Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

October 31, 2010

Black Tern

Filed under: Birds, digital benefits, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light, technique — richditch @ 1:49 pm
Black Tern

Black Tern

I wrote recently about my encounter with an unexpected Black Tern at the Gilbert Water Ranch in the past week. The tern was a delightful surprise on October 25 – a morning with heavy cloud cover. I’d gone to the Water Ranch to take advantage of the cooperative Eared Grebe shown in the earlier post. I’ve been strictly a tripod guy when using my 300/2.8 with the 2x converter mounted – my standard rig for bird photography. And I even managed to capture the image at the top of this post with that lens setup from my tripod, although I didn’t succeed in getting the complete bird in the frame as it flew rapidly towards me. But given my lack of experience in shooting birds in flight (BIF) and my lack of shots of this species in my files I’m glad to have this one.

For part of my time with this bird I removed the converter and resorted to hand-holding the naked 300. For fast moving targets there’s a great advantage in the mobility of hand holding the lens, and the wider angle of view of the 300 alone makes it easier to find the subject when looking through the viewfinder. And without the converter I get full advantage of the f/2.8 maximum aperture of the lens and the fastest AF response the camera is capable of producing.

I also change my auto focus control, switching from single AF sensor (I’ve high-lighted this in yellow) to a dynamic setting (marked in red) where the camera uses all AF sensors as described in this page form the manual of my Nikon D200.

D200 AF Options

D200 AF Options

So far that’s the best setting I can find for BIH with the D200.

Black Tern

Black Tern

This side view was taken with the hand held 300 alone. The disadvantage to using the 300 without the 2x installed is a much smaller image – I was forced to crop this to about 33% of the frame to make the tern larger in the frame.

BIF shooting is one of those actions that benefits tremendously from digital. I was able to vary my ISO setting to deal with the lower light levels and need for a higher shutter speed. It really pays off, though, in the freedom to take a lot of frames and pick the few good ones out in editing on the computer. I shot about 400 frames of this bird but only ended up keeping 8 of those! That would have been $400 of film and processing.



  1. Great BIF images! I have a lot to learn in all areas of photography in general and I appreciate your open style of presenting “how to”.

    I have never seen a Black Tern in that plumage. I’ve only seen them all black.

    Comment by Birding is Fun! — October 31, 2010 @ 7:26 pm

  2. Thanks. I think we are all learning all the time; at least I hope I am!

    My experience with Black Tern is as a migrant, first in NJ and now here in AZ. So I rarely get to see one in or near to breeding plumage.

    Comment by richditch — October 31, 2010 @ 7:36 pm

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