Photographing Yellow Robins

Recently I have made some posts on niche photographic topics. While these are interesting, they aren't actually supposed to be the main focus of my website. Most of my photos are of wildlife and birds in particular, but I haven't written anything about either. Without engaging in apologetics too much the reason for this is because it is winter. Winter is bad for wildlife photography for a few reasons. Firstly, it is really hard to get out and photograph. Being cold is usually easy to deal with. The wind on the other hand can make outdoor activity a real chore. The days are short which limits the amount of available to time go out and photograph. This is an acute issue because the free time I normally go shooting, the morning and evenings, are severely curtailed. Secondly, the lighting in winter is generally very poor. It is often cloudy which lowers the available light. Bird photography requires fast shutter speeds so poor lighting forces you to use uncomfortably high ISO levels. Further the quality of the light is poor as the clouds soften it and thus degrades the quality of the pictures taken. Thirdly, birds are more difficult to find. As part of the seasonal cycle many birds die off over the winter before being repopulated in the spring/summer. Obviously this means there are less birds around. Some birds migrate away so there is simply no chance of seeing them. A few token birds like the Eurasian Coot migrate here in the winter, however they are intensely uninteresting.

With all that being true, it isn't impossible to get some good birds shots in winter. I tried a few times and failed miserably. This time I set out for Sherwood Forest, which yielded better results. I have been to Sherwood plenty of times and it was featured in an earlier article Infrared Photography - The Cure For Haze as the vantage point from where I took my photos. Sherwood forest in a fascinating place. It marks the change in geography of the region from open grassland to the foothills of the Australian Alps. The actual 'forest' is part of a pine forest plantation which has its own unique ecosystem. There are wild pigs which live in the forest although I don't have any pictures. Getting some would be somewhat dangerous. I found a dying Bassian Thrush there in the summer which was truly fascinating. All that is to say there is a lot to see there if you go looking for it.

Dying Bassian Thrush (7D Mk. 2 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3 + Extension Tubes: f/7.1 ISO-500 1/250 sec. @600mm)

Dying Bassian Thrush (7D Mk. 2 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3 + Extension Tubes: f/7.1 ISO-500 1/250 sec. @600mm)

I went back there this time to shoot Yellow Robins. I had noticed the last time I was there for the infrared haze article, a large number of both Yellow and Scarlet Robins jumping around on the Verbascum (a type of tall weed birds can perch on). That wasn't surprising to me. Most small birds move out of the mountains and bush towards the city in the winter searching for food. Robins don't. I am not sure why. Yellow Robins in particular aren't averse to human contact. I think it might have something to do with a preference for cooler climates as they are fairly common even at the top of mountains. I've had Scarlet Robins appear at the top of Camel's Hump before. Given this knowledge my plan was to take a chair up the hill at Sherwood Forest where all the Verbascum is and wait. So that is what I did.

7D Mk. 2 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3: f/7.1 ISO-160 1/500 sec. @600mm

7D Mk. 2 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3: f/7.1 ISO-160 1/500 sec. @600mm

7D Mk. 2 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3: f/7.1 ISO-250 1/500 sec. @600mm

7D Mk. 2 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3: f/7.1 ISO-250 1/500 sec. @600mm

Almost immediately the Yellow Robins came around. They hunt in groups and move from stalk to stalk looking for bugs to eat. Initially they kept there distance from me. Still, with a good 600mm lens I could get nice shots of them regardless. It helped that it was a nice sunny day and I had positioned myself with the sun to my back so the birds would be perfectly illuminated.

7D Mk. 2 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3: f/8 ISO-160 1/500 sec. @600mm

7D Mk. 2 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3: f/8 ISO-160 1/500 sec. @600mm

7D Mk. 2 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3: f/8 ISO-320 1/500 sec. @600mm

7D Mk. 2 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3: f/8 ISO-320 1/500 sec. @600mm

Waiting around was nice and easy with a chair to sit on. I had brought my monopod with me to rest my lens on making the task even easier. As I kept still and quiet the birds got used to my presence and slowly crept closer. Some Scarlet Robins did pop up now and then, but they are generally more timid than Yellow Robins and decided to keep there distance from me.

7D Mk. 2 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3: f/8 ISO-400 1/500 sec. @600mm

7D Mk. 2 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3: f/8 ISO-400 1/500 sec. @600mm

I got a few shots but given the distance they are of pretty poor quality.

7D Mk. 2 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3: f/7.1 ISO-160 1/500 sec. @600mm

7D Mk. 2 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3: f/7.1 ISO-160 1/500 sec. @600mm

In the end they got pretty close. They flew nice and close but it was impossible to get a shot them flying around. At this distance you could see them rummage through the dirt looking for insects. The pictures of them doing that were fairly uninteresting though.

Fuji XE-1 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3: f/7.1 ISO-640 1/500 sec. @600mm

Fuji XE-1 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3: f/7.1 ISO-640 1/500 sec. @600mm

You might have thought they you'd escaped my obsession with infrared photography in this article. Wrong. On this trip I have brought my infrared XE-1 with me to see what I could do with it when trying to take bird photos. This is a dumb idea for many reasons. The first of which is that my telephoto Sigma 150-600 is a Canon EF mount lens. Using it on a Fuji camera means I have no autofocus, image stabilisation or aperture control. Having my monopod with me helped with keeping the lens steady but focusing was a nightmare. The focus ring on the Sigma is abysmal as it offer no ability to finely adjust focus which is so necessary on a telephoto lens with a tiny field of focus. Additionally the viewfinder on the XE-1 is terrible. It is good enough for landscapes when it is easy to nail focus, but here it was impossible to tell when I was or wasn't in focus. The photo above shows off the problems I had with focusing.

Fuji XE-1 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3: f/7.1 ISO-640 1/500 sec. @600mm

Fuji XE-1 + Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3: f/7.1 ISO-640 1/500 sec. @600mm

Alas I managed to get a good photo. It was a real miracle I did so give the constraints I was operating under. Even better it was the closest a Yellow Robin had gotten to me all day. It is a nice photo, but you wouldn't know it was infrared. Part of my motivation for bringing my infrared camera was too see if there was anything unique about shooting birds in infrared. Turns out there isn't. It looks pretty much like a black and white conversion of a normal photo. Even playing around with doing some false colour yielded poor results. Ah well, now I know.

Now I know

Now I know