Dark-eyed Junco series taken at Ford County State Park
* *  Mike Umscheid PHOTOGRAPHY & STORM CHASE BLOG   * *

Thu, 01 Nov 2012 16:22:30 -0500
Dark-eyed Junco series taken at Ford County State Park
Dark-eyed Junco, Ford Co. SFL
31 October 2012
Now that I have a Nikon 600mm f/4 lens, I am interested in expanding my nature photographic interests to include songbirds.  There are several reasons for this.  One -- I don't have to drive nearly as far to areas to photograph birds.  Two -- songbird photography is extremely difficult, and I love a good challenge.  It's not just photographing the bird and trying to get the sharpest image possible, but you have to take into account other elements of an image to make it truly a good image.  I have a LOT to learn.  Three -- this also allows me an excellent opportunity to become more familiar and comfortable handling such a heavy and intimidating lens.  Repetition and practice in long lens technique (both on the tripod AND handheld) is crucial to attaining the best images.  I did say handheld.  Yes, using the 600mm f/4 is possible, I've found.  I have the Vibration Reduction (VR) version of this lens, as well as using a camera, Nikon D3, that allows higher ISO yet still very clean images so I can maintain a higher shutter speed even at the focal length AND reduced light in the woods. 

Ford County State Park, only 5 miles from my house, has a fairly nice wooded area with dirt trails south of the small lake and is a perfect local place to photograph songbirds in their natural environment.  Unfortunately since fall migration has passed, only wintering birds are around to photograph, and there aren't a lot of them around.  Yesterday (October 31), I went on my first small hike with the 600mm using the carry strap that came with the lens, and I hiked with the lens without a tripod.  I think there is an advantage to doing this, because I like to be able to enjoy a hike even if there aren't any subjects to photograph, and if an opportunity arises, I can set up quickly without having to lug the tripod around.  Plus, the hike is a little more enjoyable while carrying less.  Granted, I probably won't be making this a regular practice, and will probably only hike with a 600mm lens at Ford County State Park since it's so close to home, but at the same time, it does open up the gamut of things to shoot with the "quick draw" mindset while on a hike . 

Okay enough rambling.  Very early in the hike yesterday, a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos were perched close to ground level on some small branches about 20 feet away next to the trail.  Fortunately, the birds were close to ground level so I could steady the lens on my knee as I sat to shoot.  I focused on the nearest bird and after achieving initial camera focus with auto-focus, I turned AF off and just tweaked focus with the huge focus ring.  I love the enormous focus ring on the 600mm.  Despite the heavy cropping, I was very pleased with how sharp the bird came out.  Attached to this post are the three best images from this shoot.  That was my only good opportunity on the 40 or so minute hike this day. 



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