Stationary bird photo focus - Is this bad because of me or the gear?

double_entendredouble_entendre Gene pool chlorinatorPosts: 135Registered Users Major grins

Every year the cormorants come to Huntington Beach's Central Park to breed in the eucalyptus. Pretty fun, but walking underneath the trees is.....ill-advised. Don't look up. :p

I took this photo yesterday and tinkered a bit with it, but I'm really not happy with the focus. Trying to decide if that's a function of photographer ineptitude or constraints of the gear (Nikon D7000, Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR, tripod).

I'm standing on the little promontory with the sidewalk, shooting east at the trees. Google maps says it's about 200 feet (117 furlongs in metric :D).

Here's a cropped photo and the uncropped, full-size photo is here.

Capture NX-D says the focus point is right on their heads and the feather pattern on mom is really nice, but the heads don't seem in focus.

Any thoughts?

Comments

  • David_S85David_S85 Spotter of Dgrin Spam and Oddities ChicagolandPosts: 12,372Administrators moderator

    Can you supply the EXIF info on this shot, including the focal length?

    My Smugmug
    "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take" - Wayne Gretzky
  • double_entendredouble_entendre Gene pool chlorinator Posts: 135Registered Users Major grins

    @David_S85 said:
    Can you supply the EXIF info on this shot, including the focal length?

    David,

    Here you go. Not sure why it's showing the light source as cool white fluorescent. I shoot raw and then used NX-D to convert to direct sunlight.

    Thanks!

    Bob

    CAMERA Nikon NIKON D7000
    ISO 100
    FOCAL LENGTH 500.0 mm (750.0 mm in 35mm)
    APERTURE f/5.6
    EXPOSURE TIME 0.00313s (1/320)
    NAME DSC_3896 (3) Cropped.jpg
    SIZE 1164 x 942
    DATE TAKEN 2019-05-04 18:00:12
    DATE MODIFIED 2019-05-05 11:37:30
    COPYRIGHT Robert Patterson
    Advanced
    AUTHOR Robert Patterson [email protected]
    FLASH Off, Did not fire
    METERING Spot
    EXPOSURE PROGRAM Aperture-priority AE
    EXPOSURE MODE Auto
    LIGHT SOURCE Cool White Fluorescent
    WHITE BALANCE Manual
    DIGITAL ZOOM RATIO 1
    CONTRAST Normal
    SATURATION Normal
    SHARPNESS Normal
    SUBJECT RANGE Unknown
    SENSING METHOD One-chip color area
    COLOR SPACE sRGB
    SCENE CAPTURE TYPE Standard
    GAIN CONTROL None
    CIRCLE OF CONFUSION 0.020 mm
    FIELD OF VIEW 2.7 deg
    HYPERFOCAL DISTANCE 2228.71 m
    NORMALIZED LIGHT VALUE 13.3
    SOFTWARE Adobe Photoshop Elements 8.0 Windows

  • pathfinderpathfinder Drive By Digital Shooter western IndianaPosts: 14,434Super Moderators moderator
    edited May 7, 2019

    The full size link does not display for me.

    The back of the bird on the left seems to be sharp, but I wonder if you might be experiencing movement in the birds heads with a shutter speed as long as 1/320th sec. It may be your focus point is not precise, but I suspect movent is an issue also here, as birds competing for food are rarely holding still.

    Pathfinder - www.pathfinder.smugmug.com

    Moderator of the Technique Forum and Finishing School on Dgrin
  • double_entendredouble_entendre Gene pool chlorinator Posts: 135Registered Users Major grins

    Hmmm. Strange. See if this works https://double-entendre.smugmug.com/HB-Cormorants/

    I'll try again with a faster shutter speed, too, and see what happens.

    Thanks!

    Bob

  • colourboxcolourbox Major grins Posts: 2,088Registered Users Major grins

    The EXIF doesn't seem to mention the focus mode.

    I can't claim to be a bird photo expert, but when I've tried, this type of focusing is a challenge. Because of the long focal length magnifying camera movement, subject movement, and light conditions possibly limiting the shutter speed. They all need to be neutralized.

    One thing to review in the frames already taken is to decide if anything in the frame is in focus. If at least one thing is in very sharp focus, but it's the wrong thing, that means movement is not the problem, the focus point is. With those branches in the way, it's so easy for autofocus to lock on a branch, throwing the bird out of focus. That is why it helps to be ready to do a quick and accurate manual focus override.

    Some ways I set up for "bird in branch" focus are (again, not being an expert):

    • Use a lens that allows manual override after initial autofocus, I would guess a nice Nikon would allow that
    • Set a very narrow autofocus point for the eye of the bird
    • Turn on focus peaking or select a focus point near the eye of the bird (or whatever feature needs to be most in focus)
    • Use the highest acceptable ISO to get the best possible shutter speed, this is hard at sunset
    • Put shutter on burst mode so if bird or camera is moving, maybe at least one frame won't be blurred

    Then, to shoot:
    1. Get initial autofocus
    2. Turn manual focus ring until visual feedback (peaking or focus points) confirms focus on bird eye
    3. Hit that shutter

    Alternately:
    1. Enable back button focus
    2. Use best autofocus point to acquire focus on bird, hit the focus button to lock it in.
    3. Compose and hit the shutter.

