice Bag
  • Settings:
    Shot @ f5.6, 1/640″, ISO320, Spot Metering, Auto White Balance, Aperture Priority, Cropped 16:9 to 3.6MP, RAW, Handheld, Prone Position
  • Lighting
    8:36am Light, Overcast
  • Others:
    Some very minimal sharpening and color vibrancy adjustments in Photoshop

Check out my Philippine birds photos @ Facebook!


Wild Bird Photography – Dollarbird

In wild bird photography, gears and skills do really matter. Both needs to go hand in hand to produce the best snapshot of a beautiful avian subject. In the Philippines, it is often that you and your gears will be tested. For decades, our subjects here are hunted everywhere that birds here often avoid human encounters as much as possible. This cautiousness adds to the fun and challenge to wild bird photography in the country. Because of this, 400mm lenses are considered short. You have to exert more effort in terms of executing the shot to produce decent photographic captures at par with those that have bigger, longer and generally better equipment. However, one cannot fret with what he has. Working a bit more with what you have does the trick and solve some of the problems.

Compensate

Having known that I have a short lens at only 400mm (Canon EF 400mm f5.6L) with a fairly slow speed (f5.6) and a camera that is known to produce noisy images at high ISOs, I need to do a lot more to compensate on the limitations I have. In this article, I would detail how using a 2X teleconverter on a 400/f5.6 lens mounted on a Canon EOS 50D to shoot a very difficult scene can still be accomplished with satisfactory results. Here is how:

Below is a photo of an uncropped 800mm shot of a Dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis) from more than 30 meters. I dont normally use a 2X teleconverter but I was tempted to because the bird perched motionless for minutes after I got several shots with just the bare 400mm lens mounted on my cam and the sheer distance between me and the bird. Getting nearer is also impossible.

Here is a cropped version of the same image. I cropped the photo down to 2.8 megapixel.

Shooting Disclosure

  • Gears:
    Canon 50D, EF 400mm f5.6L, Kenko Pro-DG 2X, Manfrotto 755X + Gimbal Head, 2-Pound Rice Bag, Remote Shutter
  • Settings:
    Shot @ 800mm, f16, 1/40″, ISO320, Evaluative Metering, Auto White Balance, Full Manual, Cropped 16:9 to 2.8MP, RAW, Liveview, Remote Shutter
  • Lighting
    8:42am Light, Overcast
  • Others:
    Some very minimal sharpening and color vibrancy adjustments in Photoshop

Often, we hear discouraging comments on the use of 2X teleconverters. It definitely degrades image quality even when use with large aperture wildlife lenses such as those with f2.8’s and f4’s. Using a 2X on an f5.6 lens would surely raise eyebrowes. But when you are limited to shoot with what you got, and in my case, I only have a Canon EF-400mm f5.6L, one needs to do a lot of compensating to get decent output from lowly setup with a 2X. And a couple of requirements to effectively know how to compensate is you need to know how a photograph is made and you know very well your gears’ capability and limitation.

In the above photo of the Dollarbird, despite the constraints I had during the time of the shoot, I still managed to get a decent shot. Here are the key ingredients in executing this shot:

  • LiveView. Knowing¬†that using a 2X on an f5.6 will force you to go full manual, using LiveView is one very effective technique. But of course this can only apply since the Dollarbird lingered long enough for me to set things up. Using LiveView in this scenario, one would get AUTOFOCUS using contrast detection method. My Canon EOS 50D allowed me to do this. Some cameras would probably do the same. Using LiveView in this scenario, it also allows you to visually zoom in to 10X using your LCD to get better confirmation if you have focused well on the subject. In the 50D, you can have these features work for you. You get to zoom in to your subject and get aufo-focus.
  • 2-Pound Rice Bag. At 800mm, very minute shaking is very visible. By increasing your LCD view to 10X (via LiveView), not only is the shake visible, it can make you dizzy :P. Putting weight on your rig would dampen the effects of this shake. It also speeds up in stabilizing your rig so you get to shoot in the soonest possible time. In my case, I have this useful 2 pound weight functioning as a poor man’s image stabilizer. All I have to do is place the weights on top of the lens where its center of balance is.
  • Remote Shutter. Without a remote shutter. This scene is hard to execute. One can use the cam’s timer though but that is cumbersome.

