Shooting Wildlife (With a Camera)

We were treated to an entertaining evening by one of our own members, Peter Clarke – yes the person who takes such wonderful wildlife images, particularly hummingbirds in recent times.
Peter recently visited Costa Rica; he put together an evening that displayed images of a lot of the birds he came across there (and other wildlife – sloths, frogs, coati and the odd crocodile), but also explained something about the habitat (both for humans and wildlife). He generously shared information about the equipment he uses, the settings he has found to be the best for his type of photography, how he uses Lightroom and Photoshop for post-processing. After the break he also showed us how he got those impossible shots we saw last season.
Costa Rica is 20% size of UK, with a population 5 million; it has east and west coastlines in South America with 12 different eco-systems. 25% of the country is protected for wildlife. It has 800 species of birds and a beautiful country. Peter, and his wife Gill, drove themselves around to visit the different areas as it is a very safe country. Apparently, THE Costa Rican bird is the Resplendent Quetzel, but Peter really went for the hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are small, 8 cm or less in height and weighing 4.8 g. They move very quickly; Peter showed a couple of short videos, one at normal speed and one greatly slowed down, to enable us to see just how quickly they move.
What fascinated me was the way that each lodge they stayed at provided an opportunity to see/photograph birds, as the lodges provide feeding stations specially to entice any birds in the area; many are almost tame as they become used to visiting the lodge areas. Apparently sugar water is a useful addition to the carefully placed flowers, but care must be taken as too much of this is bad for the birds. There were so many colourful birds, toucans, macaws and lots more I didn’t catch the names. The colours and plumage Peter captured were stunning.
We’ve already seen some of his hummingbird images; on this occasion we saw a lot more, some captured by his watching closely and discovering there is a momentary hesitation as the bird closes in to eat – that’s the moment he hopes to capture. And of course, he did capture. And note – he has a stiff drink first.
Those truly impossible images of pin sharp hummingbirds were obtained in an outdoor studio setup with 5 flashes to allow a shutter speed that freezes the motion; still difficult I am sure but that’s how he got them.
Equipment
Canon 5D, Mk IV, 100-400 lens, tripod whenever possible (30 megapixel full frame allows cropping). Has used Canon 80D but a cropped sensor is difficult in rainforest
Settings
AV – autofocus
F4.5, f5.6 for out-of-focus background, f8 for reasonable depth-of-field
5m from subject
200mm lens, at f4.5 the depth of field is only 14 cm; at f8 it is 30cm
ISO – set at least a speed in excess of focal length eg 400mm at least 1/400 s
Ignore stabiliser but if you do use it, turn it off when a tripod is used
Better to have noise than a blurred shot (the noise might be addressed in post processing)
Can use lower shutter speed if light is poor
Switch to manual if auto focusing is difficult
Shooting
Try to take shots at same level as subject’s eyes
Check background for distractions
If the subject moving, set focus to SERVO (constant focus)
If the subject still, use ‘Live View’ and manually fine focus using zoom button
Take multiple shots as first couple may be blurred
Shoot RAW as it retains maximum information for post processing
Lightroom – try Auto and then fine tune
If a high ISO used, don’t use LR to process the RAW file, use the software that came with the camera as it may be better able to deal with noise
Finally convert to TIFF (or PSD format)
Peter uses Photoshop to make his final adjustments e.g. darken corners, increase eye light, tidy image.
Our thanks to Peter who obviously put a lot of time and thought into his presentation and produced an instructive and enjoyable evening.

Images: Geoff Sims & Peter Clarke
Report: Marny Thompson LRPS

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