Birding photography guide: Check your settings

Back in the pre-digital years, a photographer’s worst nightmare was concluding a shoot and discovering either that the film had not gone through the camera or the camera wasn’t even loaded. That happened to me a few times.

Today’s version is discovering a mile and a half into the woods that your photo card is not in your camera.

You’d think I’d learn from my mistakes. At least twice I drove out to the Mercer Meadows Pole Farm and discovered that I’d forgotten to put the card in the camera. Knowing that no matter how diligent I am at putting the card back in the camera after editing on the computer that I would still forget occasionally, I had a brilliant backup plan: stash a second card in the car.

I did that, but even then I wandered off from the car one recent morning and didn’t realize I hadn’t put either card in the camera. Ordinarily, I take at least one photo within the first five minutes of any birding jaunt, a way of forcing myself to check to make sure the card is installed (my camera won’t fire if it’s not), to adjust the ISO setting for the lighting and to check the focus point setting.

On that particular morning, I did none of that. So I had to content myself with relying on binoculars and, noting the paucity of birds that morning, secretly hope that no great photo opportunities would present themselves as I hiked back to my car. As fate would have it, I got my first good look at a Savannah sparrow for the season but had no photo to show for it.

Lesson learned.

Last week, I happened upon an accommodating ruby-throated hummingbird that perched on a stem in the woods, and I had probably a minute to snap photos of it. Excited at the prospect of what I’d captured, I hit playback on the camera and was devastated to discover that the photos were blurry, including the one topping this post. The day before, my photos had also been a little off, with none of them as sharp as I demand.

A check of my lens revealed that the image stabilization slider was mysteriously set to the “off” position. I had not encountered that problem before. I suspect the slider was turned off when I tucked the camera and lens under my arm at some point, carrying it like a football for a while to relieve the weight that my shoulders normally carry.

With the stabilization setting back on, I quickly took some sharp photos. Order was restored and another lesson was learned: before setting off, check all your settings!

After turning my lens stabilization back on, I was in good shape to take this photo of a great blue heron at Colonial Lake in Lawrence Township.

Published by Dan

University media executive by day, blogger by night, I am a well-traveled resident of New Jersey

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