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mcary

Call for opinions

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Just playing around with photoshop. Nothing serious, but I took a few shots at one of my feeders today. I wasn't very happy with how my abused feeder detracted from the shot. I tried minimizing it by first using selective color highlighting the bird and then tried to reduce it further by applying some blur. I'd like some honest opinions on which one (if any), you all feel works best.

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I must say Mike, I'm not super crazy about either but if I had to pick one I'd pick the middle because in the last one the blurring make the bird stand out from the background and looks "placed" in the picture. I notices it especially on the perch where the little rubber cover is under the feet. It looks like the bird is floating off the perch. The second image is very nicely done. I think you did very well with the selective color. I wonder if it would be better as a vertical crop instead. Maybe even just blurring out the feeder some. Those darn feeders give me fits also. I feel for you.

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I like the 2nd one best.

To get rid of the feeder problem, mount a stick to a post near the feeder, or fasten it to the top of the feeder so it sticks out to the side. Lots of times when the feeder is busy, birds will land on the stick to wait their turn, or just to scope things out before moving to the feeder.

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Good advice Steve. I've been contemplating how I will set everything up in my new yard. I've been trying to conceptualize a set up that could provide a number of different style perches. I may try to rig something up soon to catch any fall migrants as they start to move through.

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Mike, a few more tips.

No matter how many feeding stations you have in your yard, it's best to limit things to one perch and one feeder when you are shooting.

That only gives the birds one option, and it's the option your lens is pointed at.

I have four feeders, but when I go out into the blind, I take down all but a tray feeder mounted on a post (the others are hanging feeders and are portable). So the birds have to come to the one feeder. And then I put up a single perch with no branches on it (that's why they call it bird-on-a-stick) that's only about a foot long. One feeder, one simple perch. Why? Birds move fast, as we know, and it's darn hard to capture them when they can come to multiple feeders or a perch with several different landing/perching points.

For that great buttery bokeh background, relative distance is more important than aperture. Put the perch only a few inches past the minimum focus distance of the lens, and try to position it so the background is a good 30 or 40 feet behind the perch. DOF is shallower the closer the subject is to the camera, so that combo of factors should do you fine.

I shot the 100-400, with its MFD of six feet, that way for a couple years with bird-on-a-stick (mostly at f8 to sharpen the lens up a bit and at 400mm), and the BG bokeh is sweet and smooth. If you can duplicate the conditions I suggested, you don't need f2.8 at all. With that lens on a 1.6 crop body at 400mm and just past MFD, I could fill half the frame with a chickadee, and you want a little room around the bird anyway, so that was just right. If a bigger bird landed, I'd zoom out a bit.

I always used one shot focus mode on the center focus point, and would lock focus on the head and then quickly recompose (a matter of a simple short fast movement with my tripod ballhead fairly loose) to make the shot. It takes some practice to do it in a split second, but practice is really all it takes. High speed burst mode all the way, baby!

Also, I always shot from a tripod, even in nice light. It's impossible to keep the camera up for hours on end handheld and in position to capture a bird that lands and flits away in the space of a second, and if you keep the camera in your lap and jerk it up to capture an image when the bird lands, you either won't have enough time before the bird flies away or your movement (seen by the bird through the window opening) will spook the subject into flight.

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I like the second as well Mike. Steve has some nice tips but one I will add is instead of one shot focus I always use AI Servo and have my focus moved to the back of the camera to the * button.

This allows you to hold down the button to get good focus, release the button and focus now locks. Recompose and shoot. If the bird flies off, hit the * button and you are now tracking focus on the bird again. No need to change focus modes and you get the best of all focus modes with one simple button. I know Nikon can do the same just different terminology.

Seems a bit odd for a few times but very quickly becomes second nature. My cameras are always in this mode shooting everything, sports, wildlife, portraits it makes no difference.

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Thanks for the helpful tips guys.

Steve, I live in prairie country now so getting 30 feet of space behind the perch is easy. My feeders are also easily taken down and the truth is the deer clear out my tray feeder nightly so the only feeder that actually has seed is a tube feeder. So, minimizing options for the birds will be no problem.

Dan, Thanks for the heads up on the focus lock. It's one of those things I've read about in the manual, but never put in to practical use. I'll have to give it a try.

You're both wonderful resources to have around. I appreciate the kindly advice you are willing to give. Mike

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Good luck out there, Mike, or should I say Prairie Man! Quite a different drink of country out there than the boreal forest. gringrin

I agree completely with Dan that, if you can make it work right for you, it's a better focus technique. I did not have much luck with the technique, which I'd also read about and tried for three months in all my shooting. It worked well for me in some cases and poorly in others.

I think a large part of the reason I didn't work well with it in the close-up avian photography of the blind/perch was that I was using equipment less sophisticated than Canon's "1" series bodies and top prime glass. When I'd use al servo and try to lock focus on a bird's head to recompose per that technique, the camera/lens hunted unless it was a contrasty head. There was a lot less hunting for me in one shot mode, and my keeper rate went way up.

I was using the 20D and 30D and the 100-400, and while those bodies and that lens have performed quite well in a lot of arenas for me, the bodies' focus systems are not as sophisticated as the "1" cameras, and the 100-400 is a bit slower than the top Canon primes at acquiring and holding focus. That's what I tell myself is the reason, anyway. To be honest, it could just be that I wasn't very good at that technique. gringrin

While I'm still shooting primarily the 30D, the 100-400 is gone, and I'm shooting the 400 f5.6L, which is darn fast focusing, and the 70-200 f2.8L, which feels just as fast and when using the center focus point on the 30D offers faster and more precise focusing. So with those faster-focusing lenses, it may be time to practice the technique again, because those small differences in lens performance may be enough to make it work for me. Thanks, Dan, for that reminder. smilesmile

I know a lot of people use the technique all the time, and on a variety of bodies. I'd definitely give it a try, Mike. If it works for you, as Dan said it is easily a more elegant focus technique than switching back and forth from one shot to al servo to capture perched vs flying birds.

Since you're in such wide open country and the backgrounds can be very far away, another challenge will be to place the perch/blind in a position that gets you a fairly consistent background. My background is shrubs/brush/woods 40 feet behind the perch, so it's easy to fill the frame with that consistent background. If your background is grass yard, far distant treeline and sky (a pretty common BG in prairie country), you'll have a harder time and may have to experiment much more.

Again, good luck, and be sure to show us how you're doing! gringrin

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I keep my camera in AI Servo all the time. I don't want to miss the chance of getting the shot of a bird taking off. It would be impossible to switch focus modes, and still have the bird in range. I had completely forgot the method that Dan uses. He even demonstrated it when I was at his place. However, while sitting in a blind, one shot would be the way to go. Chances of getting a shot of a bird flying off while in a blind, would be very slim, at least in my blind anyway.

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another challenge will be to place the perch/blind in a position that gets you a fairly consistent background.

I have a hill about 60 ft behind my house that is all prairie grass. Makes the perfect consistent backdrop. Now all I have to do is get something other than finches (and whitetails) at my feeder. We have bluebirds that use my shepherds hooks as vantage points. I'm going to be putting up some bluebird houses next spring to try and keep them close at hand.

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Great news on the BG, though it probably won't be your favorite one come winter.

You can tempt bluebirds onto a perch next to a tray feeder with waxworms and other similar morsels.

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