    For birds in trees I won't use straight autofocus, because there's too much chance it will lock on a branch and screw up bird focus.

    Whatever way you choose, the basic principles are to practice your own way of:

    • Rapidly acquiring the correct focus point
    • Rapidly confirming visually that the correct point is still in focus, as the bird or camera moves
    • Rapidly re-acquiring focus as soon as you realize it is lost (like manual focus ring or back button focus)

    I can't help with Nikon specifics because I have Canon and Panasonic.

  • pathfinderpathfinder Drive By Digital Shooter western IndianaPosts: 14,434Super Moderators moderator
    edited July 7, 2019

    @double_entendre said:
    Hmmm. Strange. See if this works https://double-entendre.smugmug.com/HB-Cormorants/

    I'll try again with a faster shutter speed, too, and see what happens.

    Thanks!

    Bob

    I tried your new link and do see the image, but it is only about 5x6 inches on my monitor so not really a large image to evaluate. I can sometimes capture cormorants in New Mexico at Bosque.

    I do agree with what colourbox has said about focusing on birds heads in among tree limbs. It can challenge many AF systems.

    I am spoiled because I usually use a 1DX MII and I forget just how good it is at focus, until I leave it at home for a trip and grab my 80D instead. My 80D files are actually pretty decent in modest light, but its single AF point mode is nowhere near as precise in my hands, and the single AF point I point I use on my 1DX MK II grabs eyes from out among branches almost routinely. I was chasing greater earless lizards in Big Bend last week and experienced this phenomenon with the 80D, and lizards won't wait for me to refocus manually very well. - 80D 16-300 Tamron zoom - this is a crop of about 1/4 of a crop body APS-C image

    https://pathfinder.smugmug.com/Travel/Big-Bend-National-Park-May-2019/i-GDV3R3r/A

    I do suspect an element of movement of the head in your image though, simply because the wing is pretty sharp and f5.6 isn't that shallow usually. Try 1/800th at a bare minimum, or 1/1600th even better for feeding birds. This does make it challenging with regard to ISO back in the shadows. For birds I typically shoot in Manual Mode ( exposure ) with Auto ISO engaged so I can choose my shutter speed and aperture with security, and let the ISO run where it needs to run. Chasing short eared owls after sunset one doesn't get a lot of light either, so many shots are captured at ISO's > 3200. But when did we begin to think shooting birds in flight after sunset was normal?

    Here's an example of an image captured at ISO 12800, 1/1600th f5.6 - 400 DO + 1.4 TC on a cloudy overcast day very near sunset as an owl hovers over a ditch inspecting its potential prey. Some grain is noticeable, but not offensive to my eye is this image

    https://pathfinder.smugmug.com/Animals/SE-Owls-March-18-2018/i-4VCcVDj/A

    Pathfinder - www.pathfinder.smugmug.com

    Moderator of the Technique Forum and Finishing School on Dgrin
  • EiaEia Major grins Posts: 3,625Registered Users Major grins

    Maybe if your shutter speed was faster. That seems rather slow for birds considering the light is good?

  • double_entendredouble_entendre Gene pool chlorinator Posts: 135Registered Users Major grins

    So I'm still fiddling around, trying to find the flaws. (Thankfully my wife doesn't do that......)

    Here's a shot of a hummingbird that was hanging around the front yard this weekend. We keep a feeder out there and he's convinced it's his feeder and if anyone else eats from it, they'll empty it and he'll starve. Aggressive little bugger. Full size is uploaded here.

    It was shot with my Nikon D7000 and Nikkor 200-500mm lens. It was mid-afternoonish, but he was in the shade, and if I wanted to get any shutter speed, I had to crank the ISO up. Not really happy with how grainy this is. I was maybe 20 feet away from him and zoomed in as much as I could. I was using a much faster shutter speed than necessary for a static subject as a test case relating to the pics in my original post.

    I'm wondering if the 200-500 just isn't a low light lens at this point. Too bad I don't have $12k to blow on a 600mm f4. :D

    If someone can tell me how to export the exif from Lightroom 6 or NX-D, I'll do that.

    Thanks for any c/c you can offer. Just got a BenQ SW320 as a present for myself and it sure does show my flaws. LOL

  • StumblebumStumblebum I shoot, therefore I am Posts: 7,629Registered Users Major grins

    Very cute capture!

  • double_entendredouble_entendre Gene pool chlorinator Posts: 135Registered Users Major grins

    @Stumblebum said:
    Very cute capture!

    Thank you, Stumblebum. You flatter me. I've seen your fabulous work. :)

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