Photographing Birds

By Peter Wallack

Fine Art Photography has been dominated by the negative, not the slide transparency, for many good reasons. Negative Film can record the details in the shadows 5 stops lower than the actual exposure; that is 1/32 the amount of light of the actual exposure shot. Negative film can record the details in highlights 5 stops higher than the actual exposure; that is 32 times the amount of the light of the actual exposure. Slides have less than half that latitude; details in areas 15 times darker become solid black and details in areas 15 times lighter become washed out whites which ruin the image.

No, slide film colors are not necessarily more saturated; that is, negatives can provide just as much color if your exposure is aimed at getting the highlights within 2 to 3 stops of the actual exposure. Center spot reading through the lens buttons are common on high end 35 mm single reflex cameras; enough readings of the highlight itself has revealed to me that in strong sunlight the actual exposure I want to make is 2 stops down from the general programmed exposure on my Canon EOS 3. The Canon EOS 3 has an exposure modification button that works with a dial. I set it at minus 2 for strong sunlight and at minus 2 for more diffused sunlight and only occasionally check my highlights. I have found that white bird feathers do not reflect as much light as another white that light so I often shot Snowy Egrets and White Herons at minus one and a half stops in sunlight.

Why then do most serious aspiring photographers use slide film? Easy, they are following the crowd of commercial professional photographers who are required by magazine, book and other print media editors to use slides so they can easily preview all the frames with a lightboard and control the choices. Many editors will now take digital images on CDs shot from negative or slide film.

The combination of negative film, frame scanner, and Photoshop by Adobe is the state of the art in producing digital images. The best machine printers can read the digital information and what you worked to get on your computer screen is exactly what you will get when you send the print instructions. Photoshop does all the manipulations I worked on in my color darkroom for 25 years; however, I do not have to print each adjustment to see what I have often meaning I have done a dozen or more darkroom exposures waiting 12 minutes each time, over two hours, to get a fine art photo print. Although changes to the image can be seen immediately on the computer monitor there are so many more possibilities that on 20 to 35 percent of my "50 Fine Art Photos of the Birds of Sanibel" I did spend almost two hours to refine the image. Photoshop has 12,000,000 options; this is quickly making the darkroom obsolete.

My problem was that after 20 hours with Photoshop I hardly could use more than a dozen of the options. Introducing, my partner in Art Giulio Zuljani, who has several thousand hours experience with Photoshop. Giulio and I become partners; using my images we sit together and discuss the Photoshop adjustments as they are done. Giulio Zuljani is available to others at G&T PHOTO VIDEO, 17274 San Carlos Blvd. #201 (Indian Creek Plaza is the second block south of the Sumerline intersection), Fort Myers, Florida 33931.

Birds fly so a Canon EOS 3 has to be the best camera for birding. The camera reads my retinal movement, follows my eye, to grab focus faster than I can perceive in most instances. There are 45 auto-focus boxes. If my eye and subject move to one of the boxes, focus is achieved. This is the same technology you have seen portrayed as jet fighter pilots visually lock on to their targets.

Film is constantly changing. The year 2000 saw the Kodak Company introduce a 400 ASA color negative film which matched the quality of their mid 1990s 100 ASA color negative film. I abandoned the Kodak 200 ASA color negative film which I had used in the summer of 1999 to get my first 18 images for the new 400 ASA Kodak color negative film to get my next 32 bird images to finish off my CD "50 Fine Art Photos of the Birds of Sanibel."

To obtain the sharpest images and still keep the cost of your photogaphic set up less than $3000 put  the new 100-400 IS (Image Stabilizer) Lens on the Canon EOS 3. You might also get sharp results with the new Canon 1.4x (extender) used with the 100-400 IS Lens to give you 560 mm of power. If your 560 mm results are less than tack sharp put the camera on a tripod when using 560
mm power. The photographs in this essay were shot with 600mm pre-Image Stabilzer technology , but follow the recommendations above to get tack sharp results that are more scientifically precise and less like paintings.

Different birds have different distances within which you cannot go because you will remove their feeling of safety. Even birds of the same species have different safety zones. The more you get with the birds, the more you will learn to read this zone correctly. I have found that many birds that come to manís fishing piers, peopled beaches, and golf courses expect to be closer to human contact. Sometimes the birds at J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge also seem to be accustomed to people. Use compassion and personal observation when approaching birds to fill your photographic frames with their beauty. In the captions that accompany my presentation of the birds of Sanibel, you will read of actual experiences I have had with a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that was quite happy to have me 12 to 14 feet away for most of 20 minutes. Birds looking for modeling careers may not be that rare.