Jack Jeffrey Photography

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In 2002 I switched to digital, and never looked back. Currently, for camera gear I use a couple of Canon 7D MKII’s and Canon 5D MK III digital cameras. My main lens is the Canon 500 f4 IS II. I also have in my gear bag a Canon 70-200 f2.8, and a Canon 16-35 f2.8. I sometimes use a Canon 1.4 X tele-extender when I want a little more magnification or reach for Hawaii’s small birds high in the forest canopy. I also use a Canon 600 EX RT flash with “Better Beamer” for fill flash.

Tripods are a must with big lenses. My favorite is a Gitzo 1325 carbon fiber with an Arca Swiss B1 ball head. To reduce gear weight, rather than use a gimbal tripod head, I use a Wimberly “Side Kick” on the 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 II steady. I always use a tripod when photographing birds in open areas, on trails , or in the forest, as there’s usually room to open the tripod legs. Some vegetation can get in the way, but there is usually a solid, relatively flat, stable surface to set up on underneath.

For photographing most forest birds in Hawaii, fill flash is essential. Hawaii’s thick rain forest canopy, understory, and the rapidly changing light conditions often 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. These days I use a “Better Beamer” as it gives me 3 extra stops of flash power and reduces battery drain. For fill flash, I use the 600 EX RT flash. 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 to minus 2, and while shooting Shutter Priority, I set my camera compensation 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, generally only remaining on a flower for 2- 4 seconds. Trying to meter and make adjustments is difficult when the action happening is fast. Often birds will 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, rarely using a flash, but if I do it’s at reduced light levels. For most images I try to match the flash and ambient light. On cloudy days the Canon 500mm f4 IS II excels. For years I used the Canon 500 f4.5 with the T 90 (film days…remember those?) and got lots of “camera shake” images ……some interesting, but most ended up in the round file. The image stabilization of the newest Canon 500 f4 IS II has definitely increased my number of keepers.

For bird portraits, I’ll sometimes add a 12mm extension tube and or a 1.4X tele-extender. This allows me to focus closer and 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 of 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 dark or 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/rimlight 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. I’ve been known to tie back small branches to open up a view way to flowers that birds are visiting.

I always try to focus on the eyes of the bird. It’s difficult to get that critical focus if the light is dim. If I’m at minimum focus distance, and wide open to maintain some background light, my depth of field is only 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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