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Catch of the Day

By Meta_Morph
Not my usual subject, but caught my eye. Submitted for CC, original uploaded as V1.

Looking for feedback on:
- How to improve the sharpness of bird photography (within the limits of my lens). Is it the crop, the focus, the lens, handholding (camera has IBIS) or something else causing this?

- How do I work out at what distance the lens will perform best? Is there an optimum setting shutter speed/setting I should aim for?

- Views on the editing and crop. Edited in LR, reducing exposure on the background and increasing clarity on the bird, some colour emphasis on the eye and blood. Tried to solve the over exposure on his back but could not achieve this.

Your thoughts and feedback appreciated Smile

Tags: Seagull Seagull bird Wildlife and nature Nature and wildlife bird eating

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dudler Plus
19 1.9k 1954 England
10 Feb 2022 5:39PM
Hi, Hannah -

A couple of thoughts, although bird photography definitely isn't my thing...

First, you need fine control of your focus point - use one AF area, placed over the near eye of the bird. I suspect that the A6600 will allow that. If all else fails and you know you're going to crop, as you did here, set the central AF point only, and centre that on the eye. Here, it looks as if the sharpest focus is just beyond, and that will either be a different AF point selecting itself, or movement between focus and shutter release altering the distance between you and the subject.

There's not a specific distance that is markedly better for sharpness. For all practical purposes, most lenses are able to do well at any distance they can focus on. Aperture matters, though - stopping down a little improves sharpness. Ideally two stops, but if you need the widest aperture, go for it!

To find out about all the practicalities, find a nice brick wall, and take test shots at varying apertures and shutter speeds to test things. Ditto your ability, aided by the IS system, to hold the camera still. Armed with that information, you can shoot birds with confidence. Also test how high you can wind the ISO without degrading quality too much.

The crop is very purposeful - it's all about the kill! I'd say it's pretty good.

Others will be along soon...
chase Plus
17 2.4k 644 England
10 Feb 2022 6:17PM
Hi Hannah, lots of questions, I will try to answer some of them.
Firstly, handheld is always going to be tricky, even once focussed, just the slightest movement will put the focus off kilter especially with your lens at full tilt and with a fair old distance between you and your subject. So far away, that teeny eye is difficult to pick out. A sturdy tripod really is a must.

Secondly, this is a huge crop, that in itself will show lack of focus up much more.I can see why you went for it though.

I think Willie may be the one to get to the nitty gritty on optimal distance for that lens.

You sensibly pushed up the ISO to give you a better speed, I reckon you could have increased your shutter speed even further, less chance of photographer movement or subject shift.

As far as the highlights go, birds feathers are very reflective and you have taken this when the sun would be at it's strongest. A day with cloud cover is the way forward just to diffuse that harsh light a little.

I don't think there is much you can do about sharpness/ detail here, I will have a go with the highlights, see what, if anything comes to in the wash.
chase Plus
17 2.4k 644 England
10 Feb 2022 6:35PM
Mod uploaded, I used your original image.
Cropped but not as close as you perhaps wanted to go.
Attempted the highlights but there was no detail left in there, they just went grey as you can probably see.
Tried a drop of sharpening on the eye of the bird and lightened slightly.

Converted to sRGB colour profile as that is the one recommended for upload here and the web generally.
I couldn't bring any more sharpness/detail to the image.
Just warmed the frame up a little too.
chase Plus
17 2.4k 644 England
10 Feb 2022 7:29PM
One review on this lens states that sharpness is really compromised at 210mm
banehawi Plus
18 2.8k 4323 Canada
10 Feb 2022 7:37PM
Hi Hannah.

First, can I assume you are using the rear LCD to touch focus and shoot, as you previously mentioned?

If this is the case, focus should be good. looking at the full sized image, and looking at the stones in the top of the wall, they are in focus and reasonably sharp.

Thats leaves us with a couple of points; the Gull was moving most likely, requiring a faster shutter speed, so using shutter priority and selecting a faster speed, lets say 1/1000th could be an improvement; then theres time of day, not the best for this type of shot as you may have lower contrast; lastly, and its a difficult one; the kit lenses that came from Sony for this camera series are not very sharp even in ideal conditions. So theres a limit to how sharp an image can be optically. But with time and practice you can still produce acceptable images.The sensor and electronics of the A6600 are superior, and good glass can extract the most of of the camera. Check the used market for bargains; in the Sony world the 18-105, and 15-135 are both well reviewed.

