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John Spohrer's Outdoor Photography Blog

February 26, 2011, 10:53 AM

Snowy egrets in flight.

 

02-26-11 Photographing white birds.
 
Keeping details in white areas of the subject (i.e. not "blown out") is one aspect of outdoor photography that quickly separates rookies from more experienced photographers.
 
Letting the camera process the information of the exposure and create a jpeg (or TIFF) using the camera-recommended exposure will usually mean loss of details in bright white areas. The camera is "giving away the whites" to get more details in shadows and darker areas of the shot.
 
All pros and most serious amateurs shoot in the RAW format which is vastly misunderstood. First, RAW is not an acronym for anything but means the "raw" exposure data recorded by the camera. It must be processed by the camera or other external software (controlled by the photographer) to become a picture.
 
When the photographer processes the RAW file on his/her computer they are able to keep all the details recorded in the white areas and "give away" the shadow areas where detail is less important.
 
Many of our favorite birds we love to photograph are either white or have significant white highlights and those whites are going to be at least 1 to 2 stops brighter than the rest of the image. So when you expose white birds using the camera recommendations (I use the Canon 'Evaluative' mode for my light meter setting) you have to make adjustments to save the detail in the white. You must "dial in exposure compensation" if using the camera's light meter.
 
In the image of the very white snowy egrets against the bright blue southern sky my experience told me to compensate +1 from my reading. Had they been framed against the much darker north sky, I would have compensated -1 from experience. In both cases I'd have checked my histogram closely to see that I was correct for the next shot.
 
Learn to keep details in white birds by using exposure compensation and you will have learned a valuable skill for all your photography exploits.
 
Canon 1Ds MKIII, Canon lens with 1.4 TC:
 
2011:02:17 07:41:28
1120mm
Subject dist: 175m
1/800 sec, f/8
Mode: Av
Metering: Evaluative
Exp comp: +1
ISO: 400
AF mode: AI Servo AF
Drive: Continuous (high)
White balance: Custom
Flash: Off
File size: 22.8MB
Image size: 5616 x 3744
Color space: AdobeRGB
Saturation: Normal
Sharpness: 3
Contrast: 0
Tone: Normal
Custom Functions:
CFn I-3: ISO range enabled

 

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