Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

March 14, 2009

Equipment Check

Filed under: Birds, digital benefits, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light, technique — richditch @ 6:50 pm
Curve-billed Thrasher

Curve-billed Thrasher

Although I never joined the Boy Scouts in my youth there’s a lot to be said for their motto of “Be Prepared.” So I try to always have my camera and other gear ready for an unexpected opportunity, a planned excursion the following morning, or anytime else. Here are some of the things I do to keep ready:

  • my basic bird set up (D200 body, 300/2.8 AF-S lens, TC20E 2x converter) stay assembled at all times.
  • the basic bird gear listed above rides in the covered cargo hold inside a flat plastic storage container designed for “under bed storage.” I keep a folded blanket in the bottom of this storage bin to act as padding and to help absorb road vibrations. This bin is slightly longer than the body/converter/lens/hood is it fits easily but can’t slide around.
  • I keep an empty formatted CF card in the D200 ready to start recording images.
  • The camera settings are reset to my basic defaults at the end of a session so I will be ready next time I’m out (Aperture Priority, exposure compensation zeroed out, ISO at 320, aperture wide open at f/5.6, matrix meter, etc.).
  • I also check the battery level at the end of each session and swap it out if it is ready for a recharge when I get home.

When I go out for a photography session I extend the Gitzo tripod, attach the Wimberley Sidekick to the always mounted Really Right Stuff ball head, and then attach the bird rig making sure I’ve tightened the clamp on the Sidekick. When it is firmly attached I make sure the lens swings freely and the tripod collar is set to allow the lens to rotate.

I add a full half liter water bottle to a waist pack that also carries the TC14E (1.4x converter), the SB-800 flash, my spare D200 battery and extra CF cards. Now I’m ready to start my walkabout.

The first thing I do is review my basic settings (they shouldn’t need to be changed unless the light dictates a higher or lower ISO), and then I look for a test subject and shoot a frame or two to make sure everything is working properly. This is one of the major benefits of shooting digital in my opinion: you can confirm you’ve captured an image on the LCD instantly and it doesn’t cost for film or processing. usually it is just a House Sparrow or other “trash” bird near the parking lot as I don’t expect to keep the image. My Test Subject on 2/27/09 was this Curve-billed Thrasher at the Gilbert Water Ranch. They seldom sit close so I was surprised to have this one fill the frame – this is not cropped in any way but full frame with the 300 and 2x. ISO 320, 1/16oth at f/7.1. It is not my usual “small in the frame” style, and there’s a twig crossing the feet. But at least it is in focus with a nice head profile and I didn’t cut off the tail!

This “pre-flight check” helped a couple months ago. I’d set up as usual and found a Green Heron on a mudflat for a test frame. But the AF wouldn’t lock on the heron when I expected it should. I ruled out the amount of light, the contrast of the heron against the dark mud, the AF switch on the camera, and everything else I could think of. It took about twenty minutes to resolve the problem – there was a wadded up paper towel trapped inside the lens hood effectively reducing my maximum aperture. I was shocked to find it there when I finally looked at the business end of the 300.


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