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FORUMS Photography Talk by Genre Bird Talk 
Thread started 26 Aug 2009 (Wednesday) 15:24
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how challenging is DOF when you're close to birds?

 
Tom ­ Reichner
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Aug 26, 2009 15:24 |  #1

I have found that I can never seem to achieve the depth of field I would like when photographing birds from the optimal distance - very close.

I was wondering if anyone else struggles with this. I've found that it is absolutely critical to focus directly on the bird's eye, or it is a ruined shot. But it can be extremely challenging to achieve and maintain focus on the eye of a bird that is moving quickly in various directions. Birds often tend to have twitchy head movements, and making sure that the eye is the thing my active focus point is on is quite difficult. Besides, even if I get focus locked in on the eye when I snap the shutter, all I really have in sharp focus is the eye. I'd like to get much more of the bird in sharp, clear focus. I normally shoot birds at f8, which should provide a workable DOF. Yet even at this fairly small aperture, my DOF is extremely shallow.

If any of you have the same difficulties, I'd like to hear what you've done to avoid this problem. Do any of you shoot birds at f16 or smaller? Is that what it takes? Or is it just a problem to which there is no solution?

Below is an image of a Blue Grouse taken at f8. Notice how I just barely missed focus on the eye, and accidentally focused on the feathers on the back of the neck instead? See the one very small area on the back of the neck where the feathers are in focus, and how the rest of the bird is entirely soft? This was taken at f8, which one would think should give more DOF than that. Even if I had focused on the eye, the rest of the bird would have been OOF. I really don't want to shoot them from further away and then crop alot to get the image I want. This causes a loss of detail that is unacceptable.

So the real question is, how do you photograph birds from a very close distance and still get most of the bird in focus when it is facing you or facing away form you? Is this even possible?


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canonnoob
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Aug 26, 2009 15:27 |  #2

larger fstop (smaller aperture.


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Tom ­ Reichner
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Aug 26, 2009 15:44 |  #3

canonnoob wrote in post #8527624 (external link)
larger fstop (smaller aperture.

Yes, of course. If you read my entire post you'll see that I understand this. I am asking for specific information that comes from personal experience with similar subjects at similar distances. Just what f stop have you shot medium to large birds with at a distance of approximately 6 to 10 feet? And what were the results?

I'd love to see some images of larger birds shot at these ranges, especially if they were facing head-on into the camera or facing away from the camera. If the bird is sideways we're dealing with a parallel focus plane, which is really a much easier situation in which to get more of the plumage in focus.

If anyone has any such images shot at f16 or higher, I'd like to see them. I suspect that even at this small aperture that there still would not be enough of the bird in tack sharp focus.


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"Fare" and "fair" are different words with completely different meanings - please use the correct one. The proper expression is "moot point", NOT "mute point".

  
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artyman
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Aug 26, 2009 15:56 |  #4

DOF is a combination of focal length and aperture, for max DOF a wide angle lens and small aperture will give the greatest DOF. If that isn't enough then you need to use focus stacking like the Macro guys do. Mind you the bird will have to co-operate by being still whilst you take the sequence of shots :D


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Aug 26, 2009 16:05 |  #5

Tom, it's rare for most of us to be in a position to be that close,. I didn't see what FL you were shooting, but @ f/8 with a 28mm you'd have tons of DOF,. at 500mm .. not so much :)

When I am in a situation like you describe, personally I'd like to have the subject fill the frame most of the time, but rarely am I so close, or have enough "mm" to have them be too large for the frame, nor am I really looking to crop them out.

In the rare times when I do/ it does happen that way,. it's not a matter of getting the DOF to have it all in focus for any shot I take, as it's simply not possible,.
It's a matter of using the shots that work, and taking them.

A shot like your avatar is a case in point. In the exact distance and f/stop and FL range of the image posted, if the bird was posed like the one in your avatar,. you'd have a shot.

The shot you posted however,. to me that's just "not a shot" it's destined for the circular file, and there's not much else to be done.

You've run into a limitation with the distances and FL you are using. No way around it that I can see other than to work harder at getting the images that will work within these limitations.


