Saturday, January 22, 2011

Shooting Blue Jays in my Backyard

Blue Jay Spread DSC_0465
Originally uploaded by Mully410 * Images

Two weeks ago, I shared how I learned to make better photographs of birds in flight. This weekend it was sunny with single digit Fahrenheit temps and a below 0 wind chills so I stayed inside again.

One of the things eating away at me was the shallow depth-of-field I was getting by shooting wide-open with a fast shutter. Since I had plenty of light today, I tried something different. I switched to Manual and set my shutter at 1/1500 and f/8 and let the D5000 bump up the ISO as needed. According to my DOF calculator app, I should have about a foot of DOF. I almost never shoot in manual mode unless I shoot long exposures at night so I feel kind of proud of myself that this worked out.

The shot of the Blue Jay above is my favorite of today. I cropped it, added a little sharpening and some noise reduction.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tips for Shooting Birds in Flight Near Your Feeder

Jay Landing DSC_9366
Originally uploaded by Mully410 * Images

This weekend was very cold and I was feeling abnormally wimpy so I staked out my bird feeder. I've spent some time trying to figure out how to get decent shots of birds in flight but this weekend I was determined to figure it out once and for all. I could write three pages on the evolution of my learnings but I'll spare you that and just present my conclusions.

These tips are the product of probably 10-12 hours (and thousands of shots) of experimentation over the last several weeks (mostly this weekend though).

The first thing I learned was to pre-focus on a spot where I know the birds will be then I turn off the auto-focus. The auto-focus consistently "wants" to focus on the fence or the lilac bushes in the background.

The second important item is speed. I mostly shot in aperture priority wide open to get the fastest shutter speed without sacrificing ISO. Eventually, I gave up on this when I discovered I needed at least 1/1000 of second. So I switched to shutter priority and set it for 1/1000 or 1/1500 when I had brighter light.

The third thing I worked on was stability. Up until today, I hand held all my shots from my window while relying on the VR (vibration reduction) to stabilize my camera. Overtime, my arms and hands started to ache. You have to keep the camera up ALL THE TIME if you hope to capture birds, especially chickadees.

Chickadee Landing DSC_9448
Chickadee Landing DSC_9448

Since I couldn't fit my tripod in front of the window, which is behind the TV, I used my monopod. It collapses short enough to rest easily on the sill below the window.

The last important thing I figured out was timing. I only get 3-4 shots before the D5000 buffer fills up and I have to wait a second or two before the next shot. (I shoot RAW for lots of reasons). For this reason, I have to make sure I push the shutter release at exactly the right second to capture the bird with wings outspread. In order to do this, I had to see the bird before it entered the field of view in my frame. This problem was solved by keeping both eyes open and pushing the shutter when I saw movement towards the feeder

I'm sure there are other tips out there but these worked for me.

1. Pre-focus and turn off auto-focus
2. Shutter priority 1/1000 sec or faster
3. Use a tripod or monopod so you can keep the camera in position for long periods.
4. Keep both eyes open
5. Have fun

Red-bellied Woodpecker DSC_9383
Red-bellied Woodpecker
by Mully410 * Images

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Flying Squirrel

Flying Squirrel DSC_9071
Originally uploaded by Mully410 * Images

I spent most of my afternoon attempting action shots of the birds and squirrels in my backyard. Here is one of the better ones.

Focusing is the hardest part form me in capturing action shots. Today, I tried pre-focusing on a spot and then waiting for the bird or squirrel to come into focus. I got lucky with the auto-focus in above "flying" squirrel image.

This chickadee flew into the focus area but I don't think my shutter speed was quick enough.

Chickadee Flight DSC_9175
Chickadee Flight DSC_9175
by Mully410 * Images

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bryant is the Best Furnace Company Ever

I have good news about my melted/burned furnace problem.

Soon after Standard Heating and Air Conditioning replace my melted circuit board and wire harness, I wrote a letter (feedback form on the website) to the manufacturer, Bryant. The letter was carefully crafted to be factual, professional, personal and polite. I simply explained what happened, added some questions, wondered about the future reliability and mentioned that my father was considering a new furnace.

Within 24 hours, I received an acknowledgment from Bryant and an email from the local distributor that supplies Standard. We exchanged a number of polite emails and once the distributor saw the damage he agreed to compensate me for the faulty equipment.

This is not the first time a manufacturer "made right" with me due to a faulty product. You've read about my compact florescent that burned. GE ended up sending me an $8 coupon for some new bulbs and a pre-paid package to send the bad bulb to their lab. Many years ago I had a Sony STR-DA80ES home theater receiver. It was very expensive (for me) and ended up crapping out a month before the 5 year warranty expired. The service company had it for 2 months without giving me an update so I wrote to Sony. Within a few HOURS of writing that note, a man from Sony's corporate service called and offered a brand new STR-DA5000ES as a replacement because they didn't make the parts for the 80 anymore.

Lesson: Be polite. Be factual. Make it personal. Don't bitch and swear.

I'm still awaiting the exact amount of my refund/credit from Bryant so I'll update this later if you are interested.

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