Wildlifephoto frustration

If you would like to post, you'll need to register. Note that if you have a BCG store account, you'll need a new, separate account here (we keep the two sites separate for security purposes).

Studioff

New member
I have been photographing birds and wildlife many years now but have a problem that I haven't yet solved or gotten my head around.
I had a Nikon D5300 and a Tamron 150-600 G1. Then upgraded to a D7500 and later to a Tamron 150-600 G2. Now I own a Nikon 200-500 as well but I will sell the least good performing lens.

The problem I have is when I come back from my phototrips I often get dissapointed. Blurry photos. Who hasn't been there? Lots of obvoious explanations for a great part of the blurrs.
Sometimes I have shot from a car while engine is on. Sometimes to slow shutterspeed. Sometimes the warm air rising blurrs.

But sometimes I feel that I have done everything ringt but the focus is soft or blurry and I can't work out why. Most often when the subject is a bit further away. Maybe 10-15 meters or more. I have used several different settings. Different VR and AF-A AF-S and AF-C.

DSC_2236_s.jpg

This is a typcal example. Ok shutterspeed. 1/1250. Shot from a car standing still and pretty good support for the camera. It was impossible to get it to autofocus right. Ok the light is behind the deer and maybe that makes the focus harder. I have often felt lika it is so. This was in the early morning.

Here is another example with the light on the subject. I seem to remember though that the engine was running here though and the shutterspeed is slower.
DSC_3943 200-500_s.jpg


I often see in the viewfinder that the subject is out of focus and try to refocus and so on but it seems impossible.
I began to suspect calibration and the lens but I had similar problems with the D5300 and G1 as with the D7500 and G1 and G2. I bought Reikan and calibrated but that wasn't the fault.
When I shoot smaller birds in good light the focus is excellent and sharp. I don,t have much of thses problems in those scenarios.

So here's another one. I love to shoot in the morning with the dewey grass and so on and maybe that adds to the problem. Rising heat and moist and the sun shimmering in the waterdrops in the grass. I thought of using smaller aperture as when I photograph small waterdrops with macro and the light shines in on the drop butdidn't have the time to adjust.
3_s.jpg

And a couple of more typcal non-focus photos.
DSC_8156 150-600_s.jpg
5_s.jpg



I lent a Nikon 200-500 lens and tried it out a couple of days. I'd say the ratio of good pics was up. Some misses but better. I bought a used one (different one) and nah the problem is pretty much the same.

I know a lot of the blurrs have natural causes like motion blur, shooting from a running car, heat and so on but I feel that it can't be the answer to all the blur.
 
Last edited:

Ralph Bruno

Well-known member
Supporting Member
Sorry for the extra bad pic quality. I had to make the pics smaller so be able to transfer.
For what it’s worth, all photos except for the deer have poor lighting and that could be a major contributing factor. Have you tried spot metering in those situations? I know when I’m in my car photographing, I used to shoot subjects in a similar situation with unsatisfactory results and came to the conclusion that the poor lighting is the reason. Now, I don’t even shoot a subject unless the light is behind me or at least at an angle where I can get some reflection off the eye. That has made a major difference in my results. When I go to the Wildlife refuge which has an 8 mile road that pretty much is configured in a rectangular shape through the wetlands I plan it so that the sun is behind me as much as possible and I almost never shoot in the direction of heavy backlighting. As a result my keepers increased dramatically. Hope this helps.
 

Rustic land

Active member
AS Ralph has said most of the above images have poor lighting and this could be a major part of the problem, some though do appear to be heat haze and no matter what you do you will not be able to fix that.

I would suggest that you do a few tests where you make sure the light is coming from behind you so that it is cast directly on your subject or from the front right (over your left shoulder) or front left (over your right shoulder) of your subject and see if you get a larger keeper rate.
 

jeffnles1

Well-known member
Supporting Member
I'm not sure where to start. As Ralph said, some of those were in such bad light it would be hard for anyone, regardless of equipment, to get a "publishable" shot. Some were not in that bad of light.

You mentioned images look blurry through the viewfinder. May be a rhetorical question but have you focused with AF, then look through the viewfinder and adjusted the diopter? Everyone's eyes are different and the diopter button next to the viewfinder will help adjust for your eyes so you see things in proper focus through the viewfinder.

