The alarm went at 02.50 this morning. Is that even morning? I was off to try and photograph some Ospreys fishing in one of the lochs on the Rothiemurchus estate in the Cairngorms National Park. Since spending some time filming Ospreys last summer I now have a real fascination for them. They are one of those creatures that possess senses and abilities that we humans can only dream about. Not only are they an incredible bird of prey but their instinctive route-finding seems almost magical. They navigate across the globe twice a year during their emigration from Scotland to Africa, returning to the same nests they left months before. As we increasingly rely on our phones or Dr Dre personalised TomToms to reach even the most straight forward destinations, this fills me with awe. So here is my article about Wildlife photography lessons learnt. This morning I spent about 5 hours hiding by a loch as the local bird community came to life. 2 Ospreys came down to fish, one of whom was successful. I got some great photographs to take away.
Equipment Camera: Canon 7d The 7d is great for fast wildlife photography for a few reasons. It can shoot a pretty rapid 8 frames per second, giving you a bit of leeway to capture that split second moment that defines the action. It also has a very capable Auto-Focus system consisting of 19 Auto-Focus sensor points, meaning your subject can be kept in sharp focus as it moves through the frame. The 7d is a 1.6 crop sensor camera meaning it has a smaller sensor than a full frame camera. This means that the crop sensor image is effectively enlarged to become the same size as a full frame image, which means the images you produce seem 1.6x more ‘zoomed’ in than the same shot with the same lens from a full frame camera. This can be helpful to give you a bit more reach. Lens: Canon 70-200ml 2.8 L This is a serious lens! It is a big and heavy beast but offers amazing image quality. Since the aperture can be kept at a constant wide setting of 2.8, it lets in lots of light which allows you to boost the shutter speed and capture fast action with razor sharp focus, even when the light is dim. I also was using a Canon Extender 2x which is a wee lens add-on that effectively lengthens your zoom by 2x. Making you feel twice the man! Tripod: Manfrotto 055XPRO with Manfrottos 501HDV fluid video head Since I was using a big heavy lens and was waiting for hours at a time, it was a welcome relief to have the tripod with me. I was using the video head as was also shooting video throughout the day. Snacks: Flask of Lemon and Ginger tea. Cheese and mayonnaise sandwiches. Righteous goodness of herbal tea totally undone by greed of 2 butter and mayo laden cheese sandwiches, on top of normal breakfast. Settings As I arrived at 3.30, the dawn was just appearing and light gradually began to fill in across the loch. I was waiting for a good hour and a half before the first Osprey turned up but was taking lots of pictures of 3 ducks squabbling and quacking in the meantime. I was getting reasonably sharp duck shots with a shutter speed of 1/100 and aperture of 2.8 (fully open) but the ISO had to be ramped up to 3200. On the 7d this means the image becomes really noisy. (Full frame cameras are typically better in low light). I find any ISO above 1600 is more noisy than I’d like. If you re forced to cope with low light, its best to ramp up the ISO to ensure the image is exposed properly. If you try and under-expose and then tweak exposure in Photoshop the quality goes downhill really fast. However, Ive also been using a fantastic noise reduction plugin called Neat Image. They do both video and stills versions and they are awesome. As the Ospreys started bombing down for their breakfast I knew I had to boost up the shutter speed to keep up. The speed at which they hit the water is impressive. I didnt get any good shots of them in flight before they hit the loch, just too damn quick! They still move pretty fast once they re in the water. I was shooting these shots at 1/1500 again with aperture 2.8 but ISO down to 1600. You could use a slower shutter speed to get some nice blurred movement of the wings while keeping the Osprey’s eyes/head sharp, which I was planning to try if more birds appeared later. I was shooting in both Shutter priority and Manual as was finding the camera was underexposing slightly in Shutter priority. You can also apply a few plus stops of Exposure compensation to counteract this. I was shooting in AI Servo autofocus mode which means the camera will lock on and track a moving subject to keep it in focus. The autofocus autoselect mode worked the best for consistent sharpness and I was also able to manually give preference to a specific sensor point of where I was hoping to frame the Osprey’s head. The autofocus really shone today and seeing the shots with the sharp, burning yellow eyes of these amazing birds really brought the experience back to life.