Birds of a feather

They really do flock together. But I think it is more about survival, than anything else. I tested positive for Covid19, and have been isolating myself at home. Bored out of my skull (there's only so much Netflix you can watch), I picked up my camera and started to look, really look, at the birds flying around my terrace.

I'd see a bunch of sparrows sitting together, and along comes a mynah bird. The sparrows leave, more mynahs show up. A crow lands nearby, and the mynahs disappear as more crows join the first. A black kite spots them and starts circling overhead, he's quickly joined by a few more, and just as quickly, the crows move off. So I don't think it is really about the same species liking one another's company, so much as about the lack of trust of the unknown (and usually larger) species.

Anyway, I'm not an animal shrink, I'm a photographer. So let's get back to making photos of birds. I am not a bird photographer. I've rarely had the opportunity or the equipment to make good photos of birds, and it's an area of photography that I've never been involved in, or had the inclination or need to be involved in – there are plenty of other genres that pique my interest.

Then I joined GuruShots (which I've written about before, see here and here), and my team turned out to have some brilliant nature and bird photographers. I didn't have a body of work to compete, so I'd usually skip those challenges. BUT I started thinking about it. For the first time, bird photography was something I thought about exploring. One day. When I had time. When I could afford the equipment.

My 'bird' photos. Without a body of work in this area, I couldn't compete.

The longest lens I own, is a 70-200mm f2.8 L series lens from Canon. When I looked at the exif info of the images I admired, they seemed to have been shot at 400mm and above. So clearly I needed longer glass. But lenses are expensive, and at the top end, you can buy cheaper cars. In some cases, you can buy cheaper houses! So yeah, I didn't have the equipment. But it was on the periphery of my awareness sphere, and one day while walking through the Simm City camera mall in Hong Kong, I saw a second-hand 2x tele-convertor for sale.

It was made by a company called Kenko, which I only knew for their (decent) filters that I used on my trusty old Canon A-1 film camera. But I had heard of them, and it was a decent price, so I picked it up after testing to see if it worked with my lenses. Now, I had the equivalent of a 400mm lens, and I could get started.

I realised quickly, that while you gained some reach, with the 2x teleconverter, you also lost a couple of stops of light and some clarity. Losing a couple of light stops I can live with, I almost always use a tripod or monopod, but the decrease in quality bothered (bothers) me. I find the results of relatively close-by subjects is acceptable, but the images of something far away, aren't usable. I don't know if this is characteristic of the teleconverter I have, or if this is an issue with all teleconverters. I need to borrow or rent a Canon 2x and see if that is different.

The other thing that surprised me is you need to shoot at relatively high ISOs. A lot of the time, I was shooting up at the bird, so had a bright blue sky as the background. I have shaky hands and Parkinson's Disease, so wanted to keep my shutter duration at 600 or faster, so in order to not be shooting wide open, I needed an ISO of around 1600 or more. My CANON R5 handles noise well, but in the early evening light, when it's starting to get slightly less bright, and you're at ISO1600, you have some noise that needs to be addressed in post.

I'm starting to get the hang of this though, and am eager to know what you guys think. Scroll through the images below. While you're at it, follow me on Instagram.

1 / 19