Simon Walker's picture


Observed: 7th April 2012 By: Simon WalkerSimon Walker’s reputation in BirdsSimon Walker’s reputation in BirdsSimon Walker’s reputation in BirdsSimon Walker’s reputation in BirdsSimon Walker’s reputation in Birds
Chiffchaff, Fowlmere, 2012-04-07 001
Chiffchaff, Fowlmere, 2012-04-07 007

These two photos are posted to illustrate the difficulty in photographing birds against a bright background. The first was taken with an exposure compensation of + 1.33; even so, the bird's under-exposed, and detail is poor. Without the compensation, it would have bee a silhouette.
The second picture was taken with an exposure compensation of + 2. Most of the bird is ok, but the backround, that is the sky, is flared.
There may be a solution to this problem, but if ther is, I don't know what it is (other than moving to change the background, of course; but then there's a good chance that you'll have no bird to photograph...)

Species interactions

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Species with which Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) interacts


pen-y-bont_mike's picture


This is a tough one. There is no real solution to the problem which arises in all types of photography when there are light and dark areas in the same frame. These areas require different exposure settings so in a single shot the result is always a compromise.

I find good light with a cloudy (white) background the most difficult. It looks like that is what you had here and if so I think you have done very well with the 2nd photo. The exposure of the bird, which is after all the main point of bird photography, is spot on. I quite like the background too. It makes the bird stand out well. Of course its never going to win a photography competition but if it's not too blunt of me, there are problems of composition, clutter in the background, focus point, depth of field and softness, which mean that even with a perfectly exposed sky its unlikely to be scored highly by "experts".

There are a few things which you may or may not have tried as well as exposure compensation which may help.

The first is bracketing. This gives you three photos for each shot at varying exposures which reduces the guesswork element and increases the chances of getting a satisfactory result. It may also help if you are into some of the clever post processing tricks to combine two or more photos into one (I'm not). I usually shoot in bursts of 3 or 4 and find that with bracketing it takes an age to write everything to the card and I often seem to lose a few in the process so I rarely use this setting. It might be a problem with my particular camera and/or cards and would be less of a problem if you use single rather than continuous shooting so I wouldn't want to put you off from trying.

Second is metering mode. Rather than whole screen metering I use partial (or central) metering. The more the bird fills the metered area of the frame the less any background is taken into account in determining the exposure set or in manual mode recommended by the camera. This reduces or, if the bird fills the metered area, eliminates the need for exposure compensation for the background.

Third is custom functions. These enable you to control the amount of saturation, contrast and sharpness in your photos in various combinations. It's worth experimenting with various levels to see whether these help.

Fourth (and finally as far as my knowledge goes) is exposure lock. This involves taking a meter reading (partial depression of shutter button) of something closer to that required for the bird than the sky, (e.g.) the ground or hedge, branch etc. on which it is perched and locking the exposure before focussing on the bird. This is usually a single button push and hold operation and therefore, in theory, quicker than exposure compensation but I find it even more hit and miss!

I find the problem of contrasting light and dark even more frustrating when it occurs not between subject and background but on the bird (or whatever) itself. I've more or less cracked gulls and black and white birds in general by under exposing but I still struggle with many. I would give my right arm to get a shot of Teal on murky water showing the head markings (and eye) without blowing out the tail!

Simon Walker's picture

Compromise, As Usual...

Hi Mike,
Thanks for that. I haven't tried bracketing; I'll have to have a go at that. I use burst photography all the time, which has the down side that I often come home with more than 500 photos! I agree with you that white cloud is a bitch; I'm pretty sure that there's no way out of that one.
Regarding losing images, I've found that it's worth buying fast cards - it makes a lot of difference. At the moment I'm using a Canon 7D, and it rarely hangs up on me with a 600x card.
Metering mode, I usually use evaluative metering or, like you, partial.
The problem is that there are so many options andpossibilities that, with wildlife photography, you very often don't have the luxury of time; so it has to be "keep it simple," because if you spend ages setting up the shot, the chance has flown (or run, or crawled, or slithered, or hopped) away.
That's often the problem with composition, too. You can remove clutter with Photoshop, I suppose; but the question remains: is a shot of an interesting subject, but with lousy composition, better than nothing? Depends what you want to do! If you're into competitions, then no; if you're just into the creature and its habitat, then yes (though of course nice competition is super if you can manage it).
Regarding the teal, I got a reasonable shot on 8 March, which I put up on iSpot...

Kind Regards