This is one species that I’ve been gunning after for a long time. Dark-eyed Juncos are not uncommon, in fact they can be downright plentiful. The challenge is getting close enough to the to get the shot. They are a winter bird here in Massachusetts, which means that I have the challenge of taking an image of a black bird in white snow. Adding insult to injury, we get the “Slate-colored” race.
But it’s all good. After a stormy day I had the time get into an area where they were feeding and after a while, they just went about their business. The male Slate-colored males are darker than the females. The first two photos are of a male, the rest are female.
I’m rather happy with these images. I hope you like them too. What’s the tech to get a black bird in white snow? Juncos are twitchy birds. I increased the ISO to 320, which is on the edge of how far I’ll push this camera. I increased the exposure for the whole shoot to +1.3 EV. Why?
Take a look at the American Tree Sparrow to the left. I took this in the exact same conditions as the Juncos above, except I had the EV compensation set to 0.0EV. (Okay, I was shooting off the snow at a more neutral scene when this Tree Sparrow jumped out and rather than get nothing, I took a shot and then set my compensation. Since I shoot in RAW, I could pull this image out of the dirt.)
My camera tried to make all that snow look like 18%, which made the birds look like black blob. Since snow is not 18% gray, the answer is to increase the exposure. If it seems wonky to increase your exposure when shooting snow, think of it this way. Your camera is looking at a lot of white and it is programmed to make a perfect exposure of an 18% gray card. If you take a picture of an 18% gray card with your camera on auto pilot, it will look 18% gray. If you take a picture of an snow bank, it will look 18% gray. If you lengthen the exposure the snow bank will come out white. Give it a go.
Now about shooting RAW. If the above was a JPG, I’d be tossing it onto the cutting room floor. Below is the same photo increased by 1.3 stops. Bada-boom bada-bing. I got my photo. RAW gives me a little more exposure forgiveness. Yes, I could fix the photo, but getting it right in the camera is important to me. It saves me work in the darkroom when I can see a image downloaded that is closer to the finished product.