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Aug 26, 2009 16:14 |  #6

I rarely shoot over f/8 and that's mainly due to the fact that I shoot mainly in low to moderate light and my subjects are most times on the move. Since I'm out at 500mm or greater shutter speed is my greatest concern. In the few instances that I've accidentally moved my focal ratio to higher than f/8 it seemed the overall sharpness suffered. This may be symptomatic of equipment issues, not sure. I apologize for not bringing anything constructive to your question. I still consider myself to be very green at this, most certainly in comparison to yourself.

The shot linked below was taken at f/8 and isn't directly head on but the DOF was acceptable to me and the bird was very close. I have had the same issue as yourself in my backyard blind using the 100-400 when birds were super close so I'm looking forward to seeing the info you get here. Great topic.

https://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthre​ad.php?t=742500


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Tom ­ Reichner
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Aug 26, 2009 17:21 |  #7

CyberDyneSystems wrote in post #8527838 (external link)
I didn't see what FL you were shooting, but @ f/8 with a 28mm you'd have tons of DOF,. at 500mm .. not so much :)
It's not a matter of getting the DOF to have it all in focus for any shot I take, as it's simply not possible,.
A shot like your avatar is a case in point. In the exact distance and f/stop and FL range of the image posted, if the bird was posed like the one in your avatar, you'd have a shot.

The shot you posted however,. to me that's just "not a shot" it's destined for the circular file, and there's not much else to be done.

You've run into a limitation with the distances and FL you are using. No way around it that I can see other than to work harder at getting the images that will work within these limitations.

Thanks, Jake
It's interesting to learn that the focal length has such an effect on DOF. I had not realized what a significant effect this would be, but I do know that the closer I am to a subject, the more problematic the issue becomes.
I realize that the image I posted is a "non-shot", and of course it would normally just go into the circular file. I only saved it because it so well demonstrates the DOF issue I wanted to bring up.
I usually find the head-on images of wildlife to be the most interesting, yet they present the greatest challenge due to the DOF issue (when close).
Also, I did want to learn whether the types of images I've had in my mind's eye are even possible, and from what you have to say it seems that such images are just not going to happen, at least not with long focal lengths. I always like the images in which I'm ridiculously close to the animal, yet in head-on images I want the tip of the nose/beak to be tack sharp, as well as the eye. Looks like I simply may not be able to get those images. It's always particularly frustrating when the equipment doesn't allow for what the mind's eye visualizes.

BTW, the shot I posted was with my 400 and a 1.4 extender on a 5D - for an effective focal length of 560mm.

Nighthound wrote in post #8527889 (external link)
The shot linked below was taken at f/8 and isn't directly head on but the DOF was acceptable to me and the bird was very close. I have had the same issue as yourself in my backyard blind using the 100-400 when birds were super close so I'm looking forward to seeing the info you get here. Great topic.

https://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthre​ad.php?t=742500

Steve - I viewed the linked photo, and yes, the entire bird appears to be in focus. At f8, too. Of course, you were quite a bit farther than I was in the image I posted (had to be in order to fit the entire bird in so nicely). What was the focal length?
BTW, that is a wonderful image!


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Tom ­ Reichner
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Aug 26, 2009 17:31 |  #8

Here's another that is destined for the circular file. Yet it's exactly the type of image I'd love to be able to capture if I could do so properly.
I wanted the nose crisp. I wanted the eye crisp. I compromised and focused exactly halfway between the two, on the middle of the muzzle ... and the result is just another "non-shot". Yet the same image taken from a greater distance just wouldn't have had the same effect. What to do?!


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"Your" and "you're" are different words with completely different meanings - please use the correct one.
"They're", "their", and "there" are different words with completely different meanings - please use the correct one.
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lauderdalems
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Aug 26, 2009 20:32 |  #9

Tom, have you looked at a DOF table.

http://www.dofmaster.c​om/doftable.html (external link)


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Aug 26, 2009 21:40 |  #10

Thanks Tom. That image was taken at 500mm with the 500L(f/4). The bird was bout 15 feet away. In the past when a bird is stationary and the desired focal ration isn't possible I have taken two very quick exposures, one focused on the eye and one on the tail of the bird and then composited the two shots in Photoshop. The seam of the two frames would be feathered and joined at the center between the two focus points. It's trickery but it does work provided the subject doesn't move between the two frames.


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Aug 26, 2009 22:48 |  #11

I have the same issue sometimes but I try and be cautious of the angle I shoot at. Your picture reminded me of one of mine and thought I would post it for comparison.