I'll go down and suggest what I think may be going on in each photo. There is always room for interpretation in these things since I wasn't there with you when the photo was taken and the compression & downsizing required for forum posts alter the image to some extent.

Photo 1 - looks like you're dealing with heat shimmer (temperature diffraction) as well as unflattering light. Looking at the grass at the deer's feet, I don't see any obvious back/front focus issues. What ISO was this shot at? High ISO doesn't do anything to help the crispness of your photos either.

Photo 2 - I think that just missed focus. If you look at the grass behind the left side deer, it is in sharper focus than the animals. Lots of things can cause this that isn't really equipment problems. We've all been there. The buck on the left may be some motion blur since it looks like he's licking something on his back. Hard to say but I think it's more of a missed focus. Could be blur from the engine of the car but I'm not sure that is the main culprit here.

Photo 3 and Photo 4 - isn't really that bad given the light. I suspect it's a pretty heavy crop. At some point, we just don't have the subject occupying enough pixels. Significant cropping combined with some low quality light will yield less than satisfactory results. Again, this one looks about what I would expect from my own work with a high level of crop, high ISO and probably a pretty good distance.

Photo 5 is like photo 2. Look at the grass upon which the animal is laying. The grass behind the animal is in focus while the animal is not. Either it was just a missed focus or your camera may be back focusing a bit. I would tend to think it was just a missed focus (see my comment about adjusting the viewfinder's diopter).

Hope this is helpful.
 

DRwyoming

Well-known member
Supporting Member
I agree with the comments above. Most of those problem shots leave the main subject under exposed and that robs contrast and sharpness so I'd start by working on exposure which may include different metering but mostly means using exposure compensation as the scene demands and looking for better lighting on your main subjects.

But to me, most of these show obvious heat shimmer. When you shoot from the car are you allowing the car interior to reach ambient temperature? IOW, if it's cold outside it should be cold inside the car and when it's hot outside it should be hot inside the car. If the car interior is a nice comfortable temperature but it's much colder or hotter outside then when you roll down windows to shoot you'll get a lot of thermal turbulence right as the hot or cold air escapes the car.

Also, are these deep crops, the out of focus areas look a bit that way and deep cropping also robs critical sharpness. If these are uncropped straight out of the camera then again I'd look to expsosure and heat air shimmer issues but if these are deep crops then I'd work on getting closer which might mean working from blinds or other field techniques.

FWIW, it's pretty common to blame the equipment and worry about a bad copy of a lens or focus fine tuning problems. Those things definitely happen so I advise eliminating the equipment concerns by testing the gear in a nice stable and well lit environment. IOW, set up some test targets in a well lit place and shoot some test images from a stable support using ample shutter speed and evaluate those tests to make sure the equipment itself is functioning properly. That's the best way to identify things like front or back focus issues that can be resolved with AF fine tuning and to gain confidence that your copy of the lens is sharp at the desired working distance. Get that out of the way and it's one less nagging concern when you're in the field.
 
Last edited:

arbitrage

Active member
There are atmospheric issues in all of these images. Very obvious in the OOF areas. You will rarely get a good image in these conditions. The backlighting will just compound the problem. Go out very early, stay out for no more than 2 hrs. Even then depending on overnight vs morning conditions you may still be affected. Late evening can be good also but not always.
 

Steve

Admin
Staff member
Supporting Member
Yup, the majority of those are suffering from heat distortion for sure. No question about it. Definitely check out my shooting from the car video above - it may solve some of the problems.
 

Studioff

New member
Thread starter
Wow thanks guys! So many good advice!

I have just watched your (Steve) video about shooting from cars during my lunch and I really never thought that the car could interfere like that.

Awesome video as always Steve! The vibrations of the car with the engine was obvoius to me and the heat diffraction (sorry, I'm swedish and didin't know the word for it) by the grass and in the field and so on was also obvious but not that difference between temperature in the car and outside could cause such problems. I really never thought of that ...because I have never seen these diffractions like the ones you'll see in nature so I never though the camera could be interfered by something I can't see:) .I have to be more aware of that because I honestly can't say right away how the temperature was at these shots. I suspect warmer inside the car because most are from early in the morning early spring. I do though recall several times shooting from the car in different temeprature and having had the windows down for a long while and still having these focus-misses.

