Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

April 22, 2009

Yellow-rumped Warbler in Natural Light

Yellow-rumped Warbler at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Yellow-rumped Warbler at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

I’ve written before that I’m not a big fan of flash, even for fill, primarily because I hate the mechanics of using it and I often find it makes an image look unnatural. So on a visit yesterday morning to Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior, AZ, I kept the flash in my fanny pack most of the time.

I’d been alerted to a Broad-billed Hummingbird still on the nest, and the directions I’d been given in email were very detailed and completely accurate. Unfortunately, the bird was off the nest when I got to the spot just after the arboretum opened, so I moved on to the nearby Demo Garden – my favorite place for short visits (see my previous post about it).

I ended up spending a bit over two hours in the Demo Garden watching birds come in from the dry washes and the mostly dry canyon to a pair of water sources that are decorative features in the garden. There’s nothing like the sound of moving water to bring in birds in the desert!

Neither of these places is ideal for photography (don’t we all wish we were consultants to park managers so we could help place features and keep sight lines clear with nice light from the proper direction!). I ended up at a manmade “falls” about 24 inches high where recirculated water trickles over a stack of rocks. The birds love it, but it is partially shaded by low vegetation with very nasty portions of strong backlight. So, if you’re lucky you get a bird in deep shadow and very low light; if you’re not so lucky you get part of the bird in low light and part of the bird or surroundings strongly overlit. I’ve tried flash as main, fill flash, and no flash high ISO here with mixed results.

For a change I lucked out with this Yellow-rumped Warbler (of the western “Audubon’s” form). When it approached the stack of rocks it paused just long enough to allow me to get off a few frames. What’s more, the light was strong enough to get 1/100th second at f/5.6 with ISO 800, and the contrast was within my tolerance levels without fill.

I seldom shoot my D200 at ISO 800 because of the excessive noise it can generate, especially with underexposure. But I’ve learned to keep the exposure on the bright side. I’ve also turned on the “high ISO Noise Reduction” setting in the camera, and it helps keep the noise under control. It robs a little of the detail, but the trade-off seems worth it.

This is 73% of the full frame. I’ve cropped mostly from the right to give the image balance by taking the subject out of dead center. I’ve left more space in front of the bird as is common practice. I also like the diagonal line of the perch.

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