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Thread: Birding with a 70-300?

  1. #1
    Jeroen Wijnands
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    Default Birding with a 70-300?

    Can it be done at all?

    I've had a rather humbling expierence yesterday. Went to a small island that's being returned to nature. Loads of birds there including a varied assortment of ducks and geese.

    Tried to shoot them in flight and found myself failing rather miserably a lot of the time. Up untill now I fancied myself a decent shot with my D300 and 70-300VR. I get decent fallow deer shot most of the time (like http://www.flickr.com/photos/j_wijnands/4094589595/) and every now and then a pic like these:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/j_wijna...7622854098515/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/j_wijna...7622854098515/

    But I am now realizing that there's a big difference between shooting in a nature area that features a lot of vegetation and where every day dozens (on weekends often hunderds) of people walk by and an open landscape where there's perhaps a dozen visitors each day and no cover to speak of.

    So...

    I already figured out shutter speed is vital when shooting something in flight. I know my fieldcraft needs work. I will not have the option to lug a hiding place with me and spend hours waiting. I will not have the option to fork out cash for a longer lens.

    Am I p****ng in the wind? Is it at all possible to get decent bird shots with my gear?

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    Quote Originally Posted by wijnands View Post
    Is it at all possible to get decent bird shots with my gear?
    Yes ! Absolutely !

    Even Artie has written an article on a birding magazine showing why sometimes a big lens may not be the best answer.

    Will it help to have bigger lenses? Of course.

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    Super Moderator Daniel Cadieux's Avatar
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    You can absolutely do get decent pictures with a 70-300! I had the Sigma 70-300 for the first 2 years of my bird photography "career" and got tons of great images (combined with a Rebel XT no less). This this rather "short" focal lenght you will need to use strategies where you get physically closer to the birds. Yes, you will need to improve your fieldcraft and stalking methods. You will also need to use other types of "tools" such as bird feeders, water drips, use of audio if your ethics allow it. Although you say you do not have the option for hides there are some that are very light and very easy to setup and tear down. Frequenting areas where birds are used to people (public parks), and concentrating on larger or tamer birds are other options.

    Here are some useful links for you to read:

    Approaching birds and fieldcraft:
    http://www.birdphotographers.net/forums/showthread.php?t=471

    http://www.birdphotographers.net/forums/showthread.php?t=4169


    Some good hide suggestions are found here:
    http://www.birdphotographers.net/forums/showthread.php?t=56780



    Use of audio:
    http://www.birdphotographers.net/forums/showthread.php?t=37765
    Last edited by Daniel Cadieux; 03-04-2010 at 03:01 PM.

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    Default Black Kite

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    Here's a shot I took last week with the 70-300VR lens on a D300. I'm happy with it and I have many more. BIF technique takes a lot of practice. There are many good resources to help you on this website.

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    You can definitely get good images with a 300mm lens. This image was taken with Canon's 75-300 in my hometown in northern Connecticut (where the wading birds, unlike some in the Everglades, aren't used to photographers and tend to be skittish). Most of the wildlife and bird photographs on my site were taken with that lens. Just learn more about your subjects patterns of behaviour, improve your field techniques, and be prepared if luck comes your way.

    Eric Virkler
    Faces of Nature Photography
    www.ericjvirkler.com

  6. #6
    Jeroen Wijnands
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    Thanks a bunch people, I certainly got to do some reading.

    This might be the challenge I needed, was getting a bit bored with fallow deer.

    One further question, I see a lot of great technique tips. Interestingly the whole "I'm just walking here minding my own business and have not seen you" approach I favour for fallow deer is mentioned a lot so I need to continue to work at that.

    What I didn't read is an approach for small birds that never sit still such as great tit and blue tit. Those birds seem to move every 2 or 3 seconds.
    Last edited by Jeroen Wijnands; 03-05-2010 at 03:46 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by wijnands View Post
    One further question, I see a lot of great technique tips. Interestingly the whole "I'm just walking here minding my own business and have not seen you" approach I favour for fallow deer is mentioned a lot so I need to continue to work at that.

    What I didn't read is an approach for small birds that never sit still such as great tit and blue tit. Those birds seem to move every 2 or 3 seconds.
    You know what? I personally also wonder if the approach many here generously shared with us works for most if not all small birds. As you said, many small birds do not stay there long enough for you to approach them slowly, to let you have the time to look for the best perspective, the best angle of light, etc. and to take the best shot.

    I can think of one approach: you find the perch, the best perspective, the best angle of light, etc., etc. and wait for the birds to come. It could mean never though :)

    The other way I can think of is to bait them, set up an environment to attract the birds to come to you. If you don't want to set up anything, I guess then you have to look for feeders and photograph birds near-by. Here's one shot near a feeder with a 70-300 VR:






    A lot of small birds photos are shot in a set-up environment, in one's backyard, for example.

    And you wonder why so many people photograph larger birds :)
    Last edited by Desmond Chan; 03-05-2010 at 04:18 AM.

