Photographing a White Bird

Discussion in 'Nature' started by Sandy Vongries, Nov 25, 2017.

  1. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    Was coming home from the City, and here in a cut off oxbow along the road was a Trumpeter Swan - we are not in the flight path, first I have seen in 10 years. All I had was my Ricoh GXR with a short zoom and the bird was a distance off the road on private property, so got mostly landscape with white bird instead of Bird picture. Posted earlier in No Words. (it is the last image-- finally gave up. The old "impossible to get photos in sequence" error!)

    Went back this morning with D750 & old 80-400. Was metering pattern, -.3 , Vivid. Haven't shot many white birds, probably should have used Spot. Even after adjustment, lost a lot of highlight detail.
    A few samples, suggestion appreciated!
    DSC_6728 (1024x683).jpg DSC_6729 (1024x683).jpg DSC_6732 (1024x683).jpg

    R0011484 (1024x576).jpg
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2017
  2. Sandy...I shot this American White Pelican a couple of weeks ago in Dallas. Nikon D750, 80-400 lens at 360mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/400 sec, pattern metering. DSC_7989.jpg
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2017
    andy_szeto likes this.
  3. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    Thanks, Bill!
  4. Tony Parsons

    Tony Parsons Norfolk and Good

    Meter off grey card ?
  5. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    Likely have to use my remaining hair! I tend to be a bit too spontaneous. Actually a fine idea - I could also shoot RAW, the cameras are set up to do it at the touch of a button. Thanks, Tony! The images also look worse (if possible) posted than on my monitor. Believe I'll have a Bev or two and make some dinner. Cheers!
  6. white pelican.jpg

    White pelican sitting on a log over the water, the everglades Florida. Your exposure adjustment is going to depend upon how much of the frame the white bird occupies. An averaging meter will want to turn a white bird, taking up most of the frame, into a grey bird, requiring some overexposure. In your photo above, the bird takes up a small percentage of the frame so the averaging metered exposure is going to blow the highlights in the bird as you can see in your image. You can't fix blown highlights, after the fact, by lowering the whites in post. In your third frame in the OP the blow white is now gray but still has no detail. The bright harsh light makes this bird even harder to expose properly because the white is strongly reflecting the light. I'd have shot a frame or two with - 1.5 exposure and then chimped the histogram and adjusted accordingly.
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2017
  7. Sandy, from the Nikon D750 EXIF data you may need to reconfigure your camera's exposure setting defaults especially ISO and whatever "High Gain Up" means if it has anything to do with exposure. I mean 1/4000's, f/14, ISO 2500?!

    I'm assuming the morning sun and overall available light must've been low to have to resort to ISO 2500 just to get fast shutter speed and most likely you probably didn't have enough time to optimize exposure to preserve highlights anyway.

    I've been faced with similar quick shots of high dynamic range scenes and have learned the hard way to just walk away and come back with enough time to set the proper exposure which looks like it would make the jpeg look too dark anyway 01NikonBlowout.jpg .

    This is where shooting Raw will save the day.
  8. Obviously, it depends on the prevailing conditions, but on a bright day, I will overexpose slightly (+1/3 EV) to avoid blowing the highlights.

    This bird in flight photo was handheld using a D800E and 200-500mm (@ 500mm), shutter speed at 1/2500 at f8, ISO 640 and +1/3 EV

    Last edited: Nov 25, 2017
  9. I just found out what "High Gain Up" means from an Olympus camera forum discussion. It indicates unusually high voltage amplification to the base of the transistor depending on the ISO setting which usually tends to blow out anything near full saturation giving a way too contrasty appearance which I imagine affects how the jpeg is rendered especially in highlights. IOW you using such high ISO collected more electrons from the sensor electronics than the scene could deliver which tends to induce unusual amounts of sensitivity.

    "Gain Control: High gain up" ? | Olympus E-System Community | Flickr
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2017
  10. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    Tim, thanks - got the camera back not that long ago from dhutter recall - I never even saw the high gain setting, certainly never set it. Though my son is a "Rocket Scientist" he got that from his Mom. I am more the level of cut bait & fish. Actually, can't even find High Gain in the menu on a quick pass. I'll probably do a 2 button reset, then overlay my few adjustments. Mostly I have used Spot metering since it has worked pretty much the same as film.
  11. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    Gordon, thanks -- I was at some distance, and didn't bring my 600, teleconverter or tripod -- the bird was a small part of the FX frame. The light out here in Montana is very good / sharp. Thanks for your input! Much appreciated!
  12. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    Keith, thanks. I typically underexpose about the same -.3 to gain some saturation. . Wouldn't overexposing blow the highlights worse? Will test your suggestion. Thanks!
  13. Actually,my response was incomplete. The primary reason I overexpose is to trick the camera to changing what it considers 18% gray. Without the +1.3 EV, the camera think that the white bird is middle gray, resulting in a muddied overall image. Meter on the white parts. As long as you don't overdo it, e.g., +1 EV, your highlights should be fine. It's the same principle as shooting snow. Again, this is for bright sunny conditions. Gordon explains it very well.
  14. In your situation above, it most certainly would. Keith suggestion does not apply to that situation at all. His example is not from a "bright day" but quite obviously overcast and not with direct sunlight but backlit. His bird is large in the frame, yours is not. Suggesting an overexposure of +1EV or more when your -0.3EV underexposure already results in severely blown highlights certainly won't make things better but actually quite a bit worse.