Only the deer lying in the grass is cropped. The rest is just converted to smaller resolution. The pics look pretty terrible all over but trust me the focus is really off. The first deer, the crane and the deer in the grass are heavily backlighted and wouldn't have been great shots anyway but I thought I would be able to nail the focus. Is the heavy backlight really so tricky for the camera so it can't focus? I have noticed sometimes doing macro with backlight (not direct into the lens) which I like a lot...drops, insects and so on...having focus-issues.

I can't see any fron/back-focus issues on any of them except maybe the lapwing. The rest just seems not focused at all.
I have tried spotmetering but the focusproblems are still there and spotmetering doesn't work very often I think when shooting wildlife.
The ISO is as low as possible and these shots have ISO between 320-800 but I generally aim for lower. And it's not a crispiness-issue I think. The issue is that the subjects are totally out of focus. I bumped up the ISO and went for spotmetering and aperture-priority on these to get decent shutterspeed. The photos were taken on a couple of test-trips but are a good representation of the problem.
The problem has occured mostly on my early morning-trips. I start out just before the sun rises and keep on a couple of hours or more.

Many of these examples have backlight but I have also had this problem with good light and then maybe thought that the for example dry grass around the fox is confusing the focussystem.

I think that the second deer-shot and the lapwing though has got ok lighting and the light shouldn't casue this problem on those shots.

I love to shoot in the early morning but looking on the crane-pic you can see all the tiny dew-drops shining very much in the sunshine and maybe that also can be a problem? And ofcourse the moist must have been rising as the sun warmed the dew but I couldn't see the diffraction with my eyes.

I have adjusted the diopter...it's tricky with progressive glasses though but it should be ok.
These shots are not representative of my good shots. I have managed some of those as well :)
I will though set up some testobjects in the early-morning-sunny grass and try to do a proper test with the car running and off and outside with tripod and so on.
 
Last edited:

bsinc1962

Well-known member
Supporting Member
As has been said above shooting from a vehicle has its challenges. Steve's video on it is excellent. Something that's not on the video that I've experienced is that the type of vehicle plays a role as well. If I take my truck, a Toyota Tundra to a shoot even I have all the windows open and the engine off and sit for awhile it's often not enough especially on colder days. The truck retains and emits so much heat from under the vehicle that it's almost impossible to get a sharp image unless you move far from it. Either that or wait around for an hour for it to cool. My wife's car a Nissan Rogue doesn't generate anyways near the same amount of heat from the underside of it and I can shoot from it almost immediately.
 

jeffnles1

Well-known member
Supporting Member
Wow thanks guys! So many good advice!

I have just watched your (Steve) video about shooting from cars during my lunch and I really never thought that the car could interfere like that.

Awesome video as always Steve! The vibrations of the car with the engine was obvoius to me and the heat diffraction (sorry, I'm swedish and didin't know the word for it) by the grass and in the field and so on was also obvious but not that difference between temperature in the car and outside could cause such problems. I really never thought of that ...because I have never seen these diffractions like the ones you'll see in nature so I never though the camera could be interfered by something I can't see:) .I have to be more aware of that because I honestly can't say right away how the temperature was at these shots. I suspect warmer inside the car because most are from early in the morning early spring. I do though recall several times shooting from the car in different temeprature and having had the windows down for a long while and still having these focus-misses.

Only the deer lying in the grass is cropped. The rest is just converted to smaller resolution. The pics look pretty terrible all over but trust me the focus is really off. The first deer, the crane and the deer in the grass are heavily backlighted and wouldn't have been great shots anyway but I thought I would be able to nail the focus. Is the heavy backlight really so tricky for the camera so it can't focus? I have noticed sometimes doing macro with backlight (not direct into the lens) which I like a lot...drops, insects and so on...having focus-issues.

