Sunday, 24 May 2015

Hobbies and other challenging birds in flight

After writing my last blog on "Birds in Flight with the Canon 7D Mk2 Autofocus"
I have been more than usually careful to inspect my images for signs of bad focus.

I have continued to use the settings I recommended and have been practising on Hobby falcons.The result? Well, I have to tell you that autofocus is something of a lottery no matter what camera and lens you have and despite using the best settings. I am pretty sure that the settings I recommended work most of the time, but there is no such thing as a perfectly reliable autofocus system.

This is hard to come to terms with after paying an arm and two legs for the best available kit, but the plain truth is that the autofocus system does its Hi-Tech best for you, but there is scatter in the results. Sometimes it will nail the bird dead on, no messing, other times it focuses just a few inches further away and sometimes just a few inches too near. It is the inescapable nature of all physical systems. It is just the way the world is and we have to accept it.

More than that, the system may focus on a wingtip when it is the bird's eye you desperately want to be in focus. If you have the skill to keep just the centre point locked firmly on the bird's eye as it sweeps past then this is perhaps the setting you should use. I have to say that you would be in a very small minority of photographers if you can do this reliably every time.

The best you can do, in my opinion, is to set the camera up to give you the best chance, and take as many shots as you can squeeze off. That way you will get some good ones. If not "good ones", at least ones that can be tickled back into life with your photo processing software. Some slight sharpening in Lightroom or Photoshop can work well, but the image has to be almost right to start off with.

Here are a couple more of the better Hobby shots I took over the last few days. As a matter of interest, I was using the "Auto" setting within the 65 point auto-select mode, i.e. letting the camera decide which AF point to use to establish initial focus from the 65 available. I said before that this can work well against a plain sky, and it does! Normally I would have the centre point selected as the initial AF point.

For each shot that I dare show I have thrown away many more. We drool over the brilliant images produced by the best professionals, but they are only showing you the best, not the hundreds they have been obliged to ditch. It is sometimes said that the only difference between us ordinary photographers and the best pros is the size of their waste bin! If you can get just one sharp photo of a Hobby careering about the sky you are not doing too badly. It shows that your camera can take sharp autofocus photos. Some of my shots will soon be uploaded to my website so you will be able to see them a little larger.

As proof that my set-up can take sharp photos, here is a shot of a dragonfly - the sort that Hobbies chase and eat!

There is one more important aspect of using Autofocus and that is that it must be micro-adjusted to match your lens. I will write a blog on this soon. If you do not do this, you will be unlikely to get a good sharp shot however hard you try.

So apart from worrying about whether I have given you good advice on the 7D MkII, I have been enjoying the activity at the #RSPB Ham Wall reserve in Somerset. There are thousands of dragonflies, that is why the Hobbies are there of course, but even this Moorhen was making repeated trips into the reeds to gather them to feed to its chicks. Here it is is with a beak full.

There are young chicks everywhere on the reserve, here are some young Canada geese with their parents.

It is a good thing that the parents are keeping a close eye out for them because the level of predation is enormous. Regular bird watchers witness the day-by-day reduction in the number of chicks as the multiple predators take their toll. One such predator is the Mink. I caught this one on its way to raid the nest of a Moorhen.

Another "bad guy" - yes, I know it is just nature, but I cannot help taking sides - is the Carrion Crow. This one has just stolen an egg, possibly from a Heron's nest.

But it did not keep it for long as this next shot shows it dropping it! A few seconds later I heard the splash as it hit the water. Small comfort for the robbed parents.

Marsh Harriers, much as I love them, pick of young birds with ease. They are constantly on patrol over the reed beds.

This cute looking Coot chick, with its red face and orange hair, is taking a big risk in open water. Thankfully it was OK.

There are still plenty of these, Bitterns.

 And these, Great Egrets

Always a pleasure to see them both. Such dramatic birds in flight.

This Great Crested Grebe had caught a fish that was marginally too large for it. I think it managed to swallow it in the end, but probably did not need another meal for a while.

And finally, is this just showing off do you think?

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