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Marcus Crisp's picture

Questions for the Wildlife Photography community

Working on improving my hit rate with bird photography. I've been shooting in manual mode the past couple of years and am unhappy with my keeper rate. So I did some research and changed up my settings. I use a 150-600mm lens on a crop sensor camera. I'm experimenting with shutter priority (usually 1/2000) with auto ISO and back button focusing. The back button focusing is taking a little time to get used to but I've read that it is pretty handy.

Here is a photo of a Canadian Goose on a really cold day. The rays of light were part of the original photo which I enhanced in PS. Additionally the fuzzy area to the right of the bill is his breath...it was 27 degrees outside when I took the shot. I would have loved to add this pic to my portfolio but it is too noisy. The ISO is 3600.

Anyways, here are my questions:

1. Since I'm shooting with a Nikon with a 1.5 crop factor, does that mean I take the inverse of the lens I'm shooting with to avoid camera shake. For example, If I'm shooting at 600mm, does that mean I have to shoot at 1 over (600 X 1.5) at a minimum?

2. Increasing my shutter speed results in my camera upping the ISO to get a well exposed shot. This introduces noise (see attached photo) into the image. I'm looking into denoise software. What are peoples experiences with Topaz Denoise...is it worth it? While we are at it, how about the Topaz Sharpen software.

3. Is an ISO of 3600 on a modern FF camera that much better than my photo? I'm using a Nikon D5600...

4. Any other software that you would recommend for this genre?

Thanks in advance!

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Tom Reichner's picture

For scenes like this Goose image, with one super bright spot in the frame, I strongly suggest that you go back to shooting in manual exposure mode, and do NOT use auto ISO. This way, you can take control of your exposure back into your hands instead of letting the camera make decisions for you.

Why would you want to do this? Because humans are better at cameras at identifying the brightest part of an image, and ensuring that the exposure is based on that one brightest part. Cameras are really bad at this, and tend to expose for the entire frame, or for a zone within the scene.

In this Goose image you posted, the brightest part of the scene is the light glaring off of the Goose's breast. The best way to expose is to base your exposure on this one brightest part of the scene, to ensure that it is not "blown out".

When you have a scene like that, and one little tiny part of the scene is far brighter than any other part of the scene, your camera is going to get it wrong and overexpose every time.

YOU, on the other hand, will be smarter than your camera, identify the bright spot, take a test shot, look for blinkies on the playback LCD, and then make whatever exposure adjustments are needed to ensure that you don't get any blinkies. Then you will have the best exposure.

ANY of the auto modes (such as shutter priority, aperture priority, etc.) will screw it up every time. Auto ISO will screw it up every single time. The only way to get perfect exposure on this type of hyper high dynamic range scene is to do it all manually.

Marcus Crisp's picture

Thanks Tom, I appreciate the feedback. I do like the contrasty type of photos lately, so looks like it's back to manual mode in those situations.

Joe Svelnys's picture

I agree with Tom... and to add...

I started out on the d5500 and now use the z6; seeing the exposure in the viewfinder is extremely nice; but I did a ton of birding on the d5500. I am only in my second year of birding so I still have a ton to learn myself. This all said I might have a few nuggets that might help.

Auto-iso Def off, when you get on scene and in position, take a few quick test shots to dial it in. With the d5500 I'd try my best to keep it under iso 3200 as noise builds up fast on that sensor. But if it is a, must have photo, go to 6400 if needed.I generally left iso on this camera at or around 400 to 800; as that noise is easy to clean up without issues and this gives a little more shutter speed leeway (then say shooting at iso 100). I'd rather under expose then over to help protect those highlights.

If the subject is closer, say 10 to 30ft, close the aperture down a little, f/8 to get more of the target in focus. A telephoto at close focus to a subject, you will still get nice bokeh. You don't always have to shoot wide open.

I use shutter speed to adjust my exposure. If the target is moving slowly then I can slow the shutter but will always keep it above 1/500; now you can bring iso down if desired. If there is any medium movement that shutter goes up fast, 1/2000 or on very bright days the cameras max of 1/4000.

Topas Denoise is a game changer so to speak and there is a 30 day trial; it wouldn't hurt to give it a try. I bought it and use it very often, even with the z6 camera.

For focus I generally use Single point and Continuous Focus and take several shots.

Here is a photo of a Goose I took just yesterday. The bird was parallel to the sensor so I could shoot wide open and get the entire goose in focus. 400iso, 500mm, f/5.6 and 1/6000 shutter. I was using the fast shutter to control the highlights in the exposure.

I know changing the exposure triangle settings on the d5500 can be cumbersome. Holding down 2 different buttons to change the function of a single dial.

Marcus Crisp's picture

I think the D5500 and D5600 share the same sensor and you are right about the noise build up. Changing the exposure setting in manual is a pain, that's one of the reasons I started messing around with shutter priority. You mentioned that you have a Z6...how is the noise on a Z6 at ISO 3600? Is it still noisy? I'm going to have to give a couple of the Topaz products a try...I appreciate your comments.

Joe Svelnys's picture

The noise level on the z series is really good; and the z6 is extremely good. I usually keep the iso around 800. All modern sensors and cameras have "dual gain iso" and If I remember correctly the z6's is 800. Depending on circumstances, I have recovered 12k and 18k iso photos; I still try to keep it under 3200 still though.

Jumping from a d5500 to a z6 was... like.. damn! heh. The z50 also dose extremely well and is around $600 used. I'm kind of looking at that as well for a second camera.

Couple with Camera Raw's new Super Resolution; it's all sooo nice.