Too Small and Too Far Away

An acorn woodpecker at the top of a telephone pole is both too small and too far away for me and my 200mm lens. This is a tiny portion of the actual frame - the resolution probably compares to a 1 megapixel camera. From a distance, on the Internet, it's a nice looking picture. I wouldn't print it bigger than a 4x6, though.

I like to practice bird photography in my front and back yards, but this is often an exercise in frustration. My DX-sensor Nikon D300 and 70-200 lens give me something I never had in my 35mm film days – the equivalent of a 300mm lens. Funny, I used to think that if I had a 300mm 2.8 lens, I’d be unstoppable. But most birds are tiny. Not only are they small in the overall frame, but they are smaller than our focusing sensors, so surrounding foliage can drive the autofocus system a little batty.

Okay, I was asking for trouble. Hard to see, hard to separate from the foliage, and smaller than the camera's focusing sensor. This represents about 1/20 of the frame. I'm not giving up, though. Sometimes, if I'm very patient, the birds come close enough. Not this time, but sometimes.

Bigger birds are so much easier! Of course, foliage can still fool the focusing sensors. It took quite a few shots to get this one. I must ask my wife to prune the trees with photography in mind.

Sometimes you catch the moment but still miss the shot. At times like this, I'm reminded of Thomas Edison's comment that he'd never failed; he'd merely discovered thousands of things that didn't work. I'll try again tomorrow.

There’s no way that I’m going to be investing in a 400mm or 600mm lens anytime soon, so I need to act on the lessons from my backyard safaris by changing my technique. Hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and even hawks are relatively small animals, but I want to photograph them. They’re not going to get bigger, so I need strategies for getting closer. As I’ve mentioned before, the greatest strategy is patience. If I settle down next to a well-lit, colorful plant and wait long enough, the birds will come to me. Fortunately, I’ve developed a taste for Russian novels; will I finish War and Peace before I get a satisfactory hummingbird image?

While I'm waiting, there's no shortage of fascinating beauty to enjoy.

1 Comment

Filed under Camera Settings, Motivation, Nature Photography

One response to “Too Small and Too Far Away

  1. Ash

    The one thing I have found is that some bird are really skittish and others aren’t. Usually hummingbirds are not the skittish of the bunch. And sometimes they will come at you to check you out. Working with a 200mm though is hard, I have a 300mm but it still takes work to sneak up on them.

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