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  • Pete Ricketts

Bird photography, through the kitchen window.

Having been encouraged by our new Chair to make good use of our Blog facility, kindly constructed by Derek, I thought I’d let you know what I’ve been up to during these strange and different days.

Anyone who follows me on Instagram [@albertsson1955] will already be aware I often take photos of birds that come to feed on an apple tree just outside my kitchen window. These days I’m spending a little more time with the aim of capturing that “special“ photo - here’s hoping. The following gives an insight into how I go about it, not necessarily the best way, but my way. As it’s a blog I’m happy to take constructive feedback.

This is a good time of year (April), with brighter days and better weather (although I have got some good pics when it’s been snowing). One particular seasonal benefit is that there is minimal foliage, meaning less obstruction.

A few prerequisites; you need birds to come to your tree, so have been feeding them for the last decade or more. Having clean windows is a definite must. Notice when the light is best and try and shoot then.

For me, I have a north facing garden so get some good strong light first thing in the morning (with it harsh shadows) then the tree is in the shade until the 4.00PM, then the lighting is good for a couple of hours. The birds come to feed early in the morning, come back around midday and then again late afternoon. I’m fortunate that on and off approx. 11 species visit. I’m mindful that some species are ground feeders, so make sure some food is thrown down for those too. I provide them with good quality food provided by the RSPB, so maybe that’s why they keep coming back.

A bit now about my set up and technique:

I use a Canon 90D, I’m led to believe that other camera manufacturers are available…

Sigma 150 - 500 mm Lens, 5.6 - 6.3 aperture.

Manfrotto monopod with ball head.

Secateurs (for clipping off wrongly placed small branches or leaves).

Typically, I use the following settings:

Shutter priority, ideally no less 1/500 sec, ideally faster approaching 1/1000 or 1/1250 sec.

Auto ISO, up to a limit of 6400. Lower the better, read the other blog on this. With a higher ISO, whilst this attains a faster shutter some sharpness of the image is lost. Hence shooting on a brighter day is a bonus. In this setup the camera will determine the appropriate aperture, which often defaults to it’s widest, and with it the narrowest depth of field, hence, the need to be accurate with the focussing.

With there being a range of light levels within the tree, I’ve found that over exposing by +1/3 gives consistently better results.

I use ONE SHOT auto focus.

With a (single point) Spot AF, positioned typically in the centre of the view finder although I do vary this up or down depending on the composition.

I always always use the camera’s back-button focussing, which gives a more rapid method to capturing a sharp image.

I typically use High-Speed Continuous shooting as the birds are so quick and this might just get me that one special photo, but often results in many unwanted images that need deleting at the end of the session.

A point for debate is the Image Quality setting, and I use JPEG rather than RAW. Why? Because I’m happy to do so and it gives me what I want.

Having got the set up sorted, it’s then about having time and patience….. And getting frustrated by the photos I’ve taken and trying/hoping for better ones next time. As a famous golfer once said, “the more I practice the luckier I get” The same is kinda true in photography.

Any photo that I put on Instagram or share within the club has been edited using Lightroom and/or photoshop in order to tweak/enhance it some way.

A recent addition to the garden is a bird bath adjacent to the tree where late in the afternoon Starlings often come for a dip and a splash. If I don’t see them I know they’ve been as the water level has dropped and the ground below is wet, so I keep it topped up. Excited by the chance of getting some shots of this I was astonished to see a Jackdaw first to arrive and enjoy a splash around. I soon realised that in order to freeze the action the shutter speed needs to be around 1/2000 sec ideally 1/4000. Ive attached a shot of the Jackdaw with it’s head under the water and creating an attractive wave; good job there’s not a water shortage as well!

Feedback gratefully received.

Pete Ricketts.

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