Sunday, January 18, 2009

Common Eider Photo Study, it isn't always "Black and White"

It was -2F when I got up yesterday morning. I really wasn’t up for going out to shoot. But after spending a couple of extra hours inside, couldn’t help but notice that the boats coming in were covered with ice and I had nothing to kvetch about. These Gloucestermen were out there all night bringing home dinner for America.

Foxy Lady with ice.© 2009 ShootingMyUniverse

I went over to the Maritime Heritage Center to look for some ducks. The tide was out so the angles were too steep to make real good water fowl shots, but my philosophy is never pass up a perfect bird picture opportunity, even if it’s just an air rat. I humbly tender this offering to prove that I practice what I preach. Yes, I took this Rock Dove portrait while waiting for a better picture to come swimming by.

Yes folks, I took this picture this morning waiting for a good gull or duck shot.

Common Eiders
We have lots of Common Eiders in Gloucester. They are peaceful ducks and except for the occasional breeding time squabble, they are very sociable birds. They swim together in rafts from a couple up to twenty or thirty birds. They do not take kindly to bipeds, and like Lyndsay Lohan trying to get out of a club dodging the paparazzi, they swim away, babbling something in Eiderspeak which I’m sure makes false accusations about the marital status of my parents. But I love Eiders and they have been a constant joy to have here in Gloucester Harbor.

Common Eider. © 2009 ShootingMyUniverse

Common Eider. © 2009 ShootingMyUniverse

Common Eider. © 2009 ShootingMyUniverse

Common Eider. © 2009 ShootingMyUniverse

I was out there with full frame matrix metering. (What was I thinking?) Usually, I try to narrow down the metering and try to get the camera to average over the highlights and the blacks. The trick is to not blow out the whites as I did above and get a good reflection off the eye that it can be discerned.

Spot metering on black and white birds produces disastrous results. Meter on the whites and black have no tonal interest. Meter off the blacks and the whites are blown out. A useful tip is to meter off of your hand. This works well, but you have to be able to shoot in manual mode. And today, I wasn't about to take my gloves off and diddle with knobs. (Reference the first picture!)

Well, when it is cold out and I’m moving fast on my feet, I don’t think, I just go into “the zone”. Male Common Eiders in breeding plumage are tough. They have the most subtle pastel greens in the face and neck and a pink wash in the breast, almost captured in the final frame above.

Below is a Common Eider taken in more diffuse light. The sun was back-lighting the duck and I spot metered on the white. Not my first choice, but how the camera was set for shooting the Purple Sandpipers when this Eider came in view. Note that the beautiful pastels were captured, but the details in the blacks are lost. I actually like all of these shots, they all have their plus points and minus points. Let’s just drop the technical analysis and just have fun.

Common Eider. © 2009 ShootingMyUniverse


The Early Birder said...

Thanks for the technical lesson Steve - very helpful. Lovely shots of the Eiders in harmony with the water.

Kerri said...

Oh Steve....they are lovely! I can definitely see the pastels in the last shot! I thought the Rock Dove was pretty amazing too!!

Eve said...

First of all very funny commentary Steve! I think you did pretty good with a difficult situation. I find sometimes in Photoshop I can get some of the detail back in the blown out areas with curves. I love working in layers but only when its a real urgent case. Your photos are always so crisp they are stunning. I think the Rock Rat...I mean dove....(no offence, our doves out in the country aren't as annoying as they can be) is just a beautiful portrait and I love the blues of the fishing boat photo. Well done!
Alabama is looking better everyday! I’m wondering if I’ll ever get there!

A New England Life said...

Okay, you lost me at 'full frame matrix metering'. I have much to learn. Right now I'm just a woman with a camera doing the best she can.

The birds and photo's are gorgeous!!! I would be interested to know if you used Photoshop on any of them, and if so, what steps you took.


Steve B said...

Hi Early Birder, I hope there was some useful information and it didn't get lost in the ramble. Hope it helps.

Kerri, I was on a dock, the Rock Dove was looking at me, "You taking pictures of birdies?" "Oh, okay", I relented. When I brought the camera up, I though to myself...This actually might be a good image. Here it is, full frame and as shot.

Eve, Bless you for being a Photoshop person. I've never got the hang of layers and I know that one can do wondrous things.

