Studebaker Bird Photography Newsletter #7

02Jun09


Southern Ohio Workshop – Shawnee Report:

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The weather was beautiful. The birds were cooperative. The forest was in peak bloom. In a word, it was perfect. Birds we had land on our perches included Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, Ovenbird, Eastern Towhee, Cerulean Warbler, plus we were able to photograph many other forest species.

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This Yellow-throated Warbler kept landing on a car mirror in the parking lot and looking at himself, so on our final evening we put this perch up over the mirror and sure enough, he just loved it.

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Eastern Towhee on Redbud. This species is incredibly difficult to photograph with a clean background and on a simple perch. This bird was quite cooperative for his species and gave us many good opportunities.

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We had this Ovenbird on our perches but I also loved this more natural shot of him in a nearby redbud tree. We usually try to put a set up perch near an attractive natural perch so that even if the bird doesn’t go on our setup, we still get great shots. On occasion, I like the natural look better than the branch we put out.

Southern Ohio Workshop – Lake Hope Report

While the weather was not terribly helpful (dark and drizzle), we still had lots of cooperative birds and the clouds allowed us to shoot all day. Staying in the forest cabins is always so much fun. They are quite spacious, modern, and convenient, plus I love waking up to the sound of Scarlet Tanagers singing! Here are some favorite images from the trip:

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Summer Tanager – again we had this bird land on a set-up but I ended up choosing the natural perch behind him as my favorite. I loved the loose but more complex composition. A big thanks to Bill Norton for spotting this guy. This species is fairly uncommon in Ohio.

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Pine Warbler – he just loved hopping up on the pine cones on our perch. How perfect to photograph a Pine Warbler on pine cones. Another uncommon species to breed in Ohio, but Lake Hope has the most dense population of any Ohio forest.

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Indigo Bunting. The sun peeked out briefly at the very end of the day to give us some warm colors on this bird.

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Prothonotary Warbler – I love the over the shoulder look from this species because it shows off the yellow to green to blue transition on their back.

My switch to a 600mm Lens

Side by side comparisons of 600mm f4 IS to 500mm f4 IS.

Many photographers wonder if the 600mm lens is really worth all that extra money. 500mm is equal to 10x optical magnification, while 600mm is equal to 12x. Aside from the price tag, the 600mm is also much heavier, and more difficult (impossible for some) to handhold effectively. So why did I switch?

By switching to the 600mm it made it easy for me to wean myself off of tele-extenders. I have been shooting extender free for 5 months now and the quality of my images has improved dramatically. You might not be able to see the difference in a 600x400px image on my website, but I notice quite a difference in the full sized images. While the difference may not be huge for field guides or web use, for a full page print or magazine cover the difference is obvious. The motivation is not primarily commercial though, I simply very much enjoy seeing all that detail in my images. I would feel strange using a converter, putting huge amounts of time and effort into making an image, knowing it could have been a good deal sharper had I not used an extender. True, sometimes the birds are smaller in the frame when shooting without an extender, but even still there is so much more detail that I don’t mind cropping a bit more, or even better yet, leaving more environment in the image when possible. That’s not to say that I may encounter a situation when I simply can’t approach a bird as close as I need to and will at some point use my 1.4 extender. I still carry it in my backpack, but I am certainly only using it as a last resort. When I do use an extender (as I did all the time with my 500mm) my magnification will indeed be noticeably greater, especially with my 1.6x crop factor. (500mm x 1.4 x 1.6 = 1120 equivalent) while (600mm x 1.4 x 1.6 = 1344mm equivalent). It’s possible that I may re-nig this anti-teleconvertor position in the future, but for now, my lens is bare.

Using a 600mm also produces a cleaner background than a 500mm. The angle of view is narrower, so the backgrounds are automatically less in focus.

As far as the 600mm being difficult to hand hold, it’s actually not a big deal. First of all, I have no difficulty holding it for short periods of time. Second, even for fast moving subject matter, I usually prefer to keep the lens mounted to a tripod rather than hand holding. This allows me to have a more fluid, steady movement when tracking a bird, which in turn allows me to keep the central focusing sensor dead on the bird, which tends to yield a greater rate of sharply focused images, especially when shooting with non-pro camera bodies like the Canon D series I usually use.

Would I recommend everyone who is currently using 500mm to switch? No way. Both are outstanding lenses and each has advantages and disadvantages, but the general rule of thumb for bird photography is: the longer the lens the easier it is to make good bird photos. Not terribly eloquent, but you get the idea.

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actual field test to show image size increase from 500mm to 600mm lenses with and without 1.4 teleconvertors.

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Simulated Comparison. The very smallest box simulates what I would get in pixel increase if I were to switch from a Canon 40D to a 50D – something I think I will probably do soon.

Where to Photograph Birds in Ohio in May:

Anywhere! May is the best time for photography in Ohio – birds are everywhere.

Magee Marsh/Crane Creek – The best place to find lots of migrant songbirds up close including warblers, vireos, orioles, virtually any eastern migrant. Also check the road into the park for marsh birds like Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Egret, Virginia Rail, Blue-winged Teal, Marsh Wren, and more.

Conneaut, Ohio – towards the end of the month you can find a few shorebirds but nearly all will be strutting around in excellent breeding plumage. Save yourself a trip to the arctic – photograph at Conneaut in late May.

Any large forest or grassland will contain a sample of representative breeding species of Ohio. Usually the larger the habitat, the better. Ohio’s largest public forests are: Tar Hallow, Shawnee, and Zaleski State Forests. Some forests that have huge potential but little is known about them include Hocking Hills State Park and Tar Hallow State Forest. The deep ravines of Mohican State Park and Holden Arboretum also deserve more attention, for they contain northern breeding species such as Magnolia, Canada, and Blackburnian Warblers.

Your backyard or local public bird feeding station: Look for Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Purple Finches, Orioles, and Hummingbirds passing through, stopping by your feeder for a quick bite on the journey north.

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One Response to “Studebaker Bird Photography Newsletter #7”

  1. first of all great to see you blogging. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and seeing your awesome work.

    One thing just made me wonder why you are writing you see such a big difference from shooting blank or with the 1,4x TC. Is this comment towards shooting small birds with difficult light situations or your overall impression?
    When shooting in overcast and with small objects pretty close to you, you clearly see a difference in sharpness and especially DOF. F5.6 on a plain 600 already gives you a very decent DOF, whereas 840 mm require much more. I’d say F 8-11. So in this regard I am totally with you. But when shooting larger objects like Sandpipers, Godwits or bigger birds, I would not be able to tell whether my shots were made with a TC or not. The sharpness is pretty much the same…
    However, I tried 3 TCs and the one I have now is by far the best compared to my previous ones. This is not meant as critic or anything like this. I would just like to hear your thoughts, because this point popped into my eyes when reading your blog.


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