Capture, reflect, go again! - dradd's photography

September 2018

It's not unusual for photographers to reflect on shots they take, and consider how they can be bettered. This happened to me and it's taken a while to get one set of shots right. This is that story.

Back in April 2017 I was fortunate enough to be taken to the RSPB site, Tollie Red Kites, as part of a course I was on with the most excellent Andy Howard.

The chance to photograph red kites as they fed, against a pine forest background in Scotland was simply amazing, and I loved every minute of it.

Looking back on the day, I was happy with the results I got. I'd recently brought the (at the time) new Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 USD G2 lens, and I was running that with my Canon EOS 70D body. The setup would have looked like that shown below.

The Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 USD G2 lens with my Canon EOS 70D body.

The Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 USD G2 lens with my Canon EOS 70D body.

The shots came out good.



A while after the event, in the comfort of my study, and in front of my large computer monitor, I really looked hard at the photos I'd taken on the day, and there was something about them that I wasn't too happy with: they weren't sharp enough.

Now this could have been attributed to a number of factors:

- My lack of experience photographing birds in flight

- Incorrect settings while shooting (too low a shutter speed)

- The Tamron lens.

I do admit that point three above might seem a little churlish. Blaming kit for poor results smacks of a poor workman blaming his tools for a bad job, but over the time I owned the aforementioned lens, I was never quite happy with the photos I captured with it. They always seemed a little soft when compared to the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L USM II Canon lens on the same 70D body.

It was one of the reason I sold the lens on. But that's a story for another day.

So I was in the position of while being happy with the composition of the shots - who doesn't like shots of birds of prey in flight against such striking backgrounds? - I was far from happy with the quality.

Reflecting on this made me want to re-take these shots using what I had learnt in the subsequent months.

Before moving on, let me explain what was 'wrong' in my mind with the shots I got originally.

Firstly lets look at the kit I was using:

- Canon EOS 70D body

- Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 USD G2 lens

And lets take this one shot as an example of what I feel isn't up to the standards I expect from my photos:

The settings for this shot are:

- Shutter speed: 1/1250

- ISO: 1600

- Aperture: f/9.0

When it came to post processing the shot, I didn't crop it that much, as can be seen from the LR screen grab below. Bear in mind that the 70D body is already a crop sensor, so there's little point in cropping in too close during processing.

Looking closer at the photo, the fact that there is not enough definition and detail in the feathers and face are the key points here. See the image below for a critique.

It's the general lack of sharpness in the image which got to me the most.

Taking the above into account, there are some obvious things I could have done to get the most out of the photos:

- Increase the shutter speed

- Drop the aperture a couple of stops to compensate for an increased shutter speed

- Drop the ISO

For the record I was shooting hand-held, and the weather was overcast, so ISO needed to be higher than I would have liked.

Go again!

With this reflection done, and identifying what I needed to do should I get the opportunity to photograph these wonderful birds at this location again, I was all set for our recent visit back to Tollie Red Kites.

This time things were a bit different on the kit front.

- Canon 1DX Mk II body

- EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L USM II lens

The weather was a mixture of sunshine and showers. I was still shooting hand held.

Settings wise things now looked like this:

- Shutter speed: 1/3200

- ISO: 1600

- Aperture:f/6.3

So with nearly double the shutter speeds and a reduced aperture (due mostly to the brighter conditions), things were looking hopeful for some crisper shots.

The Canon 1DX Mark 2 and EF 100-400mm lens. The kit of choice for this shoot.

The Canon 1DX Mark 2 and EF 100-400mm lens. The kit of choice for this shoot.

  • Tollie Red Kites RSPB site. The view from where I was standing.

  • All set and ready. Waterproof cover on camera to protect from the occasional shower.

Thankfully I wasn't wrong.

With the added advantage of shooting in a shower of rain with some sunlight reflecting off of the water droplets to give an extra dimension to the shots, things were much different this time.

Sure I was now shooting at 400mm rather than 600mm (times 1.6 to take into account the 70D's crop sensor resulting in a focal length of 960mm), but given the 1DX is full frame, I could crop into the photo quite a bit without losing quality.

If we take this shot below as an example:

As you can see the crop in Lightroom wasn't so dramatic.

Also the definition and detail is far superior to the original shots.

Summing up (post reflection)

Sure, it's unfair to compare the two setups - the camera bodies are complexity different, as too are the lenses, but what this exercise did show me is that it pays to look and reflect on your shots. Analyse them and if you're not happy with them, work out what needs to be corrected and go out and re-shoot.

If nothing else sometimes this exercise acts as a way to put old demons to rest, and make you happy with the shots you are getting now.

Photography is a learning exercise, and if you can learn something from each time you go out on a short, then it will only serve to improve your skills, and enable you to take better photographs in the long run.

Be sure to go and look at all the shots in my Birds of prey gallery.

Thanks for reading.

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