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The importance of 'good light' and the general consensus as to what good light is in bird photography terms? (6 Viewers)

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
Hi all,

As per the title, and are those experienced not particularly concerned about 'good light' as they can easily adjust settings to achieve a good picture in any type of daylight?

Thanks in advance,
Paul
 

njlarsen

Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
Supporter
Barbados
What a complex problem to raise! I think the answer will depend on a lot of things including brand of camera, of PP software used and personal preferences. As one example, I have seen some people say that the warm colors of the first and last hour of the day is when they take the best photos, and when I view those same photos I often find I would prefer a result less warm.

Related is the claim that mid day light leads to contrast that is too strong. Again, I find it depends on camera/software and preferences whether that is a big or a small problem.

Hope this helps
Niels
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
What a complex problem to raise! I think the answer will depend on a lot of things including brand of camera, of PP software used and personal preferences. As one example, I have seen some people say that the warm colors of the first and last hour of the day is when they take the best photos, and when I view those same photos I often find I would prefer a result less warm.

Related is the claim that mid day light leads to contrast that is too strong. Again, I find it depends on camera/software and preferences whether that is a big or a small problem.

Hope this helps
Niels

It helps to an extent. The reason I ask is because when it's cloudy with quite dark colours in the sky, but still during daylight hours, I'm struggling to get decent pictures. Now, that could well be my lack of experience with utilising the full range of camera settings, and I think it probably is. What I'm trying to understand is whether or not I'm flogging a dead horse when attempting to take pictures in those conditions, or whether it is more than possible to get good pictures and it's simply something I need to work on.
 

jurek

Well-known member
Semi-professional photographers I know always want cloudy weather, and low light of the morning and evening. The reason is that strong contrast burns details of feathers, and specks of sun and shade destroy the picture.

For more you could consult more professional advice on bird photography, and possibly manual of your camera. ;)
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
Semi-professional photographers I know always want cloudy weather, and low light of the morning and evening. The reason is that strong contrast burns details of feathers, and specks of sun and shade destroy the picture.

For more you could consult more professional advice on bird photography, and possibly manual of your camera. ;)

This is pretty much why I asked the question. I sat with and spoke with an experienced wildlife photographer on a few occasions who happened to be in a bird hide, and he pretty much didn't bother with his camera around lunchtime and would watch rather than take any pictures. When there was a couple of hours of daylight remaining, that's when his camera was turned on and he was ready. I've tried messing around with various settings in 'low light' and I'm not getting anywhere fast. The manual is in a language that doesn't exist on earth outside of impenetrable camera language.

I have been thinking of going on a bird photography course, as you suggest, and I reckon that is the best bet at this point.
 

jurek

Well-known member
I am the last person to help you, because I stopped carrying telephoto lenses in the field. But professional bird photos are often taken in rather low light with a high ISO through big lenses.

You could start a thread on Birdforum 'bird photography - advice for beginnners' and there is lots of advice online, too.
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
It often depends on the bird you are photographing. If you are doing adult seabirds with large areas of white (or egrets!) then direct sunlight will give you a world of hurt (in my experience). A thin but continuous overcast will help a lot.

Also, are you trying to take "field guide" photos that show a lot of features of the bird and reproduce colours as accurately as possible, or step beyond that basic requirement to an atmospheric shot in the evening light of the waterhole that says everything about the experience you were having?

One size doesn't fit all.

The good news is that in the digital era you can experiment and discard till you find your own preferences. The trick though is to make the effort to do so when it doesn't matter, so that you will have a clear idea of what you are aiming for (and not still experimenting) when it does.

John
 

njlarsen

Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
Supporter
Barbados
It helps to an extent. The reason I ask is because when it's cloudy with quite dark colours in the sky, but still during daylight hours, I'm struggling to get decent pictures. Now, that could well be my lack of experience with utilising the full range of camera settings, and I think it probably is. What I'm trying to understand is whether or not I'm flogging a dead horse when attempting to take pictures in those conditions, or whether it is more than possible to get good pictures and it's simply something I need to work on.
Depending on camera and post-processing software it might be very or slightly necessary to tweak white balance and use the curves tool to address contrast under those circumstances. It might be time to post a reasonable size image that you feel are good and one that is not quite so good and let people make proposals on what to do.