I was at minimum focusing distance and you can tell my DOF is very narrow but the picture is kinda OK, not a wall hanger at all. Maybe f7.1 would have been enough to get the entire head in focus but I was shooting hand held.

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Tom ­ Reichner
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Aug 27, 2009 01:50 |  #12

lauderdalems wrote in post #8529195 (external link)
Tom, have you looked at a DOF table.

http://www.dofmaster.c​om/doftable.html (external link)

Wow - what a cool table that is. Unfortunately, it kind of confirms my fears: that there just isn't any real DOF to work with at these focal lengths and at these close range opportunities.
What I liked about the table you linked me to was that you can put in your own focal length, and then it will calculate DOF at various apertures based on the FL you provide.
According to the table, even at 10 feet away and at 500mm, the DOF is only 5/100ths of a foot. That's less than 3/4 of an inch - and that's at f16! The ability to stop all the way down to f16 is almost unheard of when it comes to behavioral wildlife images of active animals that are in constant motion. And according to the chart, even stopping down that far would only get me a total DOF of under 3/4 inch. As Jake said, these head-on shots that I would like to achieve simply aren't possible.

Nighthound wrote in post #8529531 (external link)
Thanks Tom. That image was taken at 500mm with the 500L(f/4). The bird was bout 15 feet away. In the past when a bird is stationary and the desired focal ration isn't possible I have taken two very quick exposures, one focused on the eye and one on the tail of the bird and then composited the two shots in Photoshop. The seam of the two frames would be feathered and joined at the center between the two focus points. It's trickery but it does work provided the subject doesn't move between the two frames.


Wow - how cool! I wondered how you'd made that image. When I see images like that it makes me think I'm just not doing something right. Now that I realize that kind of DOF is due to Photoshop work, I won't doubt my abilities with the camera quite so much. But that leaves me really doubting my abilities with PP software!


"Your" and "you're" are different words with completely different meanings - please use the correct one.
"They're", "their", and "there" are different words with completely different meanings - please use the correct one.
"Fare" and "fair" are different words with completely different meanings - please use the correct one. The proper expression is "moot point", NOT "mute point".

  
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Aug 27, 2009 07:45 |  #13

Tom Reichner wrote in post #8530684 (external link)
Wow - how cool! I wondered how you'd made that image. When I see images like that it makes me think I'm just not doing something right. Now that I realize that kind of DOF is due to Photoshop work, I won't doubt my abilities with the camera quite so much. But that leaves me really doubting my abilities with PP software!

Tom, I didn't use the Photoshop technique I described on the Snowy Egret shot above, but I have used it in the past when I was forced to shoot around f/5.6 with the 100-400. I was only suggesting the idea of composite as a last ditch effort when DOF is shallower than you want. As long as you know how to work with layers in Photoshop and know how to use the eraser to feather the joining edge of the two frames it's really not all that complex. When the two frames look the way you want you simply "merge visible" layers and you'll have an image of what you saw with the DOF you want. You may have to use the healing tool or cloning tool if there are some imperfections where the two frames were joined.

This is two frames shot mainly to get the entire bird with the 500L but it's pretty seamless.
http://i3.photobucket.​com …%20Photography/​egret1.jpg (external link)


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Aug 27, 2009 07:57 |  #14

Tom Reichner wrote in post #8530684 (external link)
What I liked about the table you linked me to was that you can put in your own focal length, and then it will calculate DOF at various apertures based on the FL you provide.

There are programs available that can print a graph of the DOW for varying aperture and a specific focal length. Some people put such a graph on their lens cover so they can take a quick peek now and then if unsure.


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Aug 27, 2009 08:17 |  #15

There's also some DoF calculators for things like the iPhone, if you happen to have one.

@Tom, what is the purpose of your images (print or web)? Is it acceptable to crop it to ~50% of the frame? You could shoot a 200-300mm lens at around F11 and get enough DoF to get the beak and eyes in focus, but still get the separation to the body... By going from 560 to 300mm, you almost gain one available stop in "minimum lens shake shutter speed", so I'm going to assume F11 is an option...

10 feet, F11, 300mm would give you like around 2.5 - 3 inches of DoF (I think... sorry, I'm metric). The only problem left if that you might want to front focus the eyes a tiny bit to get the wanted DoF on the eyes + beak.
Of course you'd have to crop a little bit which may or may not be acceptable...


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