View Full Version : Suggestions for improvement

21st of March 2009 (Sat), 12:18
I'm trying to get into bird photography a lot more, but I realize that besides lack of experience, I'm also more hindered than I have to be with equipment. I'm a way off from purchasing a 500 or 600 prime, and frankly I don't think that's the biggest improvement I could make anyway.

My thoughts are along these lines.

Support - I have plenty of tripod support with the Gitzo G1325 and Arca ballhead for my 100-400. Would I be better off with a monopod though? I know it would make it easier to set up quickly, etc.

Camera Body - Currently using a 5D, but I have a feeling I'd be much better off using a crop frame (50D?) for this type of photography.

Extenders - I realize they degrade image quality somewhat, and I also realize I would lose autofocus...especially with the 2x. How effective is the 1.4x on the 100-400?

Blinds - I picked up some camo mesh (very inexpensive) yesterday, and that didn't work out so well as it reflects pretty heavily. Are blinds really that effective with regards to working distance?

I realize just doing it more will help a lot, but when the moment comes I don't want to be limited by equipment (within a reasonable amount of investment anyway).


Hikin Mike
21st of March 2009 (Sat), 14:10

Sounds like you have the equipment. I use the 5D/300mm f/4L/1.4x, so it's almost the same as yours. I mainly shoot in my backyard, I decided to rig together a crude blind, did I mention it was crude?...just for my yard. My "plans" are here (http://www.imagesinthebackcountry.com/blog/?p=69).

Here's a shot from a few days ago...

I'll be heading back to the "Hikin' Mike NWR" in a few minutes...Good luck John!

21st of March 2009 (Sat), 16:22
Mike you should definitely market that blind!

John, are you more interested in shooting songbirds or something like raptors? Just wondering because they are 2 different techniques, which is more important than gear like you said up top there.

If you have a house w/a yard you can set up feeders in your backyard and you'll almost instantly start attracting songbirds and/or hummingbirds depending of course on the feeders. If you don't have a house (like my apartment dwelling self!) find some woods where you can easily access the feeders for refilling but still provides you a nice background for your photos. You can also put "suet" in the natural cavities of trees in your yard to prevent an unsightly feeder making an appearance in your photos. Putting food out is the best way to attract songbirds (or any animal) be careful that if the youngins learn to eat your food instead of "attending hunting class" well now you pretty much have to keep feeding them.

For raptors like eagles, hawks or osprey, etc the best way to photograph them is to visit their natural habitat. Try to find a wildlife refuge, park or field (anything but a zoo!:-)) where they nest and hunt for food. I don't know the rules/ethics on baiting raptors but I don't believe it's necessary. They usually hunt near their nests so check the web for local birding clubs, bird sighting websites, etc to find out where the hotspots are.

Finally, join a local birding club. People love sharing their knowledge and there are many devoted bird watchers/photographers in every part of the world. Add to that, birds are creatures of habit so most likely where the ospreys nested last year, they'll nest again this year.

Good luck!

21st of March 2009 (Sat), 19:31
As has been said setting up a blind in your back yard heres a link to the thread http://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthread.php?t=659518&highlight=Luxury+hide
Withe the 100-400 you already have a pretty common birding lens, and yes a crop camera does give an advantage in providing extra reach, you can never have too long a lens I find. A tripod is always going to provide the most stable platform, helpful in getting crisp shots. A monopod is a lightweight alternative where using a tripod is not practical or convenient, ideally I like to use a tripod if possible.

I can't speak from experience but I gather the 1.4 extender does not give too much of an IQ degradation hit.

22nd of March 2009 (Sun), 02:35
Thanks for the input both of you. I'm not going to do anything immediately outside of setting up a feeder on the balcony and using a window for a blind. I know where a couple of hawks hang out and several gbh, but I'm pretty sure better camo will take care of those two (and lucky timing in the case of the hawk).

Eventually I'll pick up a used 50D which would be nice for macro work as well. After that I may try the 1.4 TC and see where it gets me.

22nd of March 2009 (Sun), 04:56
I too prefer the monopod as I am more mobile with it. However, I use either the tripod or handhold when shooting backyard birds; I use the monopod when out and about or at least I carry it with me.

At home, I set up different feeders to attract the birds. I mainly capture the birds when perched before or after going to the feeders but sometimes shoot feeder shots too. I just purchased the 400 5.6 and when the light is right handholding is a breeze; as a matter of fact it feels lighter than my 300 f4 IS w/tc.

I too plan to do the blind thing one day but so far I can get pretty good shots from one of the upstairs bedroom window (i.e. perfrect blind) or just sit on the deck and get the shots. As far as the deck goes, depending on which birds I want to get real close to, I set the feeder on the deck rail, place some perches around the feeders and capture them before or after going to the feeder.

I spoke to a guy who lives in an apartment and he said he places his feeders on the balcony and leaves the sliding door open and waits for the birds. You probably could incorporate your existing blinds or curtains, whichever you have, into a blind to keep the birds from seeing you. Strategically place some branches around or near the feeders because they will perch before or after getting the food.

One more thing to consider find yourself a nice size branch (fairly thick and tall) and drill holes around it (hole size is optional) and put the branch in a pot and support it if necessary, mix peanut butter, nuts and seeds and stuff into the holes. Strategically place it for your shots.

One more thing to consider is to place water there for the birds to but not to deep of a dish.

If lighting on the balcony is bad place some temporary lights out there too.

Long I know


22nd of March 2009 (Sun), 08:08
Kenko sells a 1.5 teleconverter that supports autofocus when used with the 100-400 IS lens.
I handhold for birds or brace against something. I find that using a tripod makes me too slow to capture the birds. When I'm in my blinds, I will sometimes use the tripod but rarely otherwise. My blind is a rip-stop nylon job, designed for hunting but works just as well for photography. It cost under $50 on sale at a local store. It is very light and can be set-up/taken down in minutes. The regular price was around $75. At those sort of prices I saw no reason to use anything homemade. I do have a permanent wooden blind back at the river.

Hikin Mike
23rd of March 2009 (Mon), 14:14
Mike you should definitely market that blind!

Maybe! :lol:

31st of March 2009 (Tue), 22:55
I don't think you will be happy wit hthe results you get with a 1.4X TC on the 100-400. Better off to get a crop body - a 50D if you don't need high ISO performance (too much pattern noise) or fast action. A used 1D Mark II or 1D Mark IIN or a 1D Mark III for great AF and 8.5 to 10 frames/sec for action shots. The Mark III will also give you excellent high ISO noise performance/dynamic range.

- Gene