I can't see any fron/back-focus issues on any of them except maybe the lapwing. The rest just seems not focused at all.
I have tried spotmetering but the focusproblems are still there and spotmetering doesn't work very often I think when shooting wildlife.
The ISO is as low as possible and these shots have ISO between 320-800 but I generally aim for lower. And it's not a crispiness-issue I think. The issue is that the subjects are totally out of focus. I bumped up the ISO and went for spotmetering and aperture-priority on these to get decent shutterspeed. The photos were taken on a couple of test-trips but are a good representation of the problem.
The problem has occured mostly on my early morning-trips. I start out just before the sun rises and keep on a couple of hours or more.

Many of these examples have backlight but I have also had this problem with good light and then maybe thought that the for example dry grass around the fox is confusing the focussystem.

I think that the second deer-shot and the lapwing though has got ok lighting and the light shouldn't casue this problem on those shots.

I love to shoot in the early morning but looking on the crane-pic you can see all the tiny dew-drops shining very much in the sunshine and maybe that also can be a problem? And ofcourse the moist must have been rising as the sun warmed the dew but I couldn't see the diffraction with my eyes.

I have adjusted the diopter...it's tricky with progressive glasses though but it should be ok.
These shots are not representative of my good shots. I have managed some of those as well :)
I will though set up some testobjects in the early-morning-sunny grass and try to do a proper test with the car running and off and outside with tripod and so on.
Glad you got some useful info from the discussion. What really drove home the effects of heat diffraction for me was not photography but long range competitive target shooting. When looking at an object 500-800 yards away through a 20-40X scope, those heat waves / heat shimmer really cause the object to appear like it is moving around. On bad days, the optical illusion is such that the object can appear to be moving 3-4 feet (a meter) in all directions at once. All at once? How? I don't know the science behind it but, for example, the bottom of the object can be bowed to the left the top can be bowed to the right and lengthwise it can appear shorter and fatter or longer and thinner than it really is.

That same phenomena is happening with our telephoto lenses too. However, it may not be as noticeable. 1) even our "big glass" isn't 40X magnification, and 2) we're so focused on the subject our brain kind of makes room for the heat distortion. If you ever get a chance to look through a powerful scope at a distant object it's really interesting to watch stationary objects dance around.
 

Studioff

New member
Thread starter
Thanks guys!
I really have learned a lot when it comes to wildlifephoto from cars.
I will drop the search for faults with the lenses and focus on the sollutions and tips you have provided and I will watch Steves video some more ;)
 

gbodave

Active member
If all of these images were taken from inside a car then the obvious comment is what are your images like when you're not shooting from inside a car.

I don't see the ambient light as being a problem. There is some brightness in some of the photos. You can see that the sun is casting small bright areas on the backs of the deer.

We can't always shoot in the brightest clearest light. We have to cope with what is before us. There shouldn't be a problem in obtaining a balanced exposure and good sharpness in dull conditions. If shooting in dull light is so detrimental I'd only be shooting for a few months in the year.

Atmospheric effects at close or pretty close range is something I seem to have managed to avoid somehow. Atmospherics at the far end of a landscape photo yes. That's a frequent issue in the UK even in the best months weatherwise.

We don't know the full story behind the use of settings, especially which metering mode and which AF area mode is used. I find that AF area mode can easily be the main culprit with out of focus images. We do know that for a standing deer a SS of 1/1250 was good enough. I don't think we know which F number is being used which would be critical.

Back lighting can be challenging but not every time. The OP has discarded the option of using spot metering. That's the only metering mode I use for all genres of photography and have done so for a number of years. Why it works for me and not the OP... who knows.

If we knew the full range of settings used for each image we could begin to rule some specifics in and some specifics out.
 

Studioff

New member
Thread starter
All the examples were taken from inside the car. I believe most of the photos had spotmetering. Spotmetering seems to be working in most cases but sometimes when shooting wildlife there are big light/dark-contrasts and the metering spot is bigger than the autofocusspot and measures thing I don't want measured. But as you say most often it works...with flying birds as an exception I think.
I use AF-S singlepoint in these examples and tend to use that mostly. Aperture is the biggest on thses examples so 5.6 (Nikon 200-500) or 6.3 (Tamron 150-600 G2).
I don't think that dull light is the problem in these examples...I'm more thinking of if the light is "difficult". For example the crane.... backlight, lots of shimmering in the grass and quite dark crane (because of the backlight).
 

gbodave

Active member
If you use other than spot then a larger area will be measured and probably include more stuff that you don't want measured but it' a matter of which results correspond most closely with what you are aiming for.

