Beauty in sight, but sadly low light…

If you have been following my posts, you’ll know how much I love kingfishers.

A birding friend and guide was kind enough, when I was recently in Malaysia, to show me a kingfisher that I’d never seen before. We drove and drove, somewhere on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, but the exact place I couldn’t tell you where it was. Our subject to be photographed was a Rufous Collared Kingfisher, that was nesting at the time.

It was made clear that there were no guarantees that this bird would still be there; some bird photographers had been going to some lengths to get close to this bird, and the nest, even to the point where the bird may have been disturbed. It was also pointed out  that this bird would most likely not venture out into sunlight, as it is a “forest” riverine kingfisher; thus light levels for photography were expected to be very low, given its’ preferred perches and late afternoon approaching all too fast.

8D3A9192 - Version 2I’d just added to my photography equipment… a video head had been added to my tripod, to bring greater stability to my camera and recently acquired long lens. Additionally, I’d also recently gotten a lens and camera body support railing system, to minimise camera shake. This was the first time I was getting to use these ‘early birthday presents’. I was full of anticipation to see this beautiful bird for the first time. I was also eager to put this new gear through its’ paces.

After almost 3 hours there had been no sign of either the male nor female bird. I was wondering whether those photographers that had been ‘stretching  the boundaries’ and seeking those ‘record shots’, may have caused the bird to abandon the nest. I hoped they hadn’t caused this tragedy… I’d heard of recent instances in Malaysia where other birds had suffered this fate 😦 .

At 5.35pm the light was leaving us quite quickly. The perch we knew these birds would frequent had been left bare for several hours.  Then finally she came.

A39T3980-impA female Rufous Collared Kingfisher. In low light. VERY low light. There are light sources above her high in the canopy, but no direct light was reaching this bird.

I had done all I could do to make sure everything was stable and I could thus minimise the impact of such poor lighting. The tripod was planted and weight was hanging from the middle to provide even less movement. I’d locked down my video head. Lens and camera stability rails were fitted and locked down. I’d attached a cable release to make sure there was no vibration from pressing the shutter button. I’d locked the mirror inside the camera “up” so that wouldn’t cause vibration either.

A39T3948-impThe shutter speeds I was getting and general Exposure Settings (EXIF) were very challenging to say the least… ISO2500, f9, 1/13 of a second and focal length 700mm.

Boy is that a SLOW shutter. That’s VERY low light readings. The bird moved position a little, but the male still did not come and join her.

A39T3974-impI tried different things to get better shots. I wanted to increase the shutter speed. I could have done… reduced the aperture was possible by at least a stop. But this bird is quite rounded, rotund in stature, and then depth of field would be further reduced and more detail would be lost. If I increased ISO then this might help, but NOISE would surely be introduced even more than I was expecting at ISO 2500.  The shot above was taken at ISO1600, f5.6, and at 1/10 of a second… light was falling fast.

A39T3946-impI tried to shoot more as the bird again shifted on the perch. I was excited as it may have been that the male would join her. But alas no.  This shot was taken at ISO2500, with f9 and at 1/13 of a second.

I couldn’t get that ‘super sharp’ image. Not without more light. Not without firing a flash. And not without moving a LOT closer to the bird. I chose none of these options. Better to let the beauty have some peace. Better to settle for a decent shot, rather than a fabulous one under these circumstances.

My stabilisation system worked. In fact, at these shutter speeds, it ROCKED. I got to see a beautiful creature. Got to photograph her too. The male remains a quest. But I’m more than happy.

SO low light hampered proceedings. But the low light did not stop them. I’ll go back at some point in the future and shoot the male too. And get better shots of the female. But as of now, I’m privileged to have been with this bird on this day.

Happy Days :).

3 thoughts on “Beauty in sight, but sadly low light…”

  1. Perfection isn’t always important. I happy you showed me a bird I haven’t seen before, and your dedication to you craft is inspiring. You’ve found a good balance between being an excellent photographer, and still being able to enjoy, and understand the importance of the subjects you shoot. Thank you for shedding light on the greed of some photographers to get “the shot,” and ignore the deserved peace of our feathered friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It may at times be the only way to capture a picture of a bird in low light Edwin. It’s just my opinion, but I think restraint has to be used. It’s a last resort for me. I always have the belief that after that “flash” then a lot of the time the bird will be gone. I also believe that in times of nesting and such like, disturbance should be minimised. I’ll not use flash in these instances regardless if it means you do not get the shot. There are many that have reflected research that flash nature photography is harmless. There are jut as many that take an opposed viewpoint. So as I do not know really what to believe to be true, I err on the side of caution and place the birds’ welfare first.


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