When I get back to my PC with Photoshop, Ill take a closer look.


banehawi Plus
18 2.8k 4323 Canada
10 Feb 2022 8:46PM
I downloaded your large image and looked closer.

Theres only the tiniest bit of overexposed white on the gulls neck which can be dealt with in RAW editing by reducing highlights; the gull is focused and reasonably sharp; apparent sharpness looks lower as theres no feather detail, a combination of lens limits and the light at the time of day as far as I can see; if the gull was moving, - it was a very small amount, - can also affect apparent sharpness anyway.

Exposure is a little low, - lifted in the mod, and that may help; as well as a little sharpening applied to the gulls head and eye, also done in the mod.

Zooming way in, as with your original upload only makes matters worse, - its over a 200% zoom, and we should judge sharpness at 100%; any ISO noise will detract from sharpness. Its something we all do, - its called pixel peeping, - but if it looks good at 100%, than thats mission accomplished.

So overall its decent; use shutter priority for birds and animals that can move


10 Feb 2022 9:06PM
Thanks John, not sure that it's my thing either, but this one was doing something interesting. Helpful advice regarding the focal point. I am not sure I have got my settings right for this on the camera, I will look again at this.

When you say stop down, do you mean increasing the number and decreasing the size, so f8? Arne had said, on previous post, to widen the aperture for sharpness f22 to f11, so had assumed larger was better. Is there a sweet spot in the middle or have I misunderstood the advice? Or does it depend on how much light there is?

So to the brick there such a thing as a nice one? In any event an apt metaphor for where I am at with my photography. I will try it...photographing it will I am sure be less painful that hitting it, metaphorically or otherwise Wink

Thanks again for your advice, much appreciated
10 Feb 2022 9:30PM
Hi Janet,

Thanks for your feedback and the mod, much appreciated. The article was interesting and helpful. I can see that a number of things have affected my chances of getting a better shot here. I will try again in cloudy conditions, with a higher shutter speed and smaller sized aperture. I am off to get a tripod on Saturday and will see if I can catch some birds in my garden, once I have finished photographing the wall of course Wink

10 Feb 2022 9:34PM
Willie, I want to give some thought to your comments and modifications, but its getting late. So will come back to you tomorrow, if that is ok? Thanks Hannah
dudler Plus
19 1.9k 1954 England
11 Feb 2022 8:32AM
Stopping down means making the aperture physically smaller. The f-number is the ratio between the size of the aperture and the focal length - so f/8 means the hole in the middle is 1/8 of the focal length. Because of the way it's calculated, a lower number means a bigger aperture - 1/2 the focal length is a larger hole than 1/8.

You get greater depth of field as you stop down from f/4 to f/16, but the greatest sharpness may reduce - most lenses are capable of resolving the most detail two or three stops down from maximum aperture, as the effect of uncorrected aberrations reduces. However, as the aperture gets physically quite small, diffraction effects start to spoil things. O Level Physics is helpful with this!

The bottom line is that one chooses the aperture to get the depth of field one needs, if there is enough light around: otherwise, open up so you can take a picture. If you understand depth of field and the exposure triangle, you're well on the way to cracking the technical stuff.

That is a lot to take in at once, but it's absolutely fundamental to mastering a camera - and may well be the hardest part of it all to understand, so it's worth it!
11 Feb 2022 1:04PM
Hi Willie,

In response to your comments re lenses. I bought both my lenses 2nd hand so not wedded to either. I just wanted something to get started and to understand what I needed before investing heavily. I will check out those lenses you have suggested.

Your modifications are good and have helped me to understand how to improve the image, but without the tight crop it loses it's impact. Since the crop is too much, it is a bit of a dud. However, I am glad I shared it with you, as the knowledge you and the team have shared with me is valuable.

Thank you for your helpful advice much appreciated Smile Hannah
11 Feb 2022 1:35PM
Hi John,

Thank you for coming back to me on this, much appreciated.

Your explanation and the links provided are very helpful, I am trying to get my head around the physics, but it is the interaction between all three aspects of the triangle and the multiple variations which are challenging.

