You Could Call it Failure

Probably the greatest disappointment of my recent trip to Malheur was just how badly these photos of a pair of Eared Grebes turned out. (They actually look much better at this size than they do full screen on my computer.)

Eared Grebes

Even the impressive noise-reduction capabilities of Photoshop CS5 cannot make them printable, though it can make this shot look a little better.

Eared Grebe

As you can tell from the surface of the water, they shots were taken in the middle of a downpour when clouds had blacked out what little light there had been before.

I was staring down at the water when these two emerged, only to immediately dive back under the water. I was almost dumbfounded by their sudden, strange appearance. I knew immediately I had never seen them before, though I was pretty sure they were grebes.

I could have kicked myself in the butt when I realized I had my camera set on AV with a shutter speed of 1/1600 of a second. If I’d had it set on automatic ( P ) I would have had a better picture. Of course, if hadn’t had the 1.4 extender on, I would have had an even better chance of getting a good shot.

I’ve known for awhile that I’m pushing my equipment to its limits even though it’s top-of-the-line Canon photographic equipment. I now generally shoot with an EOS1-D with a 1.4 extender and a 5.6 400mm lens, resulting in an f 8.0 aperture setting, far from the ideal 1.4 or 2.8 aperture setting. However, the low noise, high ISO capability of the 1-D makes this a workable solution when it’s bright enough. The best of my shots are razor sharp, revealing every feather on the birds.

In addition, I generally bird with the camera set to 1/1600 in order to capture birds in flight, my favorite way of depicting birds. Using automatic ( P ) generally means that any shots of birds flying horizontal to the camera will be too blurry to use unless I pan perfectly. Unfortunately, using a 1/1600 setting means I’m unlikely to get a good shot of a bird in the shade of a tree, though the 1-D’s high ISO has improved the odds of the shot being acceptable.

Of course, I also own a 500mm lens which nearly matches the 560mm combination I get with my 400mm lens and 1.4 extender while shooting at an f 4.0 aperture. The difference is that I can’t hand-hold the 500mm lens so I would miss any shots I get while walking. I have to set it up on a tripod in a good location and wait for birds to come to the camera.

That works fine in some areas, but the truth is that my best shots have almost always come while I’m walking. What’s more, I enjoy walking and don’t particularly enjoy sitting. I think I’ve always had a little bit of that ADD thing, thank goodness.

The more you push your equipment, the more you realize its limitations, and your own.

I like that.

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