There are no written rules for the ABFriday Forum which is fortunate, because this post surely would be breaking them.
This Friday is the third Friday of the month, the new scheduled appearance of the Forum hosted by Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing. Participants from all over the world jointly publish posts to exchange ideas about transforming what their capture sees into what they see.
But the memo didn’t get to the pair of bluebirds nesting in a box about 30 feet from my desktop computer. They set up housekeeping about six weeks ago, and the eggs hatched on/about 29 May. When I saw that the parents were arriving at the same spot every 5 minutes, the idea for exploring a new photographic subject became irresistible. Those with some knowledge of avian biology can see where I’m going with this. The youngsters would be fledging during the third week of June.
So, in a pathetic attempt to follow at least a semblance of the ABfriday Forum Procedure, the image below will be the Before Image.
Early Attempt (very tight crop)
(Nikon D800E on tripod with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens at 200mm; exposure 1/640th sec @ f/10, ISO 1250)
My goal was to capture the birds in flight, and I thought that knowing their precise destination would make it relatively straightforward. Such was not the case. My intention was to balance a decent depth of field with an ISO that wasn’t too extreme but still allowed a pretty fast shutter speed. (See technical data above) As the result shows, it was necessary to go back to the drawing board.
How about adding an off-camera flash close to the nesting box? Well, the standard sync speed of the Nikon is 1/250th sec. In other words, that is the fastest shutter speed for normal flash operations. However, there is a setting deep in the menu called Auto FP High Speed Sync. (Details at Nikon.com here) It enables one to shoot flash up to the camera’s top speed of 1/8000th sec. There is a certain irony that it took a bluebird to lead me to this piece of knowledge.
Male Bluebird Removing Trash from Nest
(Nikon D800E on tripod with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens at 200mm; exposure 1/4000th sec @ f/2.8, ISO 3200; off- camera SB-800 flash for fill light)
But the sync setting is only part of the problem. With the flash about 25 feet from the camera, I would need a wireless remote trigger and, of course, the capabilities of the old PocketWizards I owned were not up to the Auto FP Sync technology. I decided to purchase the PocketWizard Flex TT5 for the flash and Mini TT1 for the camera.
The main difference with the second image is the high shutter speed. It didn’t take long to figure out that 1/3200th sec. is the minimum speed for a bluebird in flight. A single flash adds some fill, but not much else. So that limits the depth of field and forces a high ISO setting. Compromise may be out of style in politics, but is required in photography.
Female Bluebird Bringing Food
(Nikon D800E on tripod with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens at 200mm; exposure 1/8000th sec @ f/4.0, ISO 3200; off- camera SB-800 flash for fill light)
The above image shows the maximum sutter speed for the Nikon D800E. Exposures varied widely, depending on the amount of sunlight striking the scene. The flash was not powerful enough to be the dominant factor. (Note to self, save $$ to buy more flashes and transceivers.)
Female and Male Bringing More Food
(Nikon D800E on tripod with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens at 200mm; exposure 1/6400th sec @ f/4.5, ISO 3200; off- camera SB-800 flash for fill light)
Having drawn the line on spending additional cash for gear, the results depended largely on luck. Three factors would have to be favorable: Would the sun be unblocked by clouds or the shade from trees? Would the birds stay within the narrow channel defined by the depth of field? Would I react quickly enough when they arrived? Short answer: “Usually, No.” I now have even more respect for fulltime wildlife photographers who have far less control over shooting situations than I did in this case.
Third Fledging Leaves the Nest
(Nikon D800E on tripod with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens at 200mm; exposure 1/4000th sec @ f/6.3, ISO 1600; off- camera SB-800 flash for fill light)
As proof of that, I was quick enough to obtain only a single image of one of the fledglings as it left the nest and began its life in the wider world. But if you are curious, you can take a peek at a video clip that was recorded at the time on a separte camera. It shows the departure of two of the fledgings. Click Here to see the Video. Who would have thought that the 2nd body I bought for Antarctica would come in handy for photographing bluebirds in Virginia?
Not much post-processing discussed here but there are a lot of examples of exceptional work by the other participants at Stacy’s Visual Venturing site. Please check them out. In the meantime,