The above key ingredients helped in allowing me to capture this scene. Though it won’t surpass the quality of a shot using a bare lens at the same focal lenght, the result is decent enough to merit a space on my harddrive. Without any one of the three, it would be very hard to get a decent output from this scene. Compensating can do wonders especially for photographers that don’t have those desirable longer and faster lenses and better camera bodies. The same techniques used here¬†can be applied using better gears of course. ūüôā

Check out my Philippine birds photos @ Facebook!

Wild Bird Photography in the Philippines – Scaly Breasted Munia

One of the most common beautiful bird you will encounter in the Philippines is the Scaly-breasted Munia (Lonchura punctulata). It can almost be found anywhere in the Philippines. This species can also be one of the easiest to photograph considering that it is often close to human habitation. Where there are rice fields, you are guaranteed to see this bird.

Below is a photo I got in one of our sorties in San Juan, Batangas. I was patiently waiting for waders on a nearby pond when a few meters from where I hide, this fellow showed up. It probably got curious by my presence that it stayed a while and allowed me to get a bit closer and have some shots that I like.

Shooting Disclosure

  • Gears:
    Canon 50D, EF 400mm f5.6L, Manfrotto 755X + Gimbal Head
  • Settings:
    Shot @ 400mm, f5.6, 1/50″, ISO100, Spot-Metering, Auto White Balance, Aperture-Priority, Cropped 16:9 to 3.2MP, RAW
  • Others:
    Some very minimal sharpening and color vibrancy adjustments in Photoshop

On a mid-day harsh light, I usually go ISO100 to avoid getting a very fast shutter speed so more light gets captured with the sensor shutter being opened much longer. With ISO100, I also avoid some unwanted noise and it enhances the creaminess of background blur. Though it is hard to pull off and increasing the risk of getting a blurred shot, I prefer to shoot around 1/40 secs to 1/200 secs as I almost always get better color in this range (provided I am on a sturdy tripod). I just don’t know the technical reason but I suspect, the more time I allow the camera to absorb light, the better the output I got. This is why I always try to bring down ISO to as much as I can for as long as the shutter speed¬†is within my prefered range. By constant practice, blurring cause by shake and slow shutter speed can be avoided. The bird allowed me to focus on its eye as it gave me a nice glance as shown in the photo. I also got lucky that it perched on a really photogenic decaying branch with a good greeny background from the distance.

The bird gave me a few shots but the above photo is the one I like most. It flew the moment I attempted to get closer.

Check out my Philippine birds photos @ Facebook!

Wild Bird Photography in the Philippines – Part 3

This is so far a 3 part series of what wild bird photography is to me. I would probably evolve this series over time to make it current as much as possible.
Wild Bird Photography in the Philippines – Part 1
Wild Bird Photography in the Philippines – Part 2

Previously,¬† in part 1, ¬†I discussed how I came to photographing birds and detailed what you need to get a good start. In Part 2, I gave some ideas where one can usually find birds. In this article, I’ll give an idea how a bird photographer goes out there in the wilderness to look and start capturing beautiful images of birds.

A Birdnut’s Sortie

Often, when bird photographers (or birdnuts) go out, it is simply referred to as a sortie. A sortie is basically a mission to go out and photograph birds. Sorties vary from just a few hours birding away from home to weeks-long missions. Sorties can be done in singles or in groups. Sorties can be nearby, or one needs to travel for hours. Some sorties go from one country to another. Most sorties are done on foot, but there are sorties where birdnuts are in the comfort of their cars or boats. Some bird photography sorties involve laying out an elaborate plan compose of preparing the things needed for the trip, plotting destinations, identifying the risk and dangers associated with it and a lot of things go with it.


Reserva, Baler Sortie with Wild Bird Club of the Philippines

But How Do I Go About My Own Bird Photography Sorties?

I am a weekend warrior.  Though there were times when I went out on a whim, I mostly do my sorties on a weekend. I usually plan days ahead of the trip. I would typically go with a birding buddy or with a group for safety reasons. But I have gone out alone.

