FAQ”S - If you have a question you would like to ask me regarding photography, how I capture a particular image or anything to do with camera and photography in general, then please visit the ASK THE PHOTOGRAPHER section of this website and use the form to submit your question to me via email. I will display all questions and answers here.
SIMON - “My setup is a Canon EOS 77D, 100-400mm f/4.5 - 5.6L IS II USM with the 1.4x extender. When taking pictures of birds in flight, up against the sky, I pretty much always end up with just a dark silhouette. With setting EV to +2, I might get a little bit more structure in the body, but it looks distorted and grainy. I've never gotten round to RAW processing, so I shoot using JPEG. What can I do to get better photos in these situations?”
SIMON - “Hi Simon, Photographing Birds in Flight or BIF is never an easy thing to do especially against a bright sky. I have no knowledge on your camera body, but the lens you are using is an excellent choice and is have the flexibility and easy to hand hold which makes capturing images of birds in flight all the more easy. You are definitely doing the right thing in dialing in a couple of stops of positive exposure compensation, but depending on how bright the sky is and the subject, then you may even have to go higher. A couple of suggestions I do have is certainly move to RAW files. For me although not essential, it does give you the ability to extract the best from your images and gain the best dynamic range. It can be a bit daunting to start with but once you’ve switch you will never look back. The second suggestion is to pick the best time of the day. Photography is all about the light and when you photograph birds in flight during the high of day, there is too much dynamic range for the camera to handle. If you leave it to when the sun is lower in the sky, you will have more of a balanced scene giving you more scope to capture better images.
Looking at your question, I don’t think you’re doing much wrong other than switching to RAW.
MICHELE - "Brilliant idea! I would love to know about the best technique to clean lens and filters. Frequency wise, I’m guessing it’s best to always clean after every photography outing?
SIMON - “Hi Michele, Thanks for your question and being the first one. I’m hoping this section grows and people find it useful. My technique for cleaning lenses and filters is in two parts both of which are very important. The most important is part one where you MUST use a blower to blow off any loose material such as grit etc. This will almost certainly scratch the delicate glass on your lenses and filters and the front element of your lens will be very expensive. Once I am confident, I use a propose lint free cleaning cloth that you can purchase from any good photographic store or Amazon. I use the Lee one which is quite expensive but one of the best I’ve found as it’s quite large. I personally never use cleaning fluids as I don’t feel they are needed really. Some may disagree but all I do is breath on the front of the lens to create a small amount of moisture on the glass and then working from the centre outwards, clean the lens using circular motions working outwards towards the edge of the glass. That’s all I do. I don’t normally clean after every use. If I’ve been down on the beach with the salt spray and sand then I will always clean all my kit, but generally on lenses I check every week and filters, yes every time I use them as they are very simple to clean and using smaller apertures as you tend to do in landscape photography, you will see any dust on the glass. That’s my method anyway.
It’s always been good for me so I hope that helps. - Thanks”
DAVID - “Hi Simon, how did you start out and progress to the stage you are at now? . I started approx 3 years ago but am struggling (in my opinion) to make progress with my images. Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated.”
SIMON - “Hi David, I started my photography journey about 7 years ago. I’ve always had an interest in wildlife and photography, so it was something that I always wanted to do eventually. My photography started when my wife was diagnosed as seriously ill. I used as a way of coping with the daily stress of dealing with that situation at the time. Thankfully she is now fit and healthy. I’ve always shot with Canon gear and started off with an entry level camera and 100-400mm lens. This allowed me to learn the camera controls / principles of exposure and how to use them in a creative way. I then progressed up to a second hand 500mm lens and 7D Mark I where I started to enter into competitions and magazines. This increased my passion for the subject which I then took the decision to investing heavily and progress onto the pro level gear and 600mm lenses etc.
There are a few things key things which I think take wildlife images to the next level. 1. Always Shoot in RAW - Shooting RAW format always you to get the best out of your images. RAW files contain all the possible data available which will enable you to post process your images to the fullest. 2. Get Down Low - Getting down to a level with your subject brings a whole different perspective to your images. It makes them much more personal and creates more distance between the subject and background, allowing for those lovely blurred backgrounds using a shallow DOF. 3. It’s All About The Light - Concentrate you’re photography to times of the day with the best light of the golden hours. I personally never go out with the camera when its sunny during the day as he light is way to harsh. I pray for cloudy days… 4. Plan A Photo - 99% of all my images are carefully planned. I rarely go out and just see what happens. You may get lucky but I personally think you get the best images when you have an image in your head that you’d like to capture and you plan it. 5. Study The Subject - I spend a lot of time in the field watching my subjects to determine what their habits are before I introduce a camera. This way you can really get to know your subject and learn when it flies etc. Barn Owls for instance are creatures of habit often down to the exact time to when and where they hunt. Get to know these patterns. 6. Use A Hide - I’m often using a hide or guilee suit to capture my images. I rarely use public hides but I do use simple throw over hides, scrim netting to conceal myself from the subject. That way you can get remarkably close which leads to better and more detailed images. 7. Get to Know Lightroom / Photoshop - Pretty much all the best images you see are not straight out of camera. They are carefully processed in these packages to extract the best. Personally I’m not a fan of changing an image beyond what it would be naturally, but learning those software packages would certainly help extract the best from them especially from a RAW file. Capture One is also another very good software. If you are shooting canon then I highly recommend Canon’s own DPP4 software which is free and is designed to show your canon files to their best as only Canon know their algorithm’s for their camera and lens combinations. - Thanks“
IAN - “You have some absolutely stunning Little Owl flight shots. Any top tips as to what settings to use? I have tried many times, but always seem to miss the key moment, lose the focus or not have the shutter speed high enough to freeze the action without needing a crazy high ISO.?
SIMON - “Thank you Ian. Flight shots of owls in general are never easy when the light is low and the worst situation is when they are flying directly towards you. I wouldn’t say there is any top secret method, but I always maintain a shutter speed of 1/1000 sec and above. To do this, if its late in the evening I always shoot wide open at F4. If the light is better then I will close the aperture down a bit but 9 times out of 10 I’m at F4. In terms of ISO, this largely depends on the camera you’re using. For my full frame Canon 1DX Mark II, I have no issue putting the ISO up to 10,000 and beyond as the camera can handle it. I’d rather get a sharp slightly noisy image as apposed to a blurred one. Noise can easily be dealt with in post processing. If I’m on a cropped sensor then things become more difficult. These don’t handle high ISO so well, but I’m happy to go to 3200 on these camera bodies. For AF focus points, I use centre point with the surrounding 4 points active. I tend not to use Zone AF to track the bird as with the lens wide open at F4, the DOF is literally cm’s if that at 600mm, so the AF point only has to be slightly off the eye and you will have an out of focus image on the critical points of the subject. AF sensitivity I turned right down so it doesn’t switch to other areas of the frame. This way it helps to track the bird and stay with it.
Finally, it pays to predict where the bird is going to appear. For the Little Owls as an example, you can tell by their body language when they are going to move so you can almost predict their flight path. If you can pick the subject up early enough, it gives the camera much more time to acquire focus and stay with the subject. Even the best of camera miss focus. - Thanks“