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Breaking in the camera

May 6, 2010

My new camera arrived in the mail on Saturday afternoon and I wasted no time playing with it.  I learn best by doing, so instead of reading the instruction manual like a total poindexter, I ripped the thing out of the box, slapped the telephoto on it, and walked around the neighborhood taking photos of birds and my son.  This, friends, is how a photographer is made.  Anyway, I figure I’ll go to the manual to figure out the ins and outs once I get comfortable with it and decide I want to know what all those buttons are for anyway.

The next day I high-tailed it out to Mason Farm, where I recently discovered the dizzying highsterrifying lows and the creamy middles of digiscoping passerines, to see if I had better luck with a DSLR rig than with a four foot long digiscoping set-up.   The answer?  Of course I did!  I had a great time with a camera in my hands.  And even though the birds were moving fast I managed to get a handful of images that I’m not completely embarrassed to show you all.   So even if I never improve beyond the photos here, at the very least the quality of photos on this blog will be better.  And that’s the least I had hoped for.

Just as I had hoped, Mason Farm was crazy with potential subjects.  In fact, the very first bird to catch my eye the minute I stepped out of the car was a stunning male Black-throated Blue Warbler.  I love BT Blues, not only for their arresting color pattern, but for the fact that they are so darn responsive to pishing.  This guy came right in.

I managed to take a few photos of varying quality, but I snapped at the precise moment that the bird decided to head out.  I actually really like this photo and if it hadn’t been for the twig I think it would have been pretty cool.

Goldfinches are everywhere these days, and there’s hardly anything as photogenic as a male American Goldfinch.

The gorgeous black and orange adult male American Redstarts that covered Mason Farm in the last week have mostly been replaced by the drabber first year birds. They’re more difficult to shoot what with their constant movement.  This is the best I got.

I spent a fair bit of time chasing a Yellow-breasted Chat all around a field.  For such a brash bird it spent most of it’s time just below the canopy in the thickest leaves.  The photo below is heavily cropped, the bird was about 100 meters away, but I was happy that it turned out so clear.  A good sign that my lens can reach more distant birds.

The Chats weren’t entirely sedentary.  They occasionally made forays out into the open with those lazy, floppy wingbeats they have this time of year.  I tried to capture one as it passed over me.  It appears I still need some work on birds in flight…

Non-moving birds are the best though.  On my way out a Great Blue Heron in the pond caught my eye.  Using my car as a blind I fired off a few shots of the bird only to note the greenery in my way.  When I exited in an attempt to get a slightly better angle, the Heron spooked.  Oh well.

So, you know, while I certainly don’t have any room to brag, I have to say I’m pretty happy with my first attempt at digital photography.  When I think back to the photos I could have had in Massachusetts or, god help me, Guatemala, I get a little sick to my stomach (they would have been so good!), but that’s all in the past!  I’m looking towards the future, and it will be documented in film!  Or microchips!  Or something!

More to come!

  1. May 6, 2010 7:15 am

    NICE! Congrats on the new camera!

    Well – some good news is you will always have more opportunities in MA. There will be many more Superbowls o’ Birdin’, and whenever you can make it, you know you have a spot on the team. And, of course, any other time also – you are always welcome!

    What lens were you using for these shots?

  2. Nate permalink*
    May 6, 2010 8:43 am

    @Christopher- Thanks! I’m sure I’ll have another shot at the Super Bowl (and fingers crossed on Guatemala :)), but it’s so far away!

    I have a 75-300mm zoom lens. Most of these were taken at 300mm.

  3. May 6, 2010 2:10 pm

    Great pics for a first outing! I know you said that you learn by practice rather than theory, which is true to some extent. But I think that reading through the manual and finding all the settings could turn some of these good pictures into great pictures. Hopefully some sweet migrants will come through the weekend for you to photograph!

  4. May 6, 2010 3:20 pm

    It kind of fun to feel like a bird blogging kindred spirit breaking in a new camera.

    I recently spent a wonderful morning birding and taking photos only to realize that I had accidentally put the camera into manual focus and frankly I’m just not that good at manual focusing! Only a few pictures turned out. Oh well. Lesson learned: Check all settings before heading out the door.

    When it comes to the user manual, I have looked up specific things I wanted to do. Generally I can get quicker and better understanding talking to the folks at the shop where I bought the camera. You might not have this resource buying it online. I also have gone to websites to learn some basic skills. seems to be a good one with a helpful newsletter too. Rich Ditch in AZ also blogs about photographing birds and explains his settings and lighting which is very helpful.

    I’ve enjoyed your blog over the last several months and I am sure that your quality photos will make it all the more enjoyable.

  5. May 6, 2010 4:02 pm

    Congrats on the new camera! It looks like you’re off to a good start.

  6. May 6, 2010 5:04 pm

    Nice shooting, Tex!

    Your approach of ignoring the manual and going back later is actually a recommended method to learn a new camera. The sites/books I read when I first got my DSLR suggested you learn the basics (like “on,” how to remove the lens cap, and the different shooting modes), then go play. Once you’ve got that down, settle in to read about the different buttons, dials, bells, and whistles.

    One thing I learned: how often foliage and branches are in the way of birds when you’re looking at them. Must be something I corrected for in my brain while watching through binoculars, or trees and shrubs have rapidly grown in the last couple of years. I can even get a branch in the way of a raptor circling in the open sky!

    Good adventures to you and your camera,

  7. May 6, 2010 8:10 pm

    Congrats on your new camera and diving right in! I got mine in the fall and am STILL feelin’ it out!

  8. Nate permalink*
    May 6, 2010 8:33 pm

    @Robert- I’ll surely hit the manual soon, but it’s more fun to take photos that to read at this point!

    @Rob- You’re certainly farther along that I am, you’re getting some great shots! Thanks for the tips!

    @John- Thanks!

    @Mike- Ha, so I knew I was doing something right! I think you’re on to something with the twigs. Our brains are very good at taking two separate entities (like a view of a bird bisected by a limb) and making a whole out of it. So you don’t really think about it when you’re birding. But photography, suddenly you’re very aware of how many leaves and branches get in the way.

    @Zen Birdfeeder- Thanks!

  9. May 9, 2010 1:41 pm

    Most excellent, Nate! There’s nothing better than getting out and about to learn, as you say, and you’re off to a fantastic start. I’m really excited you took this step. Your passion for your subjects will make you learn quickly, so take some photos every single day no matter what of; it’ll help your skills and your comfort.

    I can’t wait to see what comes next…

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