I usually prepare all the logistics needed and my gears a day before the trip. I’d check the vehicle for its condition and make sure it is ready to go. I’d have all the batteries recharged. I’d have the GPS properly loaded with routes and waypoints. Then I’d go to the nearby grocery or convenience store for my supply of food and drinks. Here is the usual stuff that I buy and prepare:

  • bottled water (Absolute)¬†and some flavored drinks (Gatorade’s Propel) for rehydration
  • some biscuits (Skyflakes or some other brand) just to fill my tummy when out in the field or when on a long drive
  • some sweets (chocolate bars) to give me some caloric/energy boost when things go tough in the field
  • first aid kit
  • clothing (hat, extra shirts)
  • birding gears

I’d make it a point to get enough sleep but often I do get excited that I can’t sleep properly hours before the trip. Typically, I would wake up early in the morning (e.g. 4:00am for Candaba, 3:00am for Subic, 5:30am if it is just nearby), get some quick shower, then off I go. I usually make a quick stop in the nearby 7-11 store to buy me some packed hot meals for breakfast (I love their liempo on plain rice) and some bags of ice to fill my cooler, before I hit some more roads or pick up my birding buddy.

Once¬† on the site, it is usually breakfast time for me. ūüôā Then after that .. it is mostly birding, birding, birding! Sometimes I don’t get to rest, sometimes I don’t get to eat when in the field.¬†What my day is like will¬†all depend on how many and what kinds of birds I encounter. Then I go home!

My Most Memorable Birding Sorties

For more than a couple of years now, I have been to several birding places all over the country. My most memorable was getting stranded in Subic in 2009 while Metro Manila was being flooded by a record breaking storm Ondoy (Typhoon Ketsana). My birding buddy Dennis and I were just clueless what was about to happen during that day. The next thing we knew, Metro Manila had its most catastrophic flooding while we got stuck somewhere in Subic and left no other choice but to wait out until the storm passes through. Another most memorable birding trip I had was when I had gone with by fellow birdnuts in Mindoro. We had a chance to capture in photograph the rare Scarlet-collared Flowerpecker (Dicaeum retrocinctum).


Mindoro Sortie with Bulbuleros 400

The Risks

  • The hardest part is when going home. Often, you are so tired to move and drive yourself home. When I am with a birding buddy, we usually alternate on the wheels to lessen the risk of getting so sleepy on the road while driving for home. If sleepiness is unbearable, I/we stop to take a nap.
  • Insect bites. I remember a birding buddy of mine (Dennis), got hospitalized due to insect bites, after we went to the forest of Subic.
  • Wild bee stings
  • Snake bites
  • Getting attacked by wild animals
  • Getting stranded
  • Encounters with some not so really nice people (thieves, illegal loggers, etc). I guess the worst thing that will happen to you is when you get kidnapped by known terrorist groups and you would have to save your life as what happened to a fellow bird photographer. I happen to cross paths and shoot birds with Ivan personally one weekend in La Mesa Ecopark. Such a great guy by the way.
  • Weird accidents
  • Being flown off by a giant jungle woodpecker and be brought to its hole/nest on top of a 500 meter tree

The Lows

  • Going home empty handed
  • Going home with a ruined camera or a broken lens
  • Getting to the birding site only to find out you left your birding lens

The Highs

  • Getting stranded
  • Getting a rare photo¬†lifer. In bird photography lingo, a¬†lifer means you got to photograph a bird species for the first time
  • Getting a close up of a very beautiful bird
  • Getting a good photo of a target bird
  • Bump in the field with fellow birdnuts
  • Lastly, getting attacked by a thousand sunbirds

Wild Bird Photography in the Philippines – Part 1
Wild Bird Photography in the Philippines – Part 2

Check out my album of Philippine birds!

Toto Pictures : Surfin Urbiztundo

I shot these photos last November 29, 2008 during the La Union Grommet Championship 2008 in Urbiztundo, San Juan, La Union. I am actually not a sports photographer but when I get to shoot them, I found that they are very excellent subjects. I enjoyed shooting them all day long when I was there.

