Gray Catbird: North American Population 10m, 15-49% increase over the past 30 years. (Exposure: 1/60 @ f/4.5, ISO 100, Canon PowerShot G10)

With some practice and luck you don’t necessarily need an expensive camera with a super-telephoto lens. This shot was taken in a National Audubon sanctuary in Florida, then cropped. Note the slow shutter speed and sharpness. I was ready–though the bird did not sit for long, it was motionless.  (More photos at: http://sfielding.photoshop.com)

Canon’s 100mm – 400mm lens

I’ve been using Canon’s f/4.5-5.6 L USM IS lens since June and I must say I’m very happy with it. It certainly takes time to learn since I have no super-telephoto experience. It’s heavy; with the camera it weights about 5 pounds. Nevertheless, even with my slender build, a 3 or 4 hour foray into the field doesn’t seem to pose neck strain, though tripod breaks definitely help.

Although the USM autofocus is very quick, it’s not so effective when photographing birds where there are often leaves or branches in front of or behind the subject, often resulting in an out-of-focus bird. Manual focus seems to be the better alternative under these conditions. When extended to greater magnification, the image stabilization feature helps but you really need to brace the camera against something solid if you’re shooting at less than 1/800 of a second, otherwise the image will not be sharp. As always, it’s important to know your subject so you can be in position with the necessary camera settings to get the best shots. (More photos at: http://sfielding.photoshop.com)

My next challenge will be to capture landscapes with a compressed effect that cannot be done with a shorter lens.

Wrapping up my Lightroom 3 class

I now have just one more class to complete in terms of learning everything there is to know about using Lightroom (well, at least enough to establish a consistent workflow). Much of what I’ve learned is based on Nat Coalson’s, “Streaming your digital photography process.”  This process starts by switching your raw or dng files to black & white to make your histogram and tonal adjustments before returning to color.  Thereafter, you make color adjustments before proceeding to any touch-ups.  These completed, final adjustments to sharpening and preparation for printing conclude the development process. Obviously, I’ve compressed a lot into a couple of sentences.

Before I started this course I felt as though I was awash in a sea of software alternatives.  Now I have a workflow (which I can adjust, as necessary) and I have a technical understanding of all the Lightroom tools at my disposal.  I heartily recommend anyone venturing into digital photo software to take a class, or at least get a text-book that provides clear explanations for novices. Do avoid overly technical texts–there’s not much value added, in my opinion.

Next up, I ordered the Canon f4.5-5.5 100-400mm L USM IS super telephoto lens.  I’ll let you know how this learning process goes in upcoming posts.

Learning to develop with Lightroom 3.4

I don’t know about  those of you who are new to digital photography, but I find that just learning to use photo software isn’t enough to get the best possible images.  Although I know how to manipulate most of the software menus, I end up making a lot of adjustments through trial and error, which takes more time than I want to spend with less than ideal results.

So, last night I began a Lightroom class. As the late W. Edward Deming (a continuous quality expert) would put it, I’m addressing the weakest point in my image production process. For those who don’t know, Lightroom is an Adobe product that integrates with their Photoshop line.  However, Lightroom is designed more for organizing and developing photos according to a more intuitive workflow process, whereas Photoshop focuses more on special effects. Lightroom also has the advantage of not making any destructive changes to your raw or compressed files.

Here’s to better images!