Pauline says .......... Looking back the original data reads like this: Exposure Time 1/800 sec - Aperture 1:4.0 - Lens 500mm - Shutter Priority or Av - ISO 200 - Shutter Speed 1/500 sec - Aperture 4 - glad you all understand that then?! (Doesn't mean a thing to me!!)
The set up for the bullfinch is a small feeding table (made by the better half!) with a perch chosen (usually pick up 'good looking' twigs/branches while out) and clamped to the small table (big bird table is covered over while photography in progress). Light direction is considered and in winter/early spring speed and lowness of sun cuts down time available at our baited spot (thats even if you get some sun!). For this particular session Ian strung a metal wire between the trees and we draped camo netting over it (a plain brown sheet may be better and I shall buy one soon and try it). The camera is set up on the tripod and positioned - with the 500 on it feet away (much nearer if using 100-400 or smaller prime - you have to think of the size of the birds and how much or little they fill the camera frame), plus I allowed enough space for stuff to land (hoping for the bunch of Long-tailed Tits again - but they never came....). Once camera is where you want it, open pop-up hide and place over the top of camera set up and get in.
The dilema always is - do I focus on one spot and wait - or do I move about the twig trying to grab everything - the answer is - it depends on mood and how switched on I'm feeling - and what lands - if a hawfinch landed it would be 'bother the bullfinches' lets get this!
Now that its digital instead of slide film you can afford to take plenty - tho I still do tend (30 years ingrained) to wait that split sec for a pose to come good. I've learned that you can take liberties with birds to get their attention - making clicking noises can bring their head up higher - get a 'brighter' more intense look - get them to look over their shoulder etc. It can frighten them off as well so only try this on the common stuff .......... so too can the noisy shutter of the 20D - or as is often the case the first click makes the second pic the one you want - as the bird reacts to the sound......... its hit and miss all the time - and all about reactions - yours and theirs .......... and theirs is faster than yours!
Once back home its choose the best pic out of the bunch and now that I have gone 'all the way down the dark side' and then a bit further - its manipulate to your hearts content - try anything and everything is now my advice - you've taken time, care, thought and fuel money for this pic and you want folks reactions to be 'WoW' not 'oh thats nice ........' - don't you?
I never batch process (I wouldn't know how cos I don't want to do it) every pic I do on its own merits but I begin in Paint Shop Pro cos its the programme I like. Start by saving the original uncut image somewhere. Then begin work with a crop (different sizes for differing reasons - leave room if you think you might want text around it as in a magazine cover or tight crop to show detail for that Wow reaction) and keep both formats. Having got the pic size I want I 'tidy up' anything distracting: light patches, water marks, lens marks, stray grass, an odd branch - anything that can be deftly removed is - if you can't remove something (too big, cuts across the bird etc)either live with it or discard the whole pic. Sometimes a lot of 'distraction' is ok like reed warblers in reeds, same with bitterns. I now tidy up dirty beaks (seed husk), stray feathers unless they add something to the pic - anything that takes my eye off the subject will be removed, disguised or dumbed down. When you try this it will quickly become obvious to you how much this works - if you have two images side by side and 'tidy' one and leave the other - you will soon learn what looks good and what doesn't. And you will soon look at others work and immediately see what they could/should have removed to make a better pic!
I then use the Edge Preserving Tool as it seems to aid the sharpening tool later. Fade Correct follows, Saturation control of some sort follows - up or down depending - sometimes this takes the form of turning the gamma up or down or just using Levels which also tends to warm things. Finally Unsharp Mask - the degree of this differs dependant on the size of the pic. Sometimes a trip to Neat Image helps sort a busy background without compromising the bird. Darkening the edges very carefully with the Buttonise Tool is a matter of preferrence and can give the subject even greater impact as can using the Gradient Tool in Photoshop for adding a colour haze to the background. This particular bullfinch shot I also Rotated Left slightly to make it fit Landscape format simply because I didn't want a smaller image in an upright Portrait Crop! There are probably plenty other tricks I have yet to discover ...... In addition months later I have now discovered the uses of a free download called Neat Image (there is also Noise Ninja) either of these progs can be excellent at putting a classy professional looking finish on a pic and are well worth trying, esp if the background isn't as out of focus as you might like - these progs will smooth it away behind the bird and improve the sharpness of the subject if used sparingly ......
For me so long as the end result lremains looking natural with my over riding criteria being - is this what my eye thought it saw - then that is what I'm striving for - its an act of creation for me - not just taking a photograph ........
I will be interested to hear others reactions to the above - some folk I know won't like it - they have the view that a pic is made in a camera - which with slide film it was and you had to get it right on the spot - tho this is only partially true as a lot of work on perches, traimming stray grass with scissors, lighting, filters etc was often done. Digital merely involves doing that work after instead of before and allows me the kind of creative control I need to express myself .........
Thanks David - will look for this and give it a go.
I am enjoying your photos and learning from your tips. I also am a fan of PSP and find it much more user friendly than its more famous competitor.
May I suggest you give "Noiseware" by Imagenomic a try. A free version is available for download.
Having tried various noise removal progs , including Neat Image , I like this one best.
Thanks Davy, Jonners and Klaus: Since doing this particular shot I have discovered the Neat Image progamme and this can make a big difference to an out of focus background, also its sharpening of the bird/subject can be excellent - all worth trial and error! Keep up the good work folks......
Pauline, thank you for your very practical hints, took note of a few things, it's a great inspiration and help, will try out some of your sugestions with some birds around my property in Malibu California, have pleanty of hawks, pelicans, egrets, terns, blue herons around every day.
Very helpful and informative Pauline. I love the ideas you've put here. There's a lot of work potentially, but your results are well worth it - truly stunning. As for not getting technical... well I guess if I had Paint Shop Pro I might understand more of the processing side, or even perhaps if I knew a bit more about Photoshop Elements (which I try to use). As for "its an act of creation for me - not just taking a photograph ........" I love that concept. There is so much beauty out there, and myriad ways to show it, and what you do you do so very well. Thanks again.
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