    Much better. Obviously, one thing missing is the mentioning of the kind of background. In your case, bright bird, small in frame, dark background. To avoid blowing out the highlights, at least -1.5EV is required and naturally, your leeway for highlight recovery increases substantially if you were to shoot RAW rather than JPEG (where it is non-existent).

    It is also important to consider which camera is used - Nikons need a different kind of adjustment than Canons.

    From my experience with situations like yours, using a variety of different Nikon cameras (not all need the same adjustment), using spot metering is like rolling the dice. It may work and it may not, depending on how much background gets registered with the spot. When I started with bird photography, I used spot exclusively until I was taught by the bird-photography master Arthur Morris himself to cease the practice and rely on matrix with appropriate exposure correction; have been doing that ever since (I hardly ever switch away from matrix). Left alone, matrix won't get your shot right; as already mentioned, a rather large negative correction is needed.

    Fairly certain the image below was cropped and represents a scenario quite similar to the one you encountered. D500 using matrix, -1 EV exposure correction shooting RAW (mandatory under these circumstances). Most likely pulled the highlights back in post a bit more. Had I shot this with a D300, I would have dialed in at least -2/3EV more in negative correction (-1 2/3EV) as the D300 (and the D200 before it) metered hot and provided less leeway in highlight recovery.

    Against a bright background, a positive correction is required but one needs to be aware of spots on the bird where direct sunlight hits. Again D500, matrix, +1/3EV


    Another shot against bright background but backlit rather than frontlit, D500, matrix, +2/3EV


    Large in the frame, dark background: no exposure correction at all (D500, matrix)


    Whenever I can, I estimate the amount of correction and take a shot - then look at the image and the histogram. When I am out there on a daily basis, I tend to get things close most of the time. When I only go out once in a while, things deteriorate and I need to relearn the finer points to avoid misses.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2017
    andy_szeto and Sandy Vongries like this.
  15. I doubt you're going to be able to change the "High Gain Up" settings in your camera's menu system. I'm going to guess from that linked Olympus forum discussion that it's just an ISO zone gauge to tell the incamera processor what shape of gradation curve to apply for extremely high ISO settings when rendering jpegs and Raw in Nikon's Raw converter.

    I never use spot metering with a long lens when shooting from a distance white birds that are moving. One slight move and they are out of frame and no longer in the center spot zone.

    If you're going to shoot jpegs of these types of scenes and you don't want blown highlights, I'ld suggest you calibrate your exposure metering AND incamera contrast, saturation, and HDR settings using the same long lens by test shooting a white board lit by the same morning sun and same white balance. Test using the same high ISO 2500 setting and much lower like 800 to see if it changes the rate of speed (gain-electrons are unpredictable nearing full saturation) to blow out of highlights using the same Auto Exposure settings with metering set to Matrix. Might want to use Av auto exposure mode with aperture set to f/8 which will give you faster shutter speed with high ISO. Anything higher is unnecessary shooting subjects from far away.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2017
  16. If you read my post again, you'll note that my suggestion was to overexpose by +1/3 EV, NOT +1EV. But you're right in that my suggestion was not specifically addressing Sandy's blown highlight question but in shooting "white birds" under certain circumstances, as shown in the image I attached.
  17. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    I photograph my share of white birds. When those birds occupy a significant portion of the frame, I typically use -0.7 stop over Nikon's matrix metering. The following image has no post-processing other than scaling down to 1000 pixels across. The background may seem a bit underexposed in order to protect the highlights.

    You can also spot meter the white bird beforehand and let the white part 1 to 2 stops over the medium. Most likely you'll come up with the same exposure either way.

    Sandy Vongries likes this.
  18. Varying angles of a white subjects to direct sunlight will deliver different metering readouts and thus blow out inconsistencies depending on time of day especially with the sun low in the sky vs at the 10 & 2 o'clock positions.

    I'm just perplexed by Sandy's high contrast and overblown highlights of the white bird from such a quality camera as the Nikon D750. I don't even get that with my 2006 6MP Pentax K100D and the kit lens.
  19. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    In Sandy's images, the white birds only occupy a small portion of the respective frames. Hence is the metering is biased by the overall darker tone of the scene, relative to the small, bright subjects.
    gordonjb likes this.
  20. I did re-read your post (which says +1/3EV), and also your second one that mentions +1.3EV and +1EV. I must have misunderstood the latter post as I upon re-reading it I now believe you meant to write +1/3EV instead of +1.3EV and that the +1EV was an example of "overdoing" it rather than "not overdoing it" (which is what I understood).
    Which is why Sandy obviously got confused by your first reply since he wrote: "Wouldn't overexposing blow the highlights worse? Will test your suggestion."

Share This Page