Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

The Light and the Dark of it…

Shadow of doom

It seems that every year, cameras get more sophisticated and in many cases, incomprehensible too. In my previous post, I discussed the problems of obtaining a correct exposure when trying to photograph Barn Owls in flight. This advice does not only pertain to Barn Owls but to any photograph of a white bird against a sky or the deep shadow of the undergrowth. I thought I would expand a little on the technique I use and hope that it may prove useful to others.

In his book, ‘Captured’ by the legendary wildlife photographer, Moose Peterson has some salient advice about photographing Bids in flight against a blank sky…Don’t do it! (page 329). Well, if you’re lucky enough to live in a country with frequent blue skies then this advice would be applicable. However, here in the Uk the number of days with ‘blue-skies’ can be counted on ones fingers. So what is the technique? Well, its pretty simple but you may have to move out of your own comfort zone and switch to manual exposure on your camera.

Barn Owl with captured prey_3

Select manual metering mode on your camera and then switch to the spot metering function. It is important to use spot (or at the very least, centre weighted) metering because the next step is to measure the brightest area that is likely to appear in your frame. If the bird is stationary, then it is relatively easy to take a reading from the brightest area of the bird’s white plumage. If your target bird is rather shy, then the alternative would be to select the brightest portion of sky through which the bird might fly and take a meter reading from it.

Now for the fun part. Leave the aperture of you lens at wide open (usually f4 or f5.6 with my 1.4 teleconverter) and select a shutter speed of a minimum of 1/1000 second. Now adjust your camera’s ISO (film speed) until the exposure needle in your viewfinder indicates PLUS 2 Stops. That’s it! A surprisingly simple, yet effective solution. Of course, you have got to keep a careful eye on your ISO. If it strays too high then you may experience a lot of digital noise that could ruin your picture…especially if the image is cropped and enlarged. I usually stick to a maximum of ISO 1600-2000 on my D3 but those owning cameras with smaller sensors may wish to set a limit of ISO 800.

Do have a go. You may surprise yourself!

Barn Owl returns_1

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