I am a visual learner so need to see the difference to understand it...which brings us back to the wall, and your initial advice.

Thanks again,
Hannah Smile

mrswoolybill Plus
15 3.4k 2548 United Kingdom
11 Feb 2022 2:57PM
Hi Hannah, I'm sorry I'm a bit late! You have pretty comprehensive critique above, I hope that you are getting your head round the essential trinity act - ISO, aperture, shutter speed. It's a bit like juggling and trying to keep three balls in the air. They all matter, in different ways, and you have to watch all of them.

You were using a program mode, it actually served you quite well. The camera used the largest aperture available at that focal length, and increased ISO to allow for a shutter speed that should be fast enough for hand-holding that focal length. I would say learn from that, but try to take greater control, because that is how you will get to understand the settings better.

Did program give you one single focal point or a pattern? That is really important. If you saw a pattern of points that would explain softness on the head.

One point that I would make is that photographers need to be constantly aware of the light. The word photography means drawing with light... This was taken at lunchtime, the light on the top of the bird's head is quite harsh, the side of the face is in shadow. That's not ideal, though you cannot tell them to pose differently...

I also feel that your crop is too tight. It actually works to give the bird a bit more space. I've added a modification, based on your original, with the bird's eye on the lower right third. I am not addicted to the rule of thirds, but it can be a useful starting point.

I darkened on highlights and then made a Levels tweak, moving the outer sliders in. I did some very gentle dodging (highlights) and burning (midtones and shadows) on the head, and particularly on the eye. Then I used the Elements sharpening tool gently on the head and particularly that eye. I'm quite pleaed with the result.

I also removed a tiny white spot above the eye - I don't know what it is but it really annoyed me!

11 Feb 2022 4:06PM
Hi Moira

Thank you for your comments and taking the time to do a modification. I agree with you, it is a good mod and has improved the image, particularly the sharpness.

I still prefer the tighter crop which says to me 'sinister' rather than 'greedy', but accept this is not viable given the quality of the image.

From memory it was a pattern of 7 or so small squares centred on the head. Not sure if I can change this on this mode but will check.

I will take on board your comments and no doubt be back for further advice in the future.

Thanks to you and the team for all your help it is much appreciated.

Hannah Smile
mrswoolybill Plus
15 3.4k 2548 United Kingdom
11 Feb 2022 4:50PM
Thanks for coming back - and for joining in the conversation! It helps no end, and this is a case in point:

Quote:From memory it was a pattern of 7 or so small squares centred on the head. Not sure if I can change this on this mode but will check.

It really is important that you move away from this. If I ruled the world such set-ups would be illegal... I find that a lot of people assume that everything within that pattern will be sharp - it won't! The camera is effectively trying to guess where you want to focus, without actually knowing what you are photographing, and so it will average out between the different points. If just one of those seven points fell outside the head it would risk messing things up.

The more specialist the subject, the more precise you need to be in the instructions that you give the camera. So one focusing point, and place it very carefully - here it needs to be on the eye.

It looks as though the manual for your camera I available online, but my laptop is going slowly today, I haven't been able to get into it. But I would suggest that you check through the section on auto-focus. The manufacturer's spec indicates that you can call up a single point and move it around.
11 Feb 2022 5:41PM
Hi Moira,

Yes, that was precisely what I assumed. Thanks for enlightening me!

I have just checked my camera and it only offers zone which it decides on Auto. On P, A,S and M it offers wide, zone, centre, flexible spot which you can choose, expanded flexible spot which it selects, and tracking flexible spot again which it decides.

I have been using the manual flexible spot on A and S as advised by Willie, but not here as on Auto. Tbh I wonder why the option had disappeared!

This is most helpful Moira, and all the more reason to get off Auto.

Thank you
Hannah Smile
mrswoolybill Plus
15 3.4k 2548 United Kingdom
11 Feb 2022 5:48PM
After I had typed the above it occurred to me that it was possibly down to the mode. You know what the lesson is... Wink
dudler Plus
19 1.9k 1954 England
12 Feb 2022 9:37AM
Another of those little learning curves, Hannah - but once you get used to using Aperture or Shutter priority, it's actually not any extra trouble. Indeed, it saves you from the times when the combination of settings that Program selects is just wrong for your subject... And you don't notice...

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