Niels
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
Hi Paul

It may be worth you browsing through the Gallery and looking at the settings/devices used on the images taken in ‘flat’ light as I like to call it.

I mentioned something to this effect on @Chris G6 UXU ’s gallery the other day, noting how there is good light on his images even though taken in overcast conditions


Hi Deb,

Many thanks.

I've taken a look at the pictures posted by Chris, and yes, many absolute beauties there. It seems his aperture ranges around 5-6, ISO around 800, and shutter speed pretty much always high. I've been going for aperture 2.8 and keeping ISO low first and foremost. I have began to experiment with the shutter speed priority mode and setting that as high as the camera will allow in overcast conditions. I also noticed Chris has more powerful equipment than I have, but my thinking is that if I can get decent pictures in good light, in terms of the sun shining, then I should be able to adjust the settings and replicate that when it's overcast.

I think I have the perfect day lined up weather wise in that it's forecast to be sunny here in the morning and partly sunny/partly cloudy in the afternoon which gives me the opportunity to experiment with the controls and in the afternoon go for something like the settings Chris utilises. The only quandry is where to go. We're lucky 'round here in that we have the coast 10 minutes one way, various nature reserves 10 minutes the other way, wet woodlands everywhere, and kestrels perching above fields pretty much anywhere within a 5 minute radius of where I live!
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
It often depends on the bird you are photographing. If you are doing adult seabirds with large areas of white (or egrets!) then direct sunlight will give you a world of hurt (in my experience). A thin but continuous overcast will help a lot.

Also, are you trying to take "field guide" photos that show a lot of features of the bird and reproduce colours as accurately as possible, or step beyond that basic requirement to an atmospheric shot in the evening light of the waterhole that says everything about the experience you were having?

One size doesn't fit all.

The good news is that in the digital era you can experiment and discard till you find your own preferences. The trick though is to make the effort to do so when it doesn't matter, so that you will have a clear idea of what you are aiming for (and not still experimenting) when it does.

John

Thanks John.

To add some context: I've owned a bridge camera for all of 6 weeks. At this stage I am simply trying to get some pictures that show the features of the bird although I much prefer those pictures when the bird is in trees, near water or both. Anything outside of that is for farther down the line when my knowledge of the camera and what to do when is much improved.

In terms of when it doesn't matter: every bird I have seen, or at least been aware of seeing, is a bird that I will see again many times over; so I don't feel under any great pressure to get everything right in a hurry. I think I will be going through that experimenting phase for a quite a while as I just can't see how bird photography can be any different to any other form of learning: patience, effort, trial and error to arrive at your own conclusions and confidence with what you're doing.

The main thing I wanted to take away from this was to understand that good pictures in overcast conditions, in terms of showing the features of the bird, are more than possible; and it's something I simply need to work on. That's really what I wanted to hear so that I know putting the effort in will achieve the desired results.
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
Depending on camera and post-processing software it might be very or slightly necessary to tweak white balance and use the curves tool to address contrast under those circumstances. It might be time to post a reasonable size image that you feel are good and one that is not quite so good and let people make proposals on what to do.

Niels

Thanks for the offer, Niels. That's something I will definitely do. At this stage, however, I haven't given it a good enough go in overcast conditions to justify putting pictures up and asking for help. I think my next step is to spend some time utilising the range of camera controls, e.g. shutter speed priority mode.

I've tried adjusting white balance and to be honest I didn't notice a great deal of difference whatever I used, I've also tried adjusting the contrast controls. After this thread I think I'm going to try the settings something around what Chris is using and spend more time looking at the contrast control and the different results depending upon where that contrast control is set.

Thanks again.
 

Zackiedawg

Well-known member
I think any advice regarding light should be considered good rule-of-thumb, but I'd caution not to take any rules as unbreakable. In general, most will say to shoot on sunny days when possible, shoot birds in open areas with direct light, keep the light behind you and on the subject, avoid noon and high-in-the-sky sun shots which produce high contrast and flat, poor directional light, and so on. All good tips - but not hard fast rules one must adhere to. As others mentioned, the gear can make a difference - better sensors, better focus systems, better lenses, faster apertures can all help to counter poorer lighting conditions. Good processing skill can drastically recover noisy, dull, or off-color images. And sometimes, even straight-up 'breaking the rules' can result in an interesting photo because it's different from all the others - shooting into the sun can create interesting backlight and halo effects, shooting in heavy shadow or shade can produce interesting light and shadowplay on the bird, highlighting a certain feature or hiding details on a low-key style.

