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How I Nailed the Shot: A Tiny Green Bird Among Beautiful Pink Bokeh

Wildlife photography, including bird photography, is often a waiting game. And if you are going to wait, you might as well put as much effort as you can into making sure that the scene and setup is as close to picture perfect as it can be before your subject enters it! Nature photographer Yukie Wago shares how she planned for the perfect shot, from choice of equipment to meticulous attention to the shooting spot, to exposing with post-processing in mind. (Reported by: Yukie Wago, Digital Camera Magazine)

Japanese white-eye and sakura flowers

EOS 6D/ EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM/ FL: 400mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/5.6, 1/640 sec, EV -0.3)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto

 

Step 1: Make use of the shallow depth-of-field on a super telephoto lens

To get the cosy feeling in this shot of a Japanese white-eye (“mejiro”) enveloped in pink sakura flowers, I took advantage of intense bokeh that the shallow depth-of-field that the 400mm end of my telephoto zoom lens could achieve, shooting at maximum aperture.

Refresh your knowledge about the factors that affect bokeh in:
Lens Basics #3: Creating Bokeh

As I had also planned to lower the contrast when I post-processed the shot, I used exposure compensation to underexpose the image slightly (EV -0.3) so that I would get better results in the final image.

Tip: If the bird is moving around a lot, you would probably get the shot more easily by shooting handheld.


The lens I used

EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

On the EOS R system, try: RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM

Learn about what else you can do with a super telephoto zoom lens in:
Telephoto Macro Technique: An Ordinary Leaf Gets the Limelight
How to Photograph Dreamy Images of Decorative Lights
Step-by-step Guide to Capturing Splashing Waves at Fast Shutter Speed Settings

 

Step 2: Choose your shooting spot first, and then wait for the bird

For shots like this, choose your spot, decide on the framing and then wait for the bird. It might take more time and patience than simply following the bird, but you will get more control over the foreground and background bokeh.

Before you set up, observe the bird that you want to photograph and take note of the area that it tends to move around in. Within that area, look for a suitable spot, set up, and be prepared to release the shutter when the bird enters the frame.

 

Shooting spot tip #1: Avoid including branches and stems

Within that area, look for a spot that has plenty of flowers that you can turn into foreground bokeh. At the same time, try to avoid having thick branches in the frame—they will spoil the soft, dreamy look.

Close up of sakura flowers with branches

Branches and stems are angular and will distract from the soft, rounded, dreamy bokeh.  

 

Shooting spot tip #2: What kind of lighting to look out for?

When creating both background and foreground bokeh, choose a spot with a good mix of shaded areas and sunlight shining through the trees, and capture the bird in the shade. That way, when you lower the contrast in post-processing, you will still be able to see details of the flowers among the bokeh, and the bird will stand out.

If you want to create bokeh circles from sunlight, you will get better results if you shoot in the morning or evening when the sunlight direction is diagonal.

Close-up of shooting scene

One of my test shots. When you have found a good angle, take a test shot to see how the bokeh appears. Adjust your framing accordingly.

 

Step 3: In post-processing, lower the contrast and increase the highlights

Before
Green bird and pink flowers before post-processing

After

In Step 2, we shot in a place that has lots of light and shade, which results in a high-contrast image. We also shot the subject in the shade, which makes it look rather dark. Don’t panic—it’s not a failed shot!

The magic happens when you post-process the shot to restore the original colours of the bird. Here’s what I did in Camera Raw:

- Lifted the shadows (+43)
- Reduced highlights (-46)
- Increased exposure very slightly (+0.15)
- Reduced contrast slightly (-2)

These adjustments bring out the beautiful colours of the white-eye and make the final shot look bright and dreamy.

 

Find out how Yukie Wago created the same soft, dreamy look in a telephoto macro shot of a flower in:
Handling Natural Light: Telephoto Macro Flowers in the Evening Light

New to bird photography? Check out the basics in:
Beginner’s Guide to Bird Photography

 


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Yukie Wago

Yukie Wago

Based in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture, Yukie Wago started shooting with film and toy cameras. Her journey shooting flowers and other living things began when she got her first DSLR camera. Since then, she has become renown for her unique style, which involves shooting with a telephoto lens while deliberately incorporating light and bokeh, ultimately creating pictures reminiscent of scenes from fairytales and fantasy movies.

Instagram: @yukie_wago