In my previous post I talked about a trip to the Sweetwater facility in Tucson, AZ to try to get photos of a leucistic (partially white) Vermilion Flycatcher that was being seen regularly near the start of the trails. Although I didn’t see that bird I had a lot of fun and saw many other nice birds in the short time I had available, including this adult Vermilion Flycatcher in adult plumage. There isn’t any other species normally seen in the U.S. that comes close to the brilliant plumage of this small flycatcher – not male Northern Cardinal, nor Summer, Scarlet, or Hepatic Tanager, or any other primarily red bird.
This bird was very cooperative, repeatedly landing at the top of the bush directly across the small artificial stream where I was taking photos of warblers and sparrows. I took way too many shots of this stunning bird (digital is both a blessing and a curse in this regard as the photographer is free from the per frame cost of shooting film but then pays a price in time spent editing all the “free” shots).
Bright red (or bright yellow) birds cause a lot of photographers to over expose the image, with the fine detail in the brightest areas completely burned out. When that happens it is impossible to recover that detail with exposure reduction in raw conversion or other post processing: it is imperative to get the expose as close to correct as possible in the field.
In these situations I dial in some negative exposure compensation: either -1/3 or -2/3 stops. I have my Nikon D200 set up so the rear control wheel makes these adjustments without requiring that I hold down the exposure compensation button – quick and easy to do without taking my eye away from the viewfinder.
For this shot I also switched to spot metering mode instead of the Matrix meter that I use most often. I was concerned that the bright sky behind the flycatcher would influence the meter reading so I wanted to take the reading off the brilliant red plumage alone. I’ve set the user-defined button on the front of the D200 to pull in the spot meter so I don’t need to move the three position switch on the back of the camera.
Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), Gitzo tripod, ISO 400, 1/750th second at f/10, natural light, January 9, 2010.