Oy. Tumblr.@echojar, I started answering your ask about what I’m using for bird photography, saved…

Friday, March 1st, 2019

Oy. Tumblr.

@echojar, I started answering your ask about what I’m using for bird photography, saved it as a draft, and now Tumblr has seen fit to send it… somewhere. Not sure where. Anyway, it’s gone.

So this is your response, unfortunately no longer including your actual ask. After a cut to spare non-mobile users b/c tl;dr.

Back in September 2018 I bought a camera to use for birdwatching. It was a Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80 (link is to Amazon, which is where I bought it). It looks like this:

It’s a “bridge” camera, in the sense that it’s meant to fill the market niche between camera phones (which have mostly replaced compact digital cameras) and high-end DSLRs with detachable lenses, which take better pictures but are also much more expensive.

The FZ80 cost just under $300. I also bought a faster, larger-capacity memory card ($14), and an extra battery with an external charger ($24). I’m very happy with all of them.

The FZ80 has a good reputation among birdwatchers; I’ve run into several other local obsessives who use one. Among bridge cameras it’s optimized for telephoto work, with a zoom lens that goes to the equivalent of about 60X and image stabilization that does a decent job of keeping things steady even though I’m taking pictures handheld.

These days when I go birdwatching I always bring binoculars, phone (for eBird and field guide apps), and the camera. It’s light enough that I don’t mind bringing it along all the time. I usually keep it in a fanny pack, but when I’m in-progress on picture-taking I’ll hang it from my neck and lace it through the right side of the binoculars’ shoulder harness, such that the camera ends up hanging next to the binoculars but (mostly) doesn’t bump into them, and I can raise either one as needed. It looks super goofy, but I crossed that bridge a while ago and these days I just tell myself to try not to think about it.

I carry the spotting scope and tripod less frequently now that I have the camera. The camera isn’t a complete replacement for the spotting scope; the hierarchy of how well I can see details on a distant bird probably goes like this, from low to high:

  • naked eye
  • camera, zoomed, looking through the viewfinder (I almost never take pictures looking at the camera’s larger LCD screen)
  • binoculars
  • camera, zoomed, reviewing a photo on the LCD screen after taking it
  • looking through the spotting scope
  • camera, zoomed, looking at the photo on my computer screen at home

But the spotting scope with tripod is a lot heavier and more cumbersome. I don’t mind carrying it so much, but I really dislike the extra lag time it adds when I see a bird and want to look at it through binoculars, but I can’t get on the bird quickly because I have to set the spotting scope down first. So these days I bring the spotting scope for things like wetlands, sea watches, or stationary hawk watches, but otherwise I leave it at home. If I see a distant bird that’s too small to identify in the binoculars I can take a quick photo and check it out on the back of the camera.

(Oh, and I also bring the spotting scope when I’m docenting or leading a bird walk, because I can point the scope at a bird and let people take turns looking through it.)

But back to the camera. I’m not very experienced (at all) at photography, so there’s been a steep learning curve. I’ve ended up with the following approaches that I use most of the time:

If I’m shooting in poor light, or trying to get as pretty a shot as I can, or just generally futzing around I’ll usually shoot in “P” (Program) mode where the camera picks the shutter speed and ISO setting.

If I’m trying to shoot birds in flight (like at a hawk watch), or just generally when I’m being more serious, I’ll switch to S (”Shutter Speed”) mode and set the speed to to around 1/800, or sometimes faster, because I find that I have better odds of getting a sharp, identifiable image if I crank up the speed, even though that tends to give me higher ISO settings and correspondingly noisier/grainier images.

There’s been a lot of trial and error involved. For example, in the first week I had the camera I took this photo of a Blackpoll Warbler (PJH represent):

I shot that in S mode with the speed set to 1/500, because I figured that’s what I’d need to do to freeze the motion of a fast-moving warbler. Helpful birder and experienced photographer Dika, though, pointed out to me that in the early-morning light I was shooting in, that caused the camera to crank the ISO up to 3200, resulting in a grainy image. If I’d just shot in P mode I would have had a slower shutter speed, but it turns out that probably would have been fine for freezing motion and I would have benefited from the lower ISO setting.

In good light (e.g., a sunny day with the sun behind me and the bird well-illuminated) that’s pretty much all I worry about. But usually the light is poor, or the bird is backlit or in shadow, or something else is making things difficult. If I were just taking pretty pictures I’d write those situations off. But since I’m more interested in documenting what I’m seeing I’ll often try to make those situations work by setting the f-stop up or down to get the exposure on the bird as good as I can. Again, a lot of trial and error. I can’t imagine what it was like to try to do this back in the day when each shot wasn’t essentially free and you couldn’t see the result right away.

Oh: speaking of: I almost always shoot in “burst” mode, where I hold the shutter button down and just go snap-snap-snap-snap-snap as fast as the camera can write to the card. Later I throw away 99% of the shots for the few where the bird is looking the right way and the light is glinting on its eyeball just right and all that. With the 32G replacement memory card I bought I can store several thousand pictures; there’s only been a few times when I’ve been out so long that I’ve needed to take a break to purge rejects to make more room.

And focus. More than any other technical aspect of getting the shot, I worry about focus. Especially in the early days I had a lot of otherwise-decent shots that were fuzzy. Grr.

For birds in foliage or on the ground I use the autofocus mode where the AF sensor is just a tiny little box in the center of the screen, then do my best to keep that dot on the bird’s eye. Or, if the bird is big and/or close such that it fills a lot of the frame and I want to actually compose the shot as I’m shooting it rather than later while cropping, I’ll use the separate button on the camera back that lets me set and lock the focus while I’ve got the little AF spot on the bird’s eye, then hold the focus while I pan to whatever I want the actual shot to look like before shooting.

