Using fast shutter speeds, try to isolate a frozen moment of time in a moving subject. Depending on the available light you may have to select a high ISO to avoid visible blur in the photograph. Add a selection of shots, together with relevant shooting data and a description of process (how you captured the images), to your learning log.
This part of the coursework is to be worked in shutter priority mode and hence I decided to dedicate this part to birds photography, taking my project in assignment one further. My thought process has been pretty much set to challenging myself with this part, as am not so comfortable with this mode, plus wanting to practice with birds in motion has been on my mind. So I thought of combining the two and learning both at the same time. This resulted in a lot of practise with birds in motion on my terrace for quite a few evenings and I have possibly experimented with all kinds of ISO settings and shutter speeds to get the correct exposure and the perfect freeze.
A lot of experimentation definitely resulted in me learning that a lot of light, especially here in Delhi, where we have reached 45-48 degree celsius, is very well suited for shutter priority. The usual harsh light which is a nightmare for aperture priority mode and others due to the sun being too bright and harsh till very late, rendering all kinds of outdoor photography quite useless, is a blessing for shooting in shutter priority mode, which I learnt much to my joy while experimenting with this mode.
This post will be a bit lengthy as I am experimenting with all kinds of different idea and using this exercise as a practice run towards my final assignment, which will be based on the common pigeon. I started experimenting with various shutter speeds on my terrace with different birds. I had earlier thought to attempt this exercise with crows but later, got a chance to travel to the jungles and got a great opportunity to do this exercise. For my experimentation with crows I will probably create a learning log post later.
About the sequence
This was one of the days when there was no Tiger movement in the park so we stopped near a big lake where a lot of water birds hang around to catch prey. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to catch some freeze shots. Usually its very quick and most of the birds being much bigger in size like storks, gulp their prey quite quickly. Pond herons, in the past, have made me watch for hours sometimes before they strike. Having studied about the subject before in detail, especially water birds, comparative smaller birds like the pond heron can help prepare one for what to expect in the field. The pond heron who appears short necked because it is hunched most of the times, mainly feeds on marshy wetlands and at the edges of ponds/lakes. Their primary food includes aquatic insects, frogs, tadpoles, even fishes leaping out of the water. It takes immense patience from these birds to stand at a spot, not moving, before they can catch a prey.
I was just observing the birds around, each one of them waiting and foraging patiently for food. The light was already pretty harsh as the time was 9:37 AM. Since the light was really bright this was perfect for shooting in shutter priority mode. So I set my ISO to 400, high for that time of the day but I guessed it would be fine if I were to shoot in the shutter priority mode, all set to get an opportunity to get a good catch. I had barely set my camera when I spotted one of the pond heron catch a frog. It was a fairly large frog and the pond heron took three minutes to successfully toss, thrash, suffocate, and eventually beat it to a pulp so it becomes easier for them to swallow it whole. This entire sequence was recorded starting at 9:37AM and lasting till 9:39AM, so around at least two full minutes, I took a total of 349 shots, out of which 5 initial shots were out of focus as the jeep was still moving to get a better angle.
The following sequence was shot inside a forest so its taken from a jeep – as low as I could possibly get. The equipment is handheld as using a tripod in forests does not work very well – opportunities are instant and fleeting and its unlike taking pictures in a zoo or places where animals are put on display and are there at your disposal. In real wildlife situations, anything can happen anytime and one always have to be prepared. I usually use the bean bag for support but in this case I could not have wasted even a second grabbing it as I did not know how long this scene would last. To get as low an angle as possible, I have hung downwards from my jeep waist down and took these shots handheld.
My camera settings for the following sequence were:
- Camera – Nikon D5
- Lens – Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S
- ISO 400
- Shutter Priority Mode
- Exposure – underexposed by 1/3 of an f-stop
- Shutter 1/600s-2000s
My camera takes about 12 FPS. I have played with shutter speed a couple of times only and brought it down to 1/600s but the best exposure and freeze was achieved at a shutter speed of 1/1600s. So most of the final selected images are between the range of 1/1600s-1/2000s. The shots at 1/600s were also okay but I didn’t want to take a chance as the scene had a lot of quick motion and a slower shutter speed could have resulted in a blur.
Final Sequence in 24 frames
I have chosen a final edit of 24 images as my final set documenting the catching of the prey and the various stages of the prey being killed before being swallowed whole. The composite is below, followed by higher resolution individual images of the chosen ones.
Final Edit Slide Show
The un-cropped images that made it to the final edit can be seen in higher resolution in the slide show below. You may further zoom in on the slide show to make it larger.
The final selection out of the 349 frames that this entire action sequence lasted for was based on two selection processes – most of my comments of my selection methodology is recorded on the contact sheets themselves but to sum them up, the first edit process basically filtered out the out of focus lot and the repetitive frames and led to a selection of total 89 images out of which in the second edit, I have chosen 24 frames for my final edit. Both of my selection processes can be seen in the two sets of contact sheets below. The contact sheets are not compressed as the compression renders them useless to zoom in and see the details, so kindly bear with me. Also, I have been looking at Magnum Contact Sheets by Kristen Lubben, that I recently received, and though I have been annotating my contact sheets earlier as well, I have, for the sake of learning and giving an insight of how my mind is working while editing, I have recorded my ramblings on to each sheet.
The final edit of 24 final frames from the 89 images of the first edit can be seen below.
I put together a small video to show you a complete sequence of the 344 images of the hunt sequence, it is doubly inspired (read stolen) by Chase Jarvis’s Crime scene contact sheets video and the book Steal like an artist by Austin Kleon. I hope you enjoy it.
I have experimented and played with a lot of stuff for this exercise in order to just practice and see how different things turn out. I am happy with the outcome as I wasn’t expecting such a smooth result but I guess experimenting earlier helped me to achieve a right balance of shutter speed and ISO to gain a correct exposure. The images were a little bright in highlights which I have marginally fixed in post processing. Overall, this has been great fun.
Jarvis, C. (2007) Hasselblad Masters | Chase Jarvis FRAMES | Chasejarvis. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKK9-HEDa8I (Accessed 3/07/2020).
Kleon, A. (2012) Steal like an artist (1st ed.) New York: Workman.
Lubben, K. (2011) Magnum Contact Sheets (3rd ed.) London: Thames and Hudson.