Shooting Nature in RAW / by Conor Cunningham

RAW Birds

A Greenfinch waiting for its turn at the feeder

My Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L II IS took a tumble in Ireland some weeks ago and is currently in the repair shop. The waiting list is long as there is only one Canon repair shop in Norway which is a bit of shame, but c'est la vie.

So, out came the Canon 70 - 300mm IS USM. It's not a bad lense, but not a patch on the 70-200. Sitting down in the kitchen just before dinner, I noticed a greenfinch, then two, then three, then four, and great space, then a fifth!

They were having a grand old time around with the sunflower seeds, taking it in turn to feed on them. Whilst the non-feeding birds awaited their turn, they sat in the tree directly outside my kitchen window. The pictures in this post are all from the aforementioned meal for the birds and are all taken with the 70 - 300mm at f/5.6, 1/500 second and ISO 800 with a Canon 5d mkiii.

Shooting RAW

All of these shots were taken in RAW. I always shoot RAW, always. It is shady in the trees outside my kitchen and the birds blend in with the background. I had my camera in manual mode and quickly got it setup so that I was approximately +1ev on my in-camera light metre.

Birds are quick and rarely do what you want them to do. Furthermore, they move, and move quickly.

Had I been in AV mode, my shutter speed would have changed, and in TV mode, I would still have had to adjust my ISO and I wouldn't be able to change my aperture easily had I wanted to.

The original out of camera picture

Above is the image as it came out of camera. Some will argue to get it right in camera, and to that I couldn't agree more. Getting it spot on in camera when dealing with fast moving nature is however, difficult and not always possible. The above image was also about +1EV when it came out.

By shooting RAW I was able to push it a further +1.5EV and properly expose the bird. The background is blown out, but it's only the background. I'm interested in the subject.

The same image as above, but exposed for the bird.

All of my images here are uncropped. I try to frame them as well as I can in camera and today I was lucky; the birds behaved reasonably well.

Sometimes of course, you have to crop. Lenses only get so big and I can only afford to spend a certain amount on lenses. The 70-300mm isn't too bad, and considering these pictures are at 800 ISO with no noise reduction, I can't complain.

A cropped Greenfinch. Full image below.

The cropped image works well enough. I wouldn't want to print to too big, but on a blog it looks quite nice.

I should also mention that all my images are exported at a maximum of 1500px across the longest edge.

So, in short, save yourself from time to time and shoot RAW. One day it'll pay off.

The full size image of the picture above.