When I was shooting with P&S digital cameras with small sensors back when I started, I tried to keep my ISO at 400 or less - anything else produced such a mess of noise that even good processing skill couldn't recover much. So I was more cognizant of getting very good light. As I moved into larger sensors and interchangeable lens cameras, I was willing to stray up to ISO 1,600, even 3,200. As those sensors got better and better, I was willing to stretch to regular ISO 6,400, even ISO 12,800 range. All things improved - sensor performance, noise reduction software, post-processing software...which allows me more and more to venture out in poor light - at dusk, or in very dark, dense forested areas where light barely penetrates.

And while I love to get a great, crisp, perfectly sunlit ISO 100 shot of a bird on a branch with nothing in front of it, and a clean, blurred background, with count-the-feathers detail as much as the next guy, I found I was also enjoying the more challenging shots - and finding some of them more interesting - look at 1,000 perfectly lit photos of the same bird on a branch in the late afternoon with the sun at the photographer's back, then suddenly come upon an ISO 6,400 shot of the same bird painted by a thin shaft of light dropping through a dark forest with droplets of water on its head and glimmers of light stars popping off the blown out highlights on the droplets, and that shot stands out as something so different. Often, that's the shot that the 'professional' who refuses to touch his camera at noontime or shoot when the sky goes overcast, will miss if he's too stringent about following the 'rules'.
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
When I was shooting with P&S digital cameras with small sensors back when I started, I tried to keep my ISO at 400 or less - anything else produced such a mess of noise that even good processing skill couldn't recover much.

I certainly found out today that shutter speed shouldn't be my priority mode at this stage. Maybe farther down the line when I'm more experienced and I can instinctively get in the right positions to make that work, but not at the moment. It's driving up the ISO and pictures are more grainy than what is acceptable even for a beginner. The next step for me is testing the aperture options and seeing how ISO/shutter speed respond.

The above is written in the context that I live in England and we don't have the luxury of lots of sunlight, and it follows more often than not I'm going to be taking pictures when the sun is not shining.

Great post by the way, 'very interesting.
 

njlarsen

Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
Supporter
Barbados
If you are using a superzoom camera, it might be better to live in aperture priority (and aperture wide open) most of the time. When I (10+years ago) used such a camera, that was what I did, allowing the iso to range up to 400 when conditions were dark. With a superzoom of today, you should be able to double or even quadruple the 400 - make some experiments with what you can accept.

Back then, using RAW was way to slow. Today, the camera should be able to handle it, and a good post-processing software can usually get a better balance of noice vs sharpening than the automatic settings can. Until you are comfortable with this option, use save as both RAW and JPG so you have both options available.

If I misunderstood which type of camera you are using, then the second paragraph becomes even more important. For my usage, I am comfortable using iso 6400 with a m43 type camera.

Niels
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
If you are using a superzoom camera, it might be better to live in aperture priority (and aperture wide open) most of the time. When I (10+years ago) used such a camera, that was what I did, allowing the iso to range up to 400 when conditions were dark. With a superzoom of today, you should be able to double or even quadruple the 400 - make some experiments with what you can accept.

Back then, using RAW was way to slow. Today, the camera should be able to handle it, and a good post-processing software can usually get a better balance of noice vs sharpening than the automatic settings can. Until you are comfortable with this option, use save as both RAW and JPG so you have both options available.

If I misunderstood which type of camera you are using, then the second paragraph becomes even more important. For my usage, I am comfortable using iso 6400 with a m43 type camera.

Niels

Hi Niels,

That's pretty much what I was going for: aperture 2.8, ISO limit 400. I found that in gloomy conditions, say half 3 in the afternoon ('gets dark here 4pm at this time of year), it wasn't producing decent pictures. For example: I took various pictures of a kestrel, in much closer range than the one I posted in my gallery, but I couldn't make out the eyes on the bird in those photos, which were taken around half 3.

