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Pushing the limits


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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Pushing the limits

16 Apr 2021 11:18AM   Views : 489 Unique : 288


I’ve written before about the edges, the borderlands that are full of risks, and where – very often – creative stuff happens. This time, I’m talking about pushing on the technical side, and particularly about trying to get wonderful results in areas that cameras and lenses are not well fitted for.

Let’s talk about birds and my garden. I have a 500mm Minolta mirror lens, but it doesn’t make for easy shots of the birds in the garden – for various reasons. The minimum focus is around twenty feet, so I need to use extension tubes. The limited maximum aperture means the ISO has to be way up – and, quite crucially, the AF operates only through an LA-EA4 converter.

This gives my 2018 camera the AF capability of a 2008 camera – nine AF points grouped around the middle of the viewfinder, and a fairly sluggish response from the motor in the converter. There’s a lot of lens to move around. There’s very little chance of keeping up with a robin pecking at the fat balls on the bird feeder… I don’t think there is a cheap way to shoot wildlife, to be honest – but if someone who has found a way, please share it!


Let’s take another example: my Godox flash unit works nicely in the camera’s hot shoe, and came complete with an adaptor and a softbox: you might get the impression that this and a kit zoom lens will give you studio-quality full length pictures. But it doesn’t quite work. At a distance of ten feet and full power on the flash, 100 ISO gives a working aperture of f/4. Even if the lens is sharp at that aperture, the depth of field will be limited… Spend a similar amount of money on the same brand’s studio units and you can be working at a nice, easy f/11, though it won’t fit in a hot shoe.

Don’t make the mistake of moving everything closer and using the lens wideangle: distortion is more than likely, and the lighting may be very uneven across the subject. (Anyone who’s read a few of my blogs, attended one of my workshops in pre-Covid days, or remembers O Level physics will know that this is the result of the Inverse Square Law.)

Now, I’m not suggesting that it’s impossible to shoot wildlife with a small-aperture, slow-focussing lens, or brilliant figure shots with a speedlight, but I will assert that you will need either massive luck, or plenty of practice. It’s like the stories about Paganini deliberately breaking three strings on his violin in a performance to show what he could do with one string: this should not encourage you to cut three strings on you granddaughter’s violin just before the school concert.


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dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
16 Apr 2021 11:19AM
No mistaking where the weakest link in my photography is, is there?
saltireblue Avatar
saltireblue Plus
13 14.8k 92 Norway
16 Apr 2021 11:42AM
Obviously, not all your two-legged models are equally compliant and cooperative, John. Stick to the ones who understand when you speak to them.Wink
Chrism8 Avatar
Chrism8 17 1.1k 34 England
16 Apr 2021 12:03PM
You'd be better off using your Spotmatic John Grin I've a 55-300mm Sigma zoom F4.5 / F5.6 that'll fit, you can have if you can use it
James124 Avatar
James124 Plus
8 109 64 Portugal
16 Apr 2021 1:22PM
Years ago I used a Vivitar 400mm F5.6 TX automatic lens on a Pentax Spotmatic, mounted on a rifle grip, to shoot birds in Gambia. I had some success with Ektachrome slide film (no doubt helped by the bright African sunlight), i developed the Ektachrome myself. One day I'll dig out the slides and try some scans.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
16 Apr 2021 2:09PM
I honestly think my bird photography is beyond redemption, short of getting a very specialist lens, and (crucially) putting a lot more time and effort into an area that doesn't fascinate me with its challenges. From where I am, it's a lot of hard work for not much reward. I am absolutely in favour of wildlife flourishing, and I'm happy to help when I can - but avian portraits? No thanks.
Chrism8 Avatar
Chrism8 17 1.1k 34 England
16 Apr 2021 2:57PM
If its a subject that doesn't fascinate you then Ok, fully accepted, you've enough trees in your garden to attract birds and other wildlife, plus your conservatory would act as a superb hide particularly with the robins, this is a Blue Tit with a 300mm lens on a crop body from iro 6 -7 feet away


would be pleased to help you out with some technique Smile

whatriveristhis Avatar
16 Apr 2021 6:00PM
" a robin pecking at the fat balls on the bird feeder"

That's really unusual – I've only ever seen it once, as robins are physiologically adapted for ground feeding, and find it extremely difficult to perch on a feeder. Or was it a table??

I've had some small success with my 55-200 at full zoom, but getting the focus spot on at the instant of capture isn't easy, and I think in my case there's always a fair bit of luck involved. But since that image was taken I've learned that manual focus is really the way to go.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
17 Apr 2021 8:39AM
No, Alan - our robins (more than one seem to visit us) do perch on the feeder in my pictures, though they also scour the ground beneath it, and come to explore inside the conservatory...

I suspect you're right, and that even the experts in this sort of work have a high failure rate, and they probably regard it the same way that a cabinet-maker regards shavings and sawdust - part of the process, rather than mistakes...
Jestertheclown Avatar
Jestertheclown 15 8.8k 255 England
17 Apr 2021 10:02PM
Robins are really ground feeders although I've also seen Robins at the fatballs in the feeders in my garden on rare occasions but it's unusual.

I suspect that they try the feeders simply because they're seeing other birds getting a meal there.

They don't take seed though. In fact, robins can't digest birdseed as their beaks aren't designed to crack them.

If you're visited by more than one, then they're probably a pair. Having two single males in the garden at once will usually leads to a bloodbath.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
18 Apr 2021 7:17AM
Cheers, Jester!

The upside of showing off my incompetence is learning more about very friendly garden visitors... As it happened, we had a visit yesterday while I was reading in the garden, and I've posted a couple of shots as versions of my Silly Sunday upload.

I hope others will kit up more appropriately for their bird photography...

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