Wildlife photography technique – birdlife of the Farne Islands
So in the continual search for improving my wildlife photography I decided a workshop on bird photography would be good and Hawkshead Photography day on the Farne Islands on 11 June 2013 attracted me. I have to say it was great fun and Kaleel and Trai we both informative and really helpful.
Whilst I ‘sorted’ my autofocus issues (see earlier blog) I still hadn’t tested the ideas in anger. In addition I thought I would ‘test’ the Nikon 200-400 f/4 that Florian advised he used for 80-90% of his wildlife image and so I rented one from LensForHire (who I can really recommend – a great service). In discussion with Alan from Hawkshead beforehand I decided to use my D800 rather than my D7000.
Out of interest if I sound informed about the birds of the Farne Islands in this blog its because I bought Kaleel’s book Wildlife of the Farne Islands: A Guide to All the Major Breeding Species.Includes professional photography tips – its recommended.
The Puffin’s are what I had in my mind to photograph and I think I got some nice shots with many good take off shots – it was quite breezy and Trai pointed out a spot where the Puffin’s took off into the wind on a headland. I also spotted a nesting area where Puffin’s would come in with Sand Eels in their beaks.
Before you get far off the boat however you have to dodge the Artic Terns who nest close to the path and are vicious. We had been advised about hats – I used my Tilly with extra padding in the crown and even then it hurt especially if they got their beak into one of the “eyes” in the side wall of the Tilly – next time I am going to craft something more robust. Kaleel likes using flash to capture the terns going for you I tried this with my Zeiss 21mm set to f8.0 initially though I used my D7000 with a 16-85 on without a flash. I like the flash idea although it has the consequence of a 1/250 shutter which is perhaps a little slow – I am sure there is a way to freeze the action more with the flash.
The other Auks other than Puffins are Guillemots with similar numbers they need a reasonable amount of ‘pulling’ in post processing as they are quite dark! There are also a few Razorbills.
Another ‘dark’ bird is the Shag and found a lovely shot of one on the nest with a chick – I used my Zeiss 100m f/2.0 Makro-Planner and the boken is great. I must do a blog on this lens I’ve been a bit slack recently.
The gulls are interesting I particularly liked the Kittiwakes but found myself on a cliff above their nests and the 200-400 is quite heavy to handhold I had been using my Safari monopod technique quite well with the Puffins but this was impractical when shooting below me. In retrospect I should have put my 70-200 f/2.8 on. The other gull of interest, and not that common, was the massive Great Black-backed Gull. There were more of the Lesser Black-Backed ones – though still not many. The Great does a nice line in eating young Puffin’s. I like the shot below with the Puffin’s ducking. Of note this shot had the x2 teleconvertor on (so 800mm) and it worked well with a central focal point.
The final shot I was ‘at sea’ with a rolling boat and the birds (Gannet’s) flying across us a 45 degree’s at some distance and hand holding the 200-400 – I got several sharp shots!
Personal learning notes
- The obvious thing I learned is about understand your “prey” – Scout out the lay of the land and observe behaviours. On the Farne’s wind direction and observation of take off and landing directions is important.
- The Nikon 200-400 f/4.0 and D800 combination is amazing.
- I don’t use flash so I need to read up about freezing action with flash. [Update 01/08/2013 see blog]
- Trai suggested trying to use the [AF-ON] button for focus and disable focus on the [Shutter-Release] apparently Alan uses this technique but neither of us could work the settings out – I need to investigate and try it. [Update 01/08/2013 see blog]