For birds in flight, like at a hawk watch, I can’t keep that little AF spot on the bird, so I switch to the mode where the AF area is a big diamond shape that takes up about half the field of view. When I see the bird in the air I’ll usually go first to binoculars to try to ID it, and then switch to the camera. I’ll point the lens in the general direction of the bird with just a moderate amount of zoom, then gradually zoom in trying to pick out the bird in the viewfinder as I magnify. Hopefully I eventually pick up the bird, then do my best to keep the bird centered, or at least in the frame somewhere, as I crank up the zoom all the way and start shooting. In the early days I’d practice on anything (clouds, airplanes, crows, red-tails); now I’ve got the technique down to where I can save it for when I see something I really want to get a shot of.

One technique that’s definitely helped is learning to adjust the camera controls without looking. When I’ve only got a second or two to try to get an identifiable shot I really don’t want to have to look at the camera.

My usual workflow when I get home is to sit down with the camera in my lap and go through the whole set, punching the button to mark the good ones as “Favorites”. Then I delete all except for those favorites and transfer them to my computer. After that I wipe the rest of the photos from the camera, swap out the battery and put the depleted one in the charger, and I’m ready to take more photos.

On the computer I’ll go through the photos and pick the best one of each bird (or multiple photos for a tricky ID or a rarity), and upload them to eBird. It’s been super-helpful for learning; there’s nothing like posting a misidentified bird to eBird with an accompanying photo to get a lesson not only on birds, but also on cognitive bias and hubris.

I take fewer shots these days than I did when I first got the camera, but I still take a lot.

Whew. Nothing like a brain dump of something I’ve been obsessing about to generate a shocking amount of verbal spew.

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/183146925461.

echojar replied to your post “Hey so I’ve been thinking about joining eBird, but I…

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

replied to your post “Hey so I’ve been thinking about joining eBird, but I haven’t decided…”

OH MAN there’s a yard feature!?!?! BACKYARD BIRDING FTW!

Yeah, there’s a concept of a “patch” that can include one or more locations, and then you can group the reporting output at the patch level. I haven’t used that much, but I’m sure for a certain type of birdwatching it would be awesome.

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/182963012241.

echojar replied to your post: Hey so I’ve been thinking about joining…

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

You’ve convinced me!! I’m gonna do it!

Yay! 😀👍

I’m going to write a reply to your other ask (about photography) but that’s going to take me some time. But it’s coming! Thanks!

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/182962511076.

what I mainly gathered from your screenshot is that you have an outrageous number of unread emails

Friday, February 1st, 2019

Haha. I stopped trying to achieve Inbox Zero years ago.

Reposted from http://lies.tumblr.com/post/182479041706.

Hey lies!! Lies! Hey!! I’m so excited!! I just saw what i think was an adult female merlin outside my back door!! I opened my door and it was just there on the ground, and i looked at it, and it looked at me, and then it flew away. It must have just caught something because there were feathers strewn all around where it was standing (they were small and black, from a black phoebe i think??? we’ve got a lot of those). I didn’t know what it was at first because it was so small!! but it was cute!

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

That is so cool! (Well, except for the phoebe. Kind of a bummer for them.) But yeah! Merlins are the best!

As it turns out I’m about 90 minutes away from giving a talk on birds of prey as part of my ongoing series of beginner birdwatching classes I’m doing, and my talk has Actual Merlin Content. There’s a Merlin (or maybe more than one; I’m not sure) that I’ve been seeing a fair amount in the last few weeks as I’ve been ramping up my birding obsession in anticipation of the Christmas Count. A few days ago I got to watch it chasing/being chased by a group of crows at the Carpinteria Bluffs. That ruled.

Fun fact (of which you may already be aware): A few years ago ornithologists were surprised to discover that falcons have more genetic code in common (and hence share a more-recent common ancestor) with parrots than they do with other birds of prey. The fact that falcons look and act like hawks is more a case of convergent evolution than actual close kinship.

So: Awesome fastest-creature-on-earth murder parrots FTW!

Reposted from http://ift.tt/2gQINbq.

anonsally replied to your post “Brief housekeeping note about my blogging behavior after…

Monday, November 14th, 2016

replied to your post “Brief housekeeping note about my blogging behavior after a…”

You are posting a lot lately about your blogging behavior!

I blame the zeitgeist. Narcissism on the rise! Apologies for the metachatter; I’ll try to keep it to a minimum going forward.

echojar replied to your post “Brief housekeeping note about my blogging behavior after a…”

1) i agree with sally and 2) will you also be posting the blog posts from medium on twitter?

Yes, I will be doing that. So far there’s only one post on Medium, and it remains to be seen how much time/energy I’ll have to do more.

Reposted from http://ift.tt/2fN7nID.

echojar replied to your post:of-a-toast-and-tea replied to your post “For…I feel similarly!…

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

I feel similarly! I keep feeling like I should reply to people but I have nothing to say! But then I also feel like I felt like that before replies were gone and that I often just have nothing to say.

I also frequently feel like I have nothing to say. I’m happy to once again have the chance to feel that, I guess. :-)

Reposted from http://ift.tt/21RQf49.

echojar replied to your post:  For scienceseveral months?sophisticatedajumma replied to…

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

echojar replied to your post:  For science

several months?

sophisticatedajumma replied to your postFor science

6 months??

flameysaur replied to your postFor science

I feel like a month or two.

aeternamente replied to your postFor science

since at least the beginning of the year i think…

About 5 months, as it turns out. (I thought it had been longer.) Replies went away around the beginning of November.

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