Saturday, February 14, 2009

In search of the perfect exposure for Common Eiders

First, I’m presenting on the 15th and the Matteo Russo family benefit. I’m hoping to meet many of you. Please look for me and say howdy. If you live out of town, Gloucester is at the end of Rt 128, not at the end of the world. The location is 267 East Main Street.

Black and white eiders.
Black and white birds are a challenge. Black and white birds with black heads and black eyes are a real challenge. Having a detail for an eye is an important element in bird photography. When the eye stands out, as with gulls and oystercatchers, the job is easy. When the bird has a black feature and a black eye, then you have a tough row to hoe. Such is the case with male Common Eiders.

Another challenge is the dark blacks and the bright whites. You want to have a photo with good contrast, good detail in the blacks and not have the whites blown out. If the blacks are all one dark shade, you may be able to coax out some detail with exposure compensation, however if the whites are blown out, you will never be able to get the detail to show.

Thus we have the discontinuity between the human eye and photography. The human eye is able to compensate for varying light conditions and color values. It has a much broader tonal range than photography equipment. When we look in the view finder and see the detail, we may become disappointed with what the image sensor records.

I had an opportunity to work with a raft of Common Eiders that swam by me this afternoon. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon, so the sun was still high. Facing the Eiders, in all these pictures, the sun was to the photographer’s left. Not the most optimal conditions, but it was what I had to work with.

Since the raft was very cooperative and I had time to work, I was able to experiment with the setting. I had a varying degree of backgrounds to work with, from the deep blue ocean to more neutral colors. The background will effect the metering.

Schematic of full frame, center weighted averaging and spot metering modes.I shoot aperture priority 90% of the time, this is the A on many camera dials. I like to control my depth of field and I tend to think rather rapidly on my feet in this mode. If I left the camera in automatic, it would have chosen the depth of field, I may or may not have like it. By choosing the f-stop, I control the situation. In this case, I’m working with a raft of ducks, I had plenty of light and I wanted to maximize the number of ducks that are in focus. This may not always be the case, but it was what suited my mood today.

What I have below are photos that have only been edited for sharpness and for composition. I have made no attempt to change exposure levels “in the dark room”. I hope that this inspires you to play with your cameras and optimize your exposures for your subjects.

I have talked about the male Common Eider before. This is a little more in depth. What I present here is not a formula for you to follow, but hopefully give you a feeling that you can take control of a difficult situation.

The photo below was taken with spot metering. I put the spot meter on the white chest. Since I was using f10, I wasn’t too concerned about the eye being out of focus. Spot metering is a feature on many cameras that samples the light levels from a very narrow "spot", generally the field of sample is about 2 degrees.
©2009 ShootingMyUniverse

This photo was taken with -1 stop exposure compensation and full frame metering meaning that the camera determined the average exposure from the entire frame.
©2009 ShootingMyUniverse

This photo was taken with -1 stop exposure compensation and full frame metering. On my monitor, you can bearly see the eye on the forward male. An the photo that I took before with the same exposure, I couldn't see the eye. I turned the brighness of the photo way up and leaned that the ducks were closing their eyes, resting.
©2009 ShootingMyUniverse

This photo was taken with -1/3 stop exposure compensation and center weighted metering. This is a little dissapointing with the whites blown out. Center weighted exposure samples the image from a circle in the frame that covers about 25% of the sensor.
©2009 ShootingMyUniverse

The last photo has spot metering off the breast of the rear duck with not exposure compensation. Note that the pastel colors of the breast are perfectly exposed and the rest of the image's exposure values are determined from this value.

©2009 ShootingMyUniverse

Some cameras have a feature called exposure bracketing. This feature changes the exposure for three consecutive frames by an amount set by the photographer, 1/3rd stop, ½ stop, one stop, etc. It can be set to go longer (+ or over) exposure of shorter (- or under) exposure as determined by the photographer.

It pays to pull out the manual and play with your camera and become familiar with the buttons and features. I hope this is helpful.


Kelly said...

What a great study. Thank you for the research. Up to now, I've sort of just "clicked and hoped." I guess I better start learning more about my camera!

Anonymous said...

That is extremely useful info. I usually use 'spot' metering for single bird shots and 'evaluative' for scenes. I have not looked at 'Auto exposure bracketing' before so I will set that up on one of my user settings. Great - thanks.
I have seen the Eider in Scotland on the shoreline, but they are not in England in my area. The pale green is so unusual.

The Early Birder said...

Thanks for an informative post Steve & for reminding me about 'AE Bracketing' - a useful tool.

Mary said...

Thanks for the information, Steve. I am definitely a novice, just beginning to explore my camera's functions. This is really helpful!

Kallen305 said...

Steve, this is just what I needed to read today! I had this problem today and asked for help. I am printing out this post because it is so helpful.


A New England Life said...

Hi Steve! All I need is to meet you at the waters edge for a live tutorial and we'll go from there, okay? I hate to say it but I'm better when someone shows me how something is done, but your directions are pretty clear and I should be able to work with them.

You sucked me right in with this info. Thank you. My camera has plenty of gadgets and is considered to be very similar to an dslr. Any and all tips are helpful. Love the Eiders! Hopefully I'll see one up close this spring or summer.


Anonymous said...

This is the most beautiful, inspiring blog. We are from CT, and now live in TX, till we move back. Your superb pictures keep us connected to the east coast. Thank you. The Monroe's

SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

These are absolutely, positively perfectly, perfect!! Fantastic shots Steve. I think we sometimes forget all the lovely tools which are there to help us in taking extra special shots. The problem is we so often do not have the time to put them all into place otherwise the animal / bird is gone. :)

Steve B said...

Hi Kelly, I know what you mean. In the film days, I really protested all of the programmed cameras and I thought auto-focus was for sissies. When B got our first point-and-shoot, I didn’t fool with any of the buttons or dials. It wasn’t until I got the D-80s that I sat down with the manual and worked it out.

Hi Frank, I must admit, I need to bracket more myself.

I’m glad that you found it useful. I use spot metering quite a bit. In most cases for wildlife photography, it is my preferred metering. It’s fun to have a few birds in common on our continents. I like to visit you, Frank and Jenny and be able to say, “Hey, I know that bird!”

Steve B said...

Hi Mary, I don’t know about you being a novice, I’ve seen one great image after another on your blog.

Hi Kim, Oh good! Unfortunately, I do not know much about your class of cameras.

Hi M & T, T & T, C & Riri, Welcome to SMU! I’m glad that I can help bring a piece of New England to you every now and then. CT is a beautiful state. I hope at least you get to visit from time to time, at least until you repatriate to the Atlantic North East.

Oh, I know what you mean, Joan! Sometimes I don’t get a shot at all! I was so lucky to have this raft just float by and I actually had time to think of using this opportunity for a tip posting and actually getting a good variety of shots to post. Eiders are great ducks, but they like their space and will keep their distance.

Jenny said...

Hey Steve, this is such a great post, I'm a bit behind in looking through blogs at the moment! I'm never too good at taking in info via the written word, but this was a great tutorial which I think even I could benefit from! (-: What I would really love would be to go out with other photographers and learn soooooo much more that way. I've spoken to Evie (sunnyside up) about this too. Wish I wasn't so far away across the puddle!!!

Eve said...

Hi Steve! I'm catching up here and I just love your class! There is always something to learn with photography.
I have that bracket metering on my camera and have played with it but will have to some work with it. Thanks for the great lesson!

Related Posts with Thumbnails