Three Kings

I managed to get out and enjoy a sunny afternoon at the Courtenay Airpark photographing a variety of birds along the way. I have to admit that I’m never really satisfied with my bird photography, but I think that it may have something to do with the poor quality of glass in my secondhand (now I know why the photographer was so keen to sell it) Sigma 170-500mm lens.

I know from prior experience that my results are hit and miss and highly dependent on light. If the light conditions are perfect, the camera is well braced (ideally on a tripod), and the subject cooperates, I may get a good image. I can tell you that the majority of the acceptable bird photographs I take with this lens are pretty soft and require sharpening in Photoshop. I delete quite a bit before even getting to that stage.

There seemed to be quite a bit of activity in the hedges along the sides of the pathway today and sparrows were numerous. With the light behind me and a couple of cooperative birds, I was able to get decent photographs of two “regal” sparrows – the White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) and the Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla).

White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)

This image was the best of the day – I was reasonably successful positioning the camera so that the White-crowned was highlighted against a soft, uniform background. The Sigma seemed to like the light here and the original was actually pretty crisp (this image is a low resolution version).

Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)

The Golden-crowned Sparrows were a little less cooperative and despite my best efforts I wasn’t able to move enough to eliminate the branch growing out of this sparrow’s head or the shadow on its breast. The latter I don’t might so much, but the background branch might be best removed using Photoshop. I did do a little work to remove another, very out of focus branch, that was running vertically along the right hand line of thirds – much easier if you get the composition and background right in the field than trying to fix it after the fact. In this case, the sparrow didn’t have the patience!

The final “king” of the day was a very obliging male Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon) who posed on an piece of driftwood along the edge of the Courtenay estuary. In this case the light was good but end result was a pretty soft. I would have preferred a slightly more neutral background but the water picked up reflections of the buildings on the far shore creating a grid-like effect.

Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon)
Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon)

Three “kings” – not a bad poker hand and certainly an educational afternoon down by the water. Birds are definitely challenging to photograph – have a read through Mia McPherson’s So ya think ya want to be a Bird Photographer? for a great overview on what it takes. A word of advice – get some good gear (you don’t have to break the bank, but make wise choices in your lenses), and get out and enjoy taking photographs of birds!

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