It has been some time now and I really want to photograph them again. Meanwhile, here are a few shots of surfing young kids that are 16 and below (groms) that participated in the tournament. Attached are the settings I use for these shots.


Nikon D300, Sigma 150-500mm, Ballhead + Tripod
Shot at 500mm, f7.1, 1/500 secs, ISO-200


Nikon D300, Sigma 150-500mm, Ballhead + Tripod
Shot at 500mm, f7.1, 1/500 secs, ISO-200


Nikon D300, Sigma 150-500mm, Ballhead + Tripod
Shot at 500mm, f8, 1/1250 secs, ISO-200

I am hoping to go back one of these days and shoot these surfers again. This time, as a Canon user ūüôā

Photography : Getting Started

Some of us have already gotten our DSLRs this early from Santa and are probably wondering how all the switches, buttons, levers and settings work to get that perfect photo. And we now want to be in control of our camera so I have come up with a simple guide for us to know the stuff that matters in capturing a photo. Whether you do it yourself or have the camera’s computer do it for you, it is essential that you know some fundamentals in photography. Simply put, all we need to know for now are the very basic elements that matter most in coming up with a photo.¬†

Let’s get started!

Exposure, is a process where we control the amount of light that goes through our lens to our DSLR’s sensor. With too much light, we get an over-exposed photo. An over-exposed photo is typically a photo that is just too bright. In other cases, the photo comes out all too whitey. On the other hand, with less light, we get an under-exposed photo. With an under-exposed photo, you usually end up with a dark to almost black photo. With the right amount of light, we get to see photos just as we see on the scene or in our viewfinder or LCD screen. 

Controlling the Light 

We might be wondering now how are we going to control the amount of light that goes through our lens to our camera’s sensor? There are two ways to do this, and these are controlling two important elements: 

  • Aperture. Aperture is basically a hole or opening in our lenses that light can pass through. When we talk about these holes, we often associate it with how big or small these holes are and by design, the size of the hole in our lenses can be varied as we desire. In lens jargon, these holes are measured as shown in the following:
     

    Aperture Size of hole
    f3.5 large
    f4 medium
    f5.6 small
    f10 smaller

We might be wondering that the larger the number associated with ‚Äúf‚ÄĚ, the smaller the size of the hole. That must be a confusing measurement convention but that is how things are in photography and we just have to accept it that way. Humans always have a knack at confusing others.

  • Shutter / Shutter Speed. A shutter is a simple mechanism that opens to allow light going through our lens to reach the sensor, and closes to prevent it. When our camera is about to take a photo, the shutter‚Äôs position is closed, then opens up to allow light to come in then closes again to prevent it. The time it takes for our camera‚Äôs shutter to open and then close can be long or short and is measured in terms of speed. Thus we have a factor¬†known as shutter speed.
    Shutter Speed (in seconds) Speed
    1/200s or 200th of a second faster
    1/60s or 60th of a second fast
    1/30s or 30th of a second slow
    1/5s or a 5th of a second slower

By knowing how to control these two elements, (1) the aperture; and (2) the shutter speed, we now have the means to control the amount of light that goes through our lenses to the camera’s sensor. We just have to remember the following:

  • The larger the hole, the more light will come in.
  • And by opening the shutter too long before we close it, the more light will come in.
  • If the scene we are photographing is dark, we either set our aperture to its largest setting so more light will come in or slow down our shutter speed so we open the shutter much longer to allow more light to come in. We can do both.
  • If the scene we are photographing is too bright, we can do the opposite.

By correctly mixing the two, we will achieve correct exposure. 

To do this ourselves in our DSLR, we set exposure control to Manual and try adjusting the aperture and shutter speed settings while shooting until we are familiar with the correct settings given the intensity of light on a certain scene. Of course, if you feel these are too much work for you, you can set your camera’s computer to figure out the right aperture and shutter speed settings. You can do this using Program or Auto mode. There are of course other means to help us get that correct exposure but for now, this is probably what we need to know how our camera works at the core.¬†

Hope this helps. More to come!

Happy shooting!