“Back focus on birds” resartus.

Here are a few more shots rescued from the trash can of yesterday’s outing. First up and by popular demand (Mr. G), more of the avocets:


Sadly the new format, whilst eminently easier to read, does not do these shots justice, the images being smaller and against a white background rather than black.

This is the very elegant Black-winged stilt, Himantopus himantopus, so good they named it twice.


Next, another shot of the Spotted redshank, Tringa erythropus. Here the tones look greyer than on yesterday’s bird.


And finally another shot of the Little egret, Egretta garzetta. It is really quite tough to get a decent exposure of this bird against a dark background. If I try to brighten it the whites start to lose detail and look hot.


And finally a tip / confession. I was doing a lot of birds in flight yesterday but few made it to the keepers list and I realised very quickly why. On the slipway at Nam Sang Wai the birds fly either left to right or right to left. Few fly towards you or at a decent angle. I was lazy yesterday and concentrating on pressing my back button rather than the shutter. I used the “ring of fire” as my chosen AF mode rather than single spot or even expanded spot mode. Now this generally works pretty well against a clean background but it does tend to pick up whatever is closest to the camera. And with Black-faced spoonbills that means the wings. So I have a lovely selection of images where the shot looks great on the camera’s LCD but when I blow it up to 1:1 in Lightroom I can see that the eye is soft and the wings are sharp. The critical focus is wrong. Bummer. I also have some where the DoF is so shallow that where I took two birds flying in synch (example below) one is sharp and t’other isn’t. Bummer squared.


At least I think so. The moral of the story being that to get really sharp shots you have to think a little and I’m afraid that isn’t my strong point. All these images are shot with manual exposures – that is I set the ISO, aperture and shutter speed manually. I have stopped using exposure compensation. Partly that is because I read that if you expose for the bird correctly it shouldn’t matter what the background is. So against sea or sky the bird is ok even if the background is over or underexposed. That of course does not help when you have spoonies and egrets flying followed by cormorants and crows, or indeed birds that are both black and white such as the stilts and avocets. I just find it easier to move the main dial one stop either way (or more) than to fiddle around with EV plusses and minuses.

So there we are, thoughts for the day concluded in today’s gripping instalment of a duffer’s guide to photography on the fly.

Back focus on birds

I mentioned recently that I was switching how I focus with my 2 main Canon bodies. I went out to Nam Sang Wai this morning to give it a go. It is odd after so many years of using one method to suddenly switch to another but strangely I found the change relatively smooth. I took about 300 images and here are the 5 keepers. I thought about posting them one at a time but why? Here they are all together.

Number 1 is the 9.50 from NSW Park,  the Avocet Derby and its the far bird winning by a head.


Next is a beautiful Black-faced spoonbill checking its reflection – just perfect, Spoony.


And here is Spoony having a jolly good slurp. Manners!!


A little egret in close up showing off its beautiful plumage. Beats a Norwegian Blue, I reckon.


And finally a SpotShank, banking to land. I just liked the feather detail in this.


The birds can come quite close at Nam Sang Wai – within kicking distance on occasions although this is officially frowned upon and considered bad form. Some stay a bit distant. I had an 800mm lens mounted on my 5D3 and a 400mm lens mounted on my 1D4. The 400mm was far more use and the 5D3 just doesn’t have the grunt to fire off 10fps with the 800mm – in fairness its claim is only 6fps but the 1D4 blasts through the frames and I found the focus pretty much spot on all the time. Who needs a 1DX??? (I do!) So in Antarctica I shall keep the 5D3 for penguins waddling around at slow speed (not unlike me I suspect) and the 1D4 will be for birds in flight from the deck of the ship.  I do recommend disabling the shutter for AF and switching to the back button for focus. It was a revelation.



Birds of a feather

I was up and out at 5am this morning to see what the sunrise would bring me at Nam Sang Wai. Not too much was the answer other than a wonderfully peaceful start to the day and some glorious light.

In the absence of any good bird photo-opps I resorted to taking shots of the scenery. Sadly, views like this count for nothing in Hong Kong and shortly this one will disappear and be replaced by some awfully nice flats. And if there’s one thing that Hong Kong needs, it is flats. As many as possible. Bulldoze the country parks. Rip out all those nasty green bits. Build more flats. Bugger the birds (if you’ll pardon my French).

Eventually I went on to Mai Po and the tide was not too bad but there weren’t too many birds worth photographing. They of course may disagree but he who holds the camera picks the clicks. And I am getting much pickier about what I click. Here however is a Little egret, fresh back from the hairdressers:

Personally I’d ask for a refund. And here, just for fun, is a size comparison, Curlew versus Whimbrel:

When I grow up I want to be a Curlew, says the Whimbrel…….

I have not had time to process many shots yet and frankly may not do too many more.

But I will add a rather special Dusky warbler. Not from Mai Po but My Patio. It flew into the French windows this afternoon and after looking a bit dazed for several minutes it did get up and fly off. Beautiful plumage!

You can waste hours trying to photograph these birds in the field. They are skulkers. Big time. They “chack” a lot so you hear them all over the place. But unless one bounces off your dining room window you rarely get a shot as close as this. Now I wonder if the developers of Nam Sang Wai will fit their flats with bird-bouncing windows to soften the impact. But wait, they won’t need to will they because all the birds will be gone.

House Builders United 1-0 Habitat Preservationists. (No extra time).