I always use AF-C for anything be it static or moving. I've never seen any difference in image quality between the two. AF-S is fine for something that is truly static and will remain static. A standing animal or perched bird often display some slight movement. At some point AF-S won't cope with it. Additionally, that standing deer may take off and AF-S would be the wrong mode to be in. Same with the perched bird that flies or runs along a branch.

For a deer I would always be at F8 to ensure adequate DOF in all poses. The deer may be side on and especially with a young deer, the body width may be small enough to support F5.6 and maintain adequate DOF. However, even with a small deer it's a different kettle of fish if it turns to be 45 degrees to you or the full length of the body is in the frame. The sharp area provided by the DOF would need to be extended. Mature red deer stags need a really wide sharp area.

I'd agree with you about the crane. A number of challenging issues coming together. I'd be tending to darken the image as much as possible to lessen the effect of backlighting then bringing up the inevitable shadows on the bird in post. Bracketing, although usually suitable for sunsets, could help by obtaining several images at different exposures.
 

Abinoone

Member
Supporting Member
Others have already expressed my own thoughts about your situation, so no need to repeat any of them. The one thing I'd strongly encourage you to do is careful testing under controlled conditions. Find any subject with good light, use a tripod and perhaps a remote shutter release, try different metering and AF settings, etc. By doing so you should be able to eliminate variables (camera shake, bad lighting, AF mode, field technique, etc.) that might be contributing to your blurry results. Good luck, and let us know how it turns out!

P.S. are you using back button AF? If not, you should!
 

DRwyoming

Well-known member
Supporting Member
and I will watch Steves video some more ;)
I'd add this video to your viewing list:

I learned this same technique from Moose Peterson more than 20 years ago and it made a dramatic difference in my ability to capture sharp images with long lenses. While locking down and shooting with a remote release or time delay can be great for wider angle lenses and what I do all the time for: landscape, macro and astro shots it often doesn't work as well when using long lenses like your new 500mm PF especially when shooting through the viewfinder with a DSLR. The problem is the mirror slap and shutter release vibrations that travel out along the long lens and then reflect back towards the camera. Good long lens technique dampens those vibrations and can substantially improve sharpness.

I first learned these techniques in a wildlife context but though trial and error (a lot of the latter) I found I need to do this or emulate it for long telephoto images of things like the moon or while doing lens testing. If I do use a locked tripod approach I place a bean bag either on top of the lens where my hand would rest or under the lens hood resting on a second tripod which is another way to dampen vibrations and get sharper images but of course that isn't practical when shooting live subjects. BTW, if you read about lens tests you'll often see testers use mirror lock up which also helps reduce these vibrations, electronic shutter would be even better in cameras that support it.

Anyway, I suspect the issue in your images was thermal shimmer from shooting out of an open window but you might also be seeing some motion blur and that can happen with long lenses on a locked tripod which isn't immediately obvious but good long lens technique can dampen those vibrations.
 
Last edited:

Ado Wolf

Active member
The first thing that struck me was AF Fine-tuning. When you look at the 1st (deer) photo and 5th (also deer) photo, and noticed the grass is sharper in front of the subject or behind the subject and not under the head / eye region (where I assume you acquired the focus). So I would take a look at this, particularly with a zoom lens, that may suffer from front focus at certain focal points (say at 300 mm) and back-focus at another focal points (say at 600 mm). If you have the Tamron console, you can fix those with AF Fine Tuning (at different focal point).

Heat distortion is definitely a major factor, since early morning the weather is coldest, while air in the car (and next to the car) is warmer.. Steve's videos are highly recommended.

Some lenses introduce blur when using VR with speeds higher than 1/500 sec. If the lens is well supported and the speed is higher than 1/500, I would try without VR.

One last tiny detail which may have a big impact, is how you press the shutter button? many use the "roll the finger" combined with "hold your breath". For me, keeping cool and dumbing down the excitement helped most, as I tend to have steady hands and light touch on the shutter button (something I acquired as a child through hunting).

I would also strongly suggest to test the Lens indoor to rule out the "maybe it's a bad lens" problem..

Good luck.
 
Top