I've been trying all winter to get a decent picture of a bufflehead! would appreciate advice on camera settings so that I don't blow out the white areas. I find it hard to photograph white birds, especially on a bright day. Thanks!
I have a Panasonic FZ70. Its not DSLR but does a pretty good job and is quite versatile. I can shoot in either jpeg or RAW but have always used jpeg. Maybe it is time for me to learn RAW? And I have adobe photoshop elements for processing. I am afraid I don't understand digital cameras as much as I could, as I grew up helping my father develop black and white film in his home made darkroom and used a 35 mm until it died!
Set your camera to MANUAL exposure control and metering to SPOT. Meter off the white feathers and then open up by 1 to 1.3 stops [+ 1.0 to +1.3] otherwise the white will be grey. Conversely, if you meter off black feathers you will have to stop down as much as 2.5 stops [-1.5 to -2.5] Take some bracketed shots to see what works best
OLYMPUS MICRO 4/3 SYSTEM, Oly 300/4 Pro and 40-150/2.8 Pro + MC-14 or MC-20 teleconverters
Thanks for the help! I spent some time practicing at Salish Pond where the seagulls and ducks are happy to sit for you in the hope you have food. It was much better, but I can see it will take some practice. Birds don't always want to sit and wait while I figure things out!
Sounds like you're already making headway Cathy. Well done.
For more technical talk when your camera is on automatic exposure and it tries to expose a subject that is black and white, two challenging exposures on their own never mind mixed together, it will 'weight' the exposure towards the area of the subject that has most of which ever of the two colours. As Bert accurately describes, go to manual exposure and make the adjustments which may vary depending on your camera and the intensity of the light (full sun vs. filtered through clouds). I avoid metering blacks myself as much can go wrong in my personal experience. My preferred method for exposure of tricky subjects is to work off the available light that your subject is in based on neutral tones that are in the same light as the subject (grey rocks, leaves, tree trunks etc). When I know what the proper exposure is for these mid-tones I can then adjust to accommodate the black, white or black/white subjects. Which way you go on birds that are black and white such as Buffleheads, Trumpeter Swans for example is to determine which part of the bird being exposed the 'best' helps the overall photo. In the swans case it's simple to say expose for the white and let the beak sort itself out because the white accounts for 90% of the bird. For the Bufflehead, I would bring out the black parts more because the dark eye on a Bufflehead is in the black/darker part of the bird. A sharp and well defined eye on a subject makes for a more pleasing photo. The white does get slightly blown out though but if you cheat it a bit a little balance can be had. The one I got below worked out fairly well and a bit of detail in the white parts was maintained. In this light the head caught the sun right and the black turned into rainbow! Still, with darker tones and the bright white the aforementioned techniques are useful. Good luck and thanks for asking such a great question.
Gord Fraser Valley Birding Administrator eBird Regional Editor (Fraser Valley)