I’ve never had an interest in shooting birds. But this year I decided to try my hand at photographing a local favorite, the Sandhill Crane.
I visited the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve, arriving about an hour before sunset when thousands of cranes would be landing in shallow fields for the night. I brought my trusty full-frame Canon “clacker” and 300 mm, f 2.8 prime attached to a BlackRapid shoulder strap. That seemed appropriate to me until I began to notice a long string of photographers setting up their mirrorless, 50 megapixel shooters with 600 mm “terrestrial telescopes” on $400 tripods.
No doubt, I was definitely out gunned. That was confirmed 45 minutes later as squawking flocks of birds began to fly past our location, circle, and land a hundred yards away. To increase the challenge, the sun had set and I was relying on muscle memory to dial in the ever-changing combinations of shutter speed, aperture and ISO.
It was very exciting, but you really don’t need a camera. In fact, most onlookers savored the experience with unaided eyes and ears, not through the reticule of a digital camera.
So, how did I do? Glad you asked! Short answer, better than I expected. Here’s a quick summary.
First, the Canon 300 mm prime may be a little short for this application, but it has amazing optics and therefore able to resolve very small objects. It also gave me a wider field of view to track the birds.
Second, using the camera freehand was a great advantage. As I followed the action with relative freedom, others struggled to maintain lock … sort of imitating the challenges of a 40 mm anti-aircraft gunner.
Third, 600 mm lenses usually max out at an aperture of f 4.0. At f 2.8, I had twice the light gathering capability … giving me an additional 15 minutes of shooting time.
Yes, I was definitely “pushing” it. This was one of my last photos taken in such low light that the camera had trouble focusing.
In order to print them at 11 by 14″, for example, it was necessary to resample them.
As regards color rendering, keep in mind that a Sandhill Crane is gray. But my pictures actually look more like watercolor paintings than realistic photographs. That’s partly because I raised the saturation level slightly and revealed the reflections from the blues (sky and water) and shades of orange produced by the setting sun.
It was a great day and I made new friends with people who had some very nice tripods.