Having to work hard to get images

October 04, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

As photographers, sometimes we go through periods whereby we have to work harder to get our images. This can be for a variety of reasons; inability to access a location, lack of time when in the field, poor weather or light, or just plain bad luck. 

I think I speak for all wildlife and nature photographers when I say that 2020 has been beyond challenging. I don't really want to make this blog about the confinement many of us had to endure. However, I have found that coming out of confinement and getting back into photography has been one of the most challenging things I've encountered this year. When you go out into the field on a regular basis, things for the most part come naturally, and I tend to find I focus more on my field craft than my camera craft. However since June this year, the times I have been out with the camera I've struggled with almost every aspect of my photography. Every time I went out with the camera I failed. As a result, I didn't make any vlogs from the field despite intending to do so. When I returned and look at my images I was frustrated and disappointed. I was mostly frustrated by my compositions, but as a result I was making silly errors. This created a viscous circle...the more mistakes I made, the more I wanted to break the cycle and produce something I was proud of. 

Some weeks back, I decided to just stop. Put my camera down and stop thinking about photography. I think this was much needed. It was time to regroup, reflect and work out what wasn't working for me...

After reflection I realised two things were bugging me:

  1. I was putting too much pressure on myself to deliver something.
  2. I wasn't giving myself enough time when heading out into the field. 

Basically, I wasn't planning enough, when I did get out I was rushing, and expecting to produce something from nothing in poor light or bad weather. 

I therefore did some planning. I decided to book some time at a couple of dedicated wildlife hides in November. This does a couple of things. It blocks off a dedicated time where I just focus on photography. It also stacks the odds in my favour of seeing and photographing my chosen subjects. 

Autumn colours: G9/100-400mm f4.0-6.3, 100mm f8.0, 1/125, ISO 1600

To prepare, I recently went out to a local nature reserve with my Lumix G9 and the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens. Even though this reserve was just 35kms from my home, I had never visited it before. And as a bonus, the reserve had a bird observation hide. The weather has been typically autumnal, with clouds and rain. So light has been at a premium. Armed with my camera I walked around the reserve before reaching the hide. This is a good practice as you start to "tune in". It helps me listen to the birds calling and gives me an opportunity to get my eye in and spot them. 

As I walked around the reserve it started to rain, and so I didn't break out the tripod to get some landscapes. Instead I headed to the hide. The hide was well constructed with good portals to look through. However, the position, as with many hides in public nature reserves was not the best. Situated between two ditches and not actually on the lakes themselves, meant you could not clearly see the water. There wasn't any waterfowl present, but if there had been, it would have been frustrating. I could hear birds all around me, but I couldn't see any. On one side there were plenty of reeds. But not a bird in sight. On the other side, a ditch with water, it was dark, and murky. Very difficult conditions photographically; poor light, and a lot of foliage and clutter. So I decided to sit a while and wait things out. This wasn't going to be easy. 

The hide, surrounded by foliage.

After some time, I spotted some movement. I caught a glimpse and flash of red. Sure enough I spotted a Robin down in the ditch. It was perched nicely. This is where the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens comes into it's own. Shooting in aperture priority mode, I pushed the ISO up to 1600. This gave me a shutter speed of 1/160 at f6.3, at a focal length of 400mm. This is a shutter speed which is way under the ideal. At 400mm, ideally I'd like to be at 1/800 shutter speed for birds. But with the G9's in body stabilisation, and the optical image stabilisation (OIS) in the lens, I know I have a good chance at slower shutter speeds to get a sharp shot. It is all about picking my moment. Birds move fast. But you can anticipate when they will stay still. And the burst speed on the G9 helps me get 12 frames per second. More than enough to get a good shot. 

So how did I do? These were three shots I'm happy with. Using the focal length I was able to get a clean line of sight through the foliage and compose for the subject. You can see around the edges of the frame, just how much foliage and clutter I was contending with. The other thing to point out is how clean this image is. I read so much about how the micro four third systems, with small sensors suffer from noise when shooting at high ISO. Yes there is noise when shooting at ISO 1600. But this cleans up very well and easily using Adobe Lightroom.   

Panasonic Lumix G9/100-400mm f4.0-6.3, 400mm f6.3, 1/125, ISO 1600

Panasonic Lumix G9/100-400mm f4.0-6.3, 400mm f6.3, 1/125, ISO 1600

Panasonic Lumix G9/100-400mm f4.0-6.3, 400mm f6.3, 1/125, ISO 1600
 

The result was just 3 images. Ones that I had to work very hard for. Yes, I was sat in a hide. I was dry and relatively warm on a cold autumnal day. But there were very few birds present. And with such density of foliage, without a line of sight to the lakes either side of the hide, it was very hard to spot any birds. But these images were the result of be addressing my two points of frustration; giving myself time, and not putting pressure on myself. 

As I left the hide and headed back towards my car, I had that little bit of luck...

I spotted a bird that I've never seen or photographed before. A long tailed tit. I was quite far away, and the bird was above me, which isn't ideal. Still, with the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens, I was able to frame the bird and get a proof shot. It's never going to win any awards (hahah!), but sometimes proof shots are good. In this case I was very happy to observe this bird and document it for my portfolio. 

Panasonic G9/100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens, f6.3, 1/320, ISO 1600.

The long tailed tit is a stunning bird. I do hope I get to sight one again. This in itself is a reason to return, and if I'm lucky, I may get a closer sighting and a nice portrait image. 

Until next time...

Jon


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