Ansel Adams, for those in the know, was a ~master~ in the darkroom. That is where his images were ~made~. Photoshop is our darkroom.

NCmountainwoman said...

I do love eider ducks. Nice photos.

Steve B said...

Hi Sharon, Sorry for throwing jargon around. Modern cameras have several ways for a photographer to judge how much light comes into the camera. Today, it is done automatically. Only professional and really serious amateurs use hand held light meters.

Our cameras have microprocessors that will sample the image on the sensor and determine how to take the picture. There are three basic modes. Full Screen, Center Weighted and Spot.

Full screen samples all the light hitting the sensor and comes up with an average exposure. In my photos above the ocean, was dark, the black parts of the duck are dark and the whites are brilliant white. As a consequence, my whites became “Blown Out” meaning all of the details and subtle colors were wash out, never to be recovered, even with Photoshop as Eve suggested.

Center weight metering has a circle of about 25% of the center. (It varies from camera to camera.) It will only sample the light in the circle in the middle. In my shots above, I could point that circle onto a black/white boundary and get a 50-50 average on those exposure values.

Spot metering is when you know there is something that you want to emphasis and you want that spot to be exposed properly. Spot meters are usually a 2% circle that is chosen. I can put my “spot meter” on a person’s face and have it exposed perfectly, regardless of the background lighting.

As I said above, if I spot metered on the whites, the dark details would have been lost. If I metered on the blacks, the whites would have blown out. With many birds, such as the Sanderlings, you have black and white birds. Welcome to my private photographic hell! With the last picture, I got away with spot metering because of the lighting conditions and only God knows where the spot meter was pointed because I was just shooting the Purple Sandpipers when the Eider popped out.

I chose spot metering on the Purple Sandpipers because the birds were backlit by the reflection from the ocean. I knew that the tonal range of the ocean was close enough and there were dark rocks and seaweed to contend with. I really wanted to properly expose the birds.

Doug Taron said...

Great shots all around. My two favorite Cape Ann winter ducks are common eiders and buffleheads. Sounds like it has warmed up rapidly and you're getting rain today.

A New England Life said...

Thanks for the info Steve. I'm going to take a few minutes and try to take it all in.

My friend invited me to go to a Photography class this Tuesday but after looking it up online, turns out it's only for DSLR's and mine falls just short of that. Oh well.


Jenny said...

I love the head shot of the male eider particularly Steve. Dont Common Eiders have the most sexy call? (-: Or maybe suggestive would be a better term.

Steve B said...

Hi Doug, We've had a mixed bag today. Rain, heavy snow until 3:00 and then calm. Ir is much warmer.

Sharon, the doo-dads on my old Cannon Powershot and my Nikon D80s are about the same. The D80s are more wiz-bang, but the basics are the same. I'd say go and don't be scared. Take away what you need and leave the rest. I'll bet your camera is more like a DSLR than you may realize.

Well, Jenny, I guess being male, they got to show off a bit. I guess the galls like it, they all get a long so famously.

Mary said...

Steve, your technical expertise is way above my level - the talk of matrix matering, etal, isn't even familiar to me. My goal ion 2009 is to take a course in photography.

You have mastered your camera well.

And, those shots are glorious. I love the way the sky reflects on waves.


SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

We do need to sometimes count our blessings and think of those out there doing what they have to do to earn a living. Beautiful pics Steve. White is SUCH a difficult color sometimes.

Kallen305 said...

Amazing photos. I love how you can see the ripples in the water.

John Theberge said...

Great duck photos, I like the abstract patterns the reflections in the water create.

Steve B said...

Yes, I've learned a few things in my 33 years of releasing the shutter. In my youth, I fully resisted auto-this and auto-that. Today, you cannot get a manual lens and everything is so wiz-bang. I'm afraid I'm getting fat and lazy in my middle age. However I still shoot 90% on aperture priority. For my work, depth of field rules.

Kudos to Kim and John. These pictures aren’t just about the duck! Thanks for noticing. I go over to The Maritime Heritage Center because that is where these reflections are the best!

~Laura~ said...

Love those pictures! Thanks for the tips too and I want your camera!!!

Tabib said...

Great photograph and technical tips.

yen said...

great post, the photograph are crisp and lot of details, love it.

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