Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

February 27, 2010

The Marvels of Digital – Anna’s Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird @ ISO 1000

Anna's Hummingbird @ ISO 1000

As a photographer who started long ago in the days of film, where ISO 64 was considered a “fast” film by purists and bird photographers pushed film to ISO 100 and 200 to deal with low light conditions at dawn and dusk, I’ve been reluctant to use the higher ISO values available to digital shooters.

My Nikon D200 has a native sensitivity of ISO 100, and that’s where it delivers the best image quality. I’ve gotten used to shooting at ISO 200 in good light, and routinely use ISO 400 early and late in the day, and I’m happy with the image quality at these speeds. I’ve even braved ISO 800 with it when it was the only way to get a usable shutter speed in lousy light.

But I’ve been seeing high quality results from photographers with newer Nikon and Canon cameras, so on my walkabout at the Gilbert Water Ranch on 2/25/10 I broke down and tried a few frames at ISO 1000.

Here’s the result, and I’m glad I tried this high ISO setting. I encountered this Anna’s Hummingbird at 7:20 am, about 15 minutes after sunrise. I didn’t have much light, but the bird sat on a good close-by perch and I hadn’t taken any first-of-the-day test shots yet. ISO 400 wasn’t enough, and going to ISO 800 didn’t help enough, either. So I bumped it up to 1000, where I managed 1/80th second at f/8.

When I first started using ISO 800 as a last resort I turned on in-camera high ISO noise reduction, as recommended in some reviews I’d read on the D200. As with all noise reduction, some fine detail is sacrificed as the software can’t really tell noise from fine detail. But its a reasonable tradeoff and the D200 does a good job with it. I mention this in a previous post where I discuss the various camera settings I use.

The raw file was opened in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), where I reduced exposure a little to keep the bright white feathers from being over exposed. It is always best to expose generously (keep the histogram “to the right” on the LCD on the back of your camera as much as possible). Having the histogram bunched up on the left (dark) side is a sure way to end up with prominent noise in the final image! Shooting in raw instead of jpeg allows for critical fine tuning of exposure and is well worth the extra bother of processing.

Once out of ACR the image was given minor tonal adjustments with levels, a slight boost in saturation, and a touch of contrast increase with curves. Finally, it was cropped (to only 55% of full frame) to eliminate extra empty space on all but the bottom edge. After resizing for web presentation I applied Smart Sharpen to the hummingbird and perch, but not the background.


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