I've noticed other people are using around 5 to 6 aperture and their pictures are perfect (at least to the untrained eye of a beginner), so I'm going to try that and see what happens. One thing I'm confident about, however, is that I need to keep the ISO down on the camera I have. I think the initial answer is going to be 2.8/400 limit and get better with the use of the contrast setting (as a default setting), and then when I'm more comfortable with that try to be more flexible with an understanding of what's needed given the conditions/situation.

In terms of raw and JPG: I have the camera setting on RAW. Do you mean in the settings option in the camera go for RAW and JPG, instead of simply RAW, or do you mean when the pictures are saved to my laptop save them in both formats?

In terms of post-processing software: I don't even know what I'm using, it's the in-built version on my laptop, but I've had a look around and there seems to be many positive reviews of Adobe Lightroom Classic CC Software. Is there a general consensus in terms of what is good value for money for bird photography?

Edited to add: I'm trying to strike a balance between the technical aspects of understanding the camera's capabilities and the practical aspect of understanding how to get into decent positions and where to focus. So, I've learned to focus on the eyes, get down to eye level with the bird where possible and wait for the birds to come to me and if they don't then they could well do next time. By doing the latter, I'm finding I'm getting a lot closer to birds which really is the most important thing I've learned so far because in the event you're not getting in the right positions then everything else won't work. 'Lots to learn, however. On the whole, I'm pretty happy with how it's going but keen to make slow, steady improvements.

Thanks,
Paul
 
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njlarsen

Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
Supporter
Barbados
Many people use adobe products. I am one outsider in that I like ACDSee as both organizer and editor.

Regarding jpg and raw: I expected that you as a beginner had stayed with the camera default of jpg output. Try for a little while setting the camera to save both and see if you like the camera jpg output better. If that is the case, then you will need to upgrade and/or improve your post processing on the pc to match or even exceed what the camera does.

Niels
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
Many people use adobe products. I am one outsider in that I like ACDSee as both organizer and editor.

Regarding jpg and raw: I expected that you as a beginner had stayed with the camera default of jpg output. Try for a little while setting the camera to save both and see if you like the camera jpg output better. If that is the case, then you will need to upgrade and/or improve your post processing on the pc to match or even exceed what the camera does.

Niels

Thanks Niels.

I'm certainly going to look at post processing products. Also, I've tried both jpg and raw but haven't compared the results of both for the same bird in the same conditions, so I've just changed the camera setting to both.

Cheers for the help.
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
Many people use adobe products. I am one outsider in that I like ACDSee as both organizer and editor.

Regarding jpg and raw: I expected that you as a beginner had stayed with the camera default of jpg output. Try for a little while setting the camera to save both and see if you like the camera jpg output better. If that is the case, then you will need to upgrade and/or improve your post processing on the pc to match or even exceed what the camera does.

Niels

Hi Niels,

'Just some feedback on your advice.

I took some pictures yesterday and found: fine jpeg much better than RAW, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that aperture 3.5 and 4 much more to my liking than 2.8 - 'thought the rich colours of the birds were much more marked and generally they just looked much improved pictures.

The above relates to conditions where the light wasn't too bad but plenty of clouds around and I was aiming up into a tree with blue sky in the background. So, I'm guessing the above aperture settings aren't necessarily transferable in other weather conditions, according to where the bird is situated, whether or not I'm aiming up where's the blue sky and whichever bird is in my sites. I think at this point it's a case of trying the settings in different conditions/different birds and keeping a log of how the pictures turn out according to particular situations/weather conditions (which I've started doing and will continue to do).

In terms of post processing, I had a look at some software and did a bit of reading around them and it seems post processing is a learned skill in itself, so I'm going to leave that for a while and concentrate on what the settings are going to give me in a variety of conditions and generally which aperture/shutter speed I prefer. As the weather forecast here is clouds today, Wednesday and Thursday and sun Friday, Saturday and Sunday; I should be able to make some progress on what settings I prefer in particular conditions.

Thanks for the advice.
 

njlarsen

Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
Supporter
Barbados
Hi Paul, good for you. I would encourage you to then keep the setting of taking both jpg and raw in the camera (unless this slows the camera down too much). You may find in a little while that you would really like to learn more about post-processing and then you would likely want to have the raw images available.

Niels
 

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