  8. #8
    Jeroen Wijnands
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    Every nature reserve I know of prohibits the useage of feeders. I just hope my backyard feeder will attract more of a crowd this spring.

    I also put this question on dpreview and combined I got a lot of good pointers. I think I know a spot where I'll be in the flight path of a cormorant colony, would be a good place to put in some practice both for focussing and metering.

    Turns out it's not all doom and gloom. I managed this a month or two ago. Lousy background but the bird itself was in focus.

    Last edited by Jeroen Wijnands; 03-05-2010 at 05:53 AM.

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    Super Moderator Daniel Cadieux's Avatar
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    What I didn't read is an approach for small birds that never sit still such as great tit and blue tit. Those birds seem to move every 2 or 3 seconds.
    You know what? I personally also wonder if the approach many here generously shared with us works for most if not all small birds. As you said, many small birds do not stay there long enough for you to approach them slowly, to let you have the time to look for the best perspective, the best angle of light, etc. and to take the best shot.
    You will almost never be able to simply approach these types of species without other strategies. This is where my earlier mention of bird feeders, water drips, and use of audio (and hides if possible) comes in. It could possibly take a combination of more than one of these elements too. I understand nature reserves do not necessarily allow these things, but you can work on your backyard setup, or maybe you can find a sparsely used public space.

    Small nervous birds will always remain this way, they are programmed this way, but with these techniques they will come close and offer some chances. If not now, then later once they discover there new source of food/drink. If you only saw how many images I've trashed of those small "always in motion" birds that were captured with a bad head angle, or with too much subject motion blur as they hop around every which way...or of all those images of perfectly sharp, perfectly exposed and composed bare perches as the bird flew away at the moment of shutter release;).

    P.S. Many times, once a bird lands on your selected perch, all it takes is a pishing noise with your lips to make it freeze for long enough of a moment (and usually with a perfect head angle) to take a few images.

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    Fantastic Ideas presented here.
    I have the D300 and Nikkor 70-300 lens. I find it an excellent lens except occasionally its slow to focus for birds in flight. I don't have the 70-200 lens which is 4x the price but have the Nikkor 200-400 VR which I find must faster.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rezagorji View Post
    Fantastic Ideas presented here.
    I have the D300 and Nikkor 70-300 lens. I find it an excellent lens except occasionally its slow to focus for birds in flight.
    So do other lenses. Then there is something called "operator's error" :)

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    I don't think its me if that's what you are implying. I am speaking from experience comparing different lenses. I notice subtle changes in focusing speed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rezagorji View Post
    I don't think its me if that's what you are implying. I am speaking from experience comparing different lenses. I notice subtle changes in focusing speed.
    Well, you may not like it, but unless you are perfect, then operator's error happens to every one, unfortunately :)

    We're simply trying to help out those who only has a 70-300 and cannot simply go out and buy another more expensive lens for the moment. I do not think anybody is disputing that there're better tools out there.

  14. #14
    Jeroen Wijnands
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    rezagorji, speak for yourself. I know I still have loads to learn. I did find a sport shooters suggested settings which I will try, that may also help a bit.

    http://johnfriend.blogspot.com/2009/...-sports-i.html

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    I see.
    Last edited by Reza Gorji; 03-05-2010 at 03:58 PM.

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    I have used a 70-300 during my film days. Have done some crawling and had got full frame shots. You will not be successful all the time. You have to understand the limitations of your equipment and use it accordingly.

    Most of the time people try to get those frame filling images and keep on buying long lenses. Once they have long lenses, then they warm up to the idea of environmental portrait and again go back to intermediates or wide angle lenses. Why not start with environmental portraiture with your existing gear?

    Cheers,
    Sabyasachi

  17. #17
    Jeroen Wijnands
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    Well.. I blogged a bit about this dillema here. And I read http://johnfriend.blogspot.com/2009/...-sports-i.html which deals with configuring a Nikon D300 (which I shoot) for speed.

    This morning I went on what I like to call my sanity walk and tried it out. Geese are a good subject to practice on. With the small birds it seems my own reaction speed is still a severely limiting factor. Still...



    Not nearly perfect yet but to my mind a major improvement. I corrected exposure by dragging the curve a bit and cropped it to about 2/3 of what the original frame was.

    So... fieldcraft needs to continuous attention but a new set of settings on the camera and there's already improvement.

    Edit: Found this one as well, quite close.



    This should be possible, if you can predict a flightpath then prefocus and wait.
    Last edited by Jeroen Wijnands; 03-07-2010 at 07:01 AM.

  18. #18
    Wilson Hum
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    While a longer lens is preferred, you can get some nice photos of birds even with a 70-300, a focal length I started with. When working with only 300mm it helps to understand your subject a lot better than if you were shooting with a super telephoto. Read up on their behaviour and observe them in the field. This knowledge will help in knowing how and when to approach. A car often makes for a nice blind too. With many species there is always a few that are more tame or approachable than others. Ruffed Grouse tend to be skittish but one rather tame one showed up locally a couple of years ago. Sure the photographers harassed the heck out of it, literally surrounding it every chance they got. But that's another story.

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