Jack Jeffrey Photography

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Tripods are a must.  My favorite is a Gitzo 1325 carbon fiber with an Arca Swiss B1 ball head.  Most of the areas where I photograph are long hikes from the road. This rig is not too heavy for my aging body, but still has enough rigidity and weight to hold my Canon 500 f4 IS steady. I always use a tripod when photographing birds on open trails as there is plenty of room to open the tripod legs quickly.  There’s little vegetation to get in the way, and there is usually a solid, relatively flat, stable surface to set up on.

In 2002 I switched to digital and have never looked back. Currently, I have a couple of Canon 7D digital cameras and the 580EX II flash.  I use the Canon 500 f4 IS as my main lens.  I frequently use both the 1.4 X and 2X tele-extenders when I want a little more magnification or reach for tiny birds.  I use a 300 f4 IS on my shoulder stock for stalking. 

For photographing most forest birds in Hawaii, fill flash is essential. Hawaii’s thick rainforest forest canopy, understory, and usually cloudy conditions, necessitates slow shutter speeds and flash use. For years I’ve used a tele-flash that was given to me by Jack Wilburn of Nature’s Reflections.  It has the same function as Tory Lepps Project-a- flash or Art Morris’s “Better Beamer” in that it gives me 3 extra stops of flash power and reduces battery drain. Photographers are masters of innovation and gadgets, and I’m no different. I’ve adapted my Tele-flash, originally used on a shoulder stock, to fit my 500 f4 IS using a small quick release and aluminum brackets. The quick release also allows me to continue to use it on the shoulder stock.

For fill flash, I use the Canon 580 EX II. On those rare sunny days, the ambient light is often very contrasty with the sunlight filtering through the tree canopy. If I find flowers in bright ambient light, I’ll set the flash to minus one and 3/4 and set my lens aperture about a half stop down for bright yellow birds, and open up a half stop for red birds like Apapane. Somehow, Apapane just suck up the light.

The birds are quick, only remaining on a flower for 2-3 seconds. Trying to meter and make adjustments in aperture and shutter speed is difficult. Birds often choose flowers that are in the shade. For these, I meter for the background light, and let the flash fill in shadowed areas of the bird.  On cloudy days, I shoot at slower shutter speeds, waiting for the bird to pause while feeding, or before it flies to the next flower. It’s common for me to be shooting between 1/20th to 1/60th wide open on these days, with the flash at ETTL. For most images I try to match the flash and ambient light. On cloudy days the Canon 500mm f4 IS excels. For years I used the 500 f4.5 with the T 90 and got lots of camera shake images ……some interesting, but most ended up in the round file. The image stabilization of the 500 f4 IS has definitely increased my number of keepers.

For bird portraits, I often add a 12mm extension tube and a 1.4X  or 2X tele-extender. This gets me a larger image, but ….it cuts back on my light 1-2 stops.

Once I find a flowering plant, I usually check out the light situation by determining where the sun will be during various times of the day. I take note what shade or light will be expected on the flowers that are available for shooting. Some plants may be better in the morning and others in the afternoon.  Sometimes there’s no choice at all, as the birds are foraging in only one plant.

The background lighting is very important. I don’t want the bird against a black background. This will always happen if the bird is well lit and the background is the shaded.  I like to have the sun behind me, but sidelight and backlight can provide some exceptional opportunities.  Hawaiian forests have thick understory vegetation.  Trying to find un-obscured view of the subject is not an easy task. Often I’ll tie back small branches to open up a pathway to the flowers.

I always focus on the eyes of the bird. It’s difficult to get that critical focus if the light’s dim. If I’m at minimum focus distance and wide open to maintain some background light, my depth of field is millimeters.  But, as long as the bird’s eyes are in focus, the image will work.  If the day brightens, I can opt to stop down to get greater depth of field, then my focus isn’t as critical.


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All images and content are © Jack Jeffrey Photography, unless otherwise noted and are protected by the U.S. copyright laws. No form of reproduction, including copying or saving of digital image files, or the alteration or manipulation of image files, is authorized unless accompanied by a written license issued by Jack Jeffrey Photography. For information regarding commercial or personal use, please contact: Jack Jeffrey at jjphoto@hawaii.rr.com.
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copyright © 2003-2011 Jack Jeffrey Photography

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