There’s starlight in us all, but not enough …

My long birding lens is a 100-300mm whose lowest f stop is f4. That’s it. For my camera, there is no faster lens this long. This IS the faster lens. The other one was f4.8.

If you don’t take pictures and use lenses, you probably have no idea what an f stop is, but for the rest of you, you know that an f stop indicates how “open” the lens diaphragm is and thus, how much light will let in … and therefore, how bright the picture will be.

Are you still with me? To make this even more interesting, the bigger the opening is, the smaller the number is for that f stop. Do not ask me why. Whoever invented cameras way back when made that decision and the numbers make no sense. You just memorize them, or at least you did when I started photography …  fifty years ago.

Despite the fact that almost all cameras work well in automatic and if your eyes are like mine, probably better, some of us persist in trying to take pictures based on the lens aperture or “film speed.” There is no film, but it used to be film speed. Today, it’s ASA or something like that. I let the camera take care of that.

In the manual camera in which I began my photographic hobby, there was no battery. No electronics of any kind. There wasn’t even a light meter. We used handheld light meters. Also, there was a piece of paper inside the Kodak film box that told you what settings to use for different kinds of light. We called it “the paper meter” and it worked surprisingly well. There were only three things (other than what film to choose) you needed to learn: f stop (lens aperture), shutter speed (how long the shutter stays open), and of course, remembering what speed the film is. Because if you forgot, it messed up your pictures and in those days, you had to pay for all that blurry, unusable film. Photography was expensive.

I had to rebuild all my bird feeders today. One had been knocked to the ground so often, it was no longer round. You just couldn’t get the top or bottom to fit. The flat feeder allowed the seeds to become mush as it has been raining all the time. Or it may just seem that way. It was disgusting and I finally threw it away. We do toss a lot of seed over the fence for the ground feeders. If you peer over the deck rail, you’ll see all the ground feeding birds there. Hard to take pictures of them, though.

So this is about light. Not the light in the picture, but the light I didn’t have enough of when I took the pictures. Not to mention the nearly dead battery that I hadn’t changed before I shot. The battery marker was flashing orange — a bad sign because when the battery is nearly dead, there’s not a lot of zest to the camera — and it’s an f4 lens which I had inadvertently set on aperture — which was definitely wrong for such low light.

The light was very low. It was a few minutes past sunset. There was light, but not much. My 50mm f1.8 lens would have done fine. Even an f2.8 lens might have been okay. But that lens didn’t do it and every single picture I took of a very lovely Cardinal was blurry. Twenty shots, twenty blurs. Some so blurred I just deleted them and seventeen probably need to be dumped, too.

So there’s starlight in all of us, but not enough to take a clear shot after sundown in mid-winter with a 100-300 f4 telephoto lens. And if your camera needs a new battery? For heaven’s sake, just put one in. If the bird flies away, so be it but the pictures you take with your nearly dead battery aren’t going to be great anyway.

Four pictures here from the same chip. The photo of the two juncos was sharp, but I had to crop it a lot to make it square and then do a lot of stuff to get rid of the noise from cropping so tight.

Photography is all about light. The two pictures of Cardinals are impressionistic because they weren’t sharp enough to show otherwise. Blessings upon the creators of filters and especially Topaz. This is as good as it gets when you don’t have the light. Sometimes, you can’t take the picture, no matter how much you want to.

And now, the Juncos. They really didn’t want to be square, but I did it anyway!

Two Juncos on the deck

Categories: Animals, birds

9 replies

  1. That’s why your photos are so wonderful.


    • When the light is good, and I remember to make sure the lens isn’t set to some weird setting (there are too many settings on modern cameras, most of which NOBODY uses), I can get some great shots. But it really IS all about the light, so if it isn’t there, I have to stop pretending it’s there and taking the pictures anyway. They won’t be any good and by now, you’d think I’d KNOW that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh I’m so glad I’m not the only one who has days of blurred birds, always so frustrating. As you say we just need to dig deeper for our inner starlight!!


    • Or I need a faster lens! For my 4/3 Olympus, this is the fastest “birding” lens they make. The Olympus (cheaper of the two long lenses) is f4.8 and that is too slow. It’s a bit longer — 75 to 300, but f4.8? And that’s wide open. So I got the Panasonic/Leica lens at f4. In NORMAL light, it’s a perfect bird lens and almost all the reviews I read of it, everyone was a birder. I think the only other thing you could use it for might be sports, but for sports, it’s probably too slow. Birds at least sometimes stop moving. Athletes don’t perch.

      As far as blurry birds go, some days, I get a whole chip full of absolutely perfect shots. The next day, they are all unusable. Yesterday was one of those days.

      The other thing is I shoot through glass. If I go out on the deck, they leave, wait until I go in the house, and maybe then will return. It’s infuriating, but birds aren’t my pets. They are there for their dinner. I can’t shoot early in the morning because the light is directly in my face until around 11 or 12. Once it moves overhead, I can get pictures. Until then, all I get is a lot of reflection. You can imagine how much worse the flash would make it.

      I’m always impressed at people who don’t have feeders and get great bird pictures. Talk about patience!

      Today, snow is falling. Very lightly. Just drifting flakes, but it’s already dark and it’s just noon. This isn’t going to be a day for taking pictures. We weren’t expecting snow. As the climate changes, forecasts are all guesswork.


      • Glass always adds to the challenge!

        And yes you do need patience as an outdoors bird photographer, sometimes though it is just luck!


        • I have a friend who has great shots of all kinds of wild animals and he said the same thing: “Patience and luck and staying really still for a long time.” I don’t think anybody takes all perfect pictures. I’d like to think that there really is some art to it and it isn’t just pointing and shooting and that’s it.


  3. I remember when we did photography that way. David used a light meter. I preferred the paper meter and it did work OK. Mistakes were expensive and disappointing. I do love that digital photography has meant I can afford to take more pictures but a slow lens on a dull day is never going to do much good. Of course, it doesn’t stop us from trying though.


    • And he was such a pretty Cardinal! But you can’t make a slow lens take sharp pictures in such low light. And since I’m shooting through glass, so even if I wanted too, the flash would be useless. Flash would also scare the birds.

      I was always surprised at how good that paper meter was.


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