Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Laws of Digital Photography

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Male purple finch, unhappy to be hounded by a paparazzo.

As editor of Bird Watcher's Digest, I have looked at, oh, perhaps 250,000 bird images in my career. This includes slides submitted for possible use in our various publications, digital images sent in via e-mail, and on CD or disk. Although I am not a professional bird photographer, I do think I know something about what makes a good image--sharpness, color balance, proper exposure, pleasant composition, and so on. But whenever I think I could be a top-flight bird photographer, if I only had $20,000 to sink into professional equipment, life gives me one of those "Not so Fast, my friend" experiences.

What is the one thing keeping me from being a truly good bird photographer (besides the lack of really good equipment)? Patience.

Here's how I know this: All of my photographer friends who are really, really good, devote countless hours to getting their images. They might lie prone in the mud all day long shooting frame after frame of shorebirds. Or they might squat in a blind in the freezing pre-dawn for several days in a row to get the best possible images of lekking prairie chickens. Or they might stalk a particular bird through the woodland edge for an entire morning--for just one shot!

Here's also how I know this: I am WAY too impatient to do these things. So I've opted for digiscoping, using my spotting scope and a digital camera. Easy, right? Well....

I got my new digiscoping rig, with some helpful advice from Clay Taylor at Swarovski Optik North America. And I've been itching to try it out, snapping some shots through the giant glass windows of Julie's studio (which makes the images come out slightly milky). It's 4 degrees outside. And though I am eager to get some good digiscoping shots, I am not THAT eager.

Besides, I am also discovering that The Immutable Laws of the Nature Photography Universe also apply to digiscoping. And here they are!

1. If you do not have your camera ready AT ALL TIMES, you will miss the best shots.
2. When the bird is perfectly posed, the light will be wrong.
3. When the light is perfect, the bird will be posed behind a branch or some other obstacle.
4. When the light is perfect, and the bird is perfectly posed, your camera batteries will be dead.
5. The AUTO setting on your camera helps guarantee that all of your shots will slightly blurry.
6. Yes, you can zoom in too far. In fact you ALWAYS zoon in too far.
7. The perfect shot you just nailed won't look so perfect once you import it into your computer.
8. If it DOES look perfect, you will accidentally delete it while reaching for the Oreos.
9. Isn't digital photography FUN?
10. Wonder how much I could get for this stuff on eBay?

Anyway, here are a few of my most recent efforts with the new camera and digiscoping adapters, etc.
Dark-eyed junco.
Female northern cardinal, trying not to look cold.

By inserting these golden fuel rods (made from processed sweet corn) into my ear
I've got the energy to take bad bird photos all day long.
photograph by Liam Thompson.


On February 20, 2006 at 12:24 AM BWJones said...

Photoshop is your friend here. Granted, one can only do so much with an image, but much can be done with levels, histogram manipulation, balance and contrast.

So, my question is: What are the photographic requirements of Bird Watcher's Digest? Is photographic manipulation allowed as long as the subject matter is not altered out of its identity/location/context?

I am thinking specifically of images like this from my Sarasota blog entry.

On February 21, 2006 at 6:39 PM Lori S said...

Great picture, Liam! Considering what you had to work with!

Lori S

On February 23, 2006 at 10:16 PM Bill of the Birds said...

BW: BWD's photo guidelines are here:
if you want to submiut, we'll happily consider them.

Lori: thanks for your "kind" words, amiga!

On February 23, 2006 at 11:06 PM Lori S said...

Hey, Bill,I'm not the one sticking a big yellow thing in my ear!

(although I admit that growing up in our hometown, there wasn't a lot to do.....if we'd had those back at Washington School....gosh, I can only imagine how much fun we would have had!)


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