Photographing birds and the sun

May 05, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

If you read my blogs you will know that I am working on a "dream shot." To that end, I visited the Prairie Chickens, again. The blind was set up to enable me to shoot directly into the sun. This makes getting both the sun AND the birds exposed right, tricky. It also means that the window of time available for getting the shot will be short, right from when the sun shows itself until the light gets to intense and harsh. I am going to have to sit their for hours when that window of opportunity closes until the birds leave. But hopefully it will all be worth it if I ever get that imagined image. Even though I enjoyed the experience, that dream image still remains only in my dreams.

          However, that does not mean that this attempt was a total bust. There were some images to be had. This outing served the purpose of establishing the proof of concept. From that perspective it was a success. Before we discuss what I would consider that success to be, let's look at the image in question:

When attempting to shoot an image such as this one, the dynamic range (the range between bright white and very dark in which there is still detail) of your camera is very important. It is so easy to get either the sun and or the foreground blown out (having no detail). Things worked out well in this department. The color rendition also stayed true without fading. Unfortunately, my winged friends did not exhibit their usual aggressive behavior toward each other when they were between me and the sun (of course they continually displayed their behavior when they did not have the sun right behind them). So I never had the opportunity of shooting them as they jumped up and "into" the sun. For me to get this image a lot of things will have to work out. Ideally, the sun needs to be a bit lower and hover just above the trees in the background at the same time when the birds cooperate. They tended to stay toward the left most of the time, so my chances of getting the image I am after are slim. I cannot move my position to the left thereby positioning the birds in front of the sun from where they mostly do their thing because the terrain slopes downward in that direction and I will be too low. So why did this image prove the concept to me then if things did not quite work out?

          Well, let's look at what did work out and what showed promise:

  1. Even though the chances are going to be low-ish, this image proves that I can get the birds between me and sun, even if just on a few and short occasions.

  2. I am now convinced that the dynamic range will work out, it is possible to get detail in the birds and in the sun.

  3. I was lucky enough to get a bird flying across the sun. That was not where I focused, but it shows me that it may possibly work out.

My season for photographing these Prairie Chickens are now over for this year. We will try this again next year. If you want to attempt this kind of photography, here are a few tips for you:

  • Use a large aperture and a fast shutter speed. You have to get the action in focus and these birds can move fast.

  • Use auto ISO to let the camera nail the exposure. Yes, I am aware that there are superhuman photographers who claim to shoot everything on full manual. That can certainly work in this situation. Just figure the exposure out with the sun included in the image and set the camera accordingly. However, then your viewfinder will be dark when the sun is not in the frame. When these birds jump up and fight you just don't have the time to change settings. I shot until the light got too intense and harsh and the auto ISO nailed every shot. So I don't understand the big deal of why some people refuse to use such a great tool. It works wonderfully, at least for me.

  • Use a Gimbal head on your tripod. This type of photography takes time and unless you are Rambo's brother I cannot see how a person can hand hold the camera and a long lens for that long.

  • IMPORTANT - stop shooting into the sun the minute when the sun gets much brighter than the sunrise glow (or should I say the minute before the sun gets too bright). You will damage the camera's sensor looking straight into the sun with a telephoto lens when the sun's strengths is too strong.

  • IMPORTANT - NEVER look into the sun with your eyes or through the viewfinder of an SLR or a DSLR. You will permanently damage your eyes. In this case, I only looked using my mirrorless camera, that way I am not looking at the sun but at a TV monitor which cannot be bright enough to harm me.

Stay safe and enjoy making your dream images.


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