This page is somewhat different from all the rest of the pages
on this website, in that it doesn't talk about finches.
Rather, on this page I will discuss some ideas and things I have
learned about taking pictures of our flock of finches.
The pictures in this website were taken with one of two
primary digital cameras. The early photos were taken using a Canon Powershot A40, a 2 mega pixel "point and shoot"
digital camera with
limited adjustments. However, by paying
attention to the distance and the "close up" feature of the
camera we were able to take some great shots of the birds.
Recently, I was fortunate to upgrade my equipment to a Nikon
D80, which is a 10 mega pixel Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR)
camera. I am using a 15 to 135 Nikon zoom lens and have
found the combination to be superb.
But just to show that you don't need a lot of fancy
equipment, a few of the photos on this website were taken with
the camera on my cell phone. I saw a great picture
opportunity and it was the only thing I had handy.
The important thing is to learn about the capability of your
camera, see what adjustments you can make, and then set up the
picture taking environment (lighting, distance, etc) to make the
most of the equipment you have available.
The Photo Cage
I don't like pictures which have the cage bars between me and
the birds. I know of only two ways to eliminate that
problem: build a big aviary and go inside to shoot (not an
option right now) or build an enclosure for taking pictures
which has one transparent side. I built a "photo cage" out
of material that I had sitting in the workshop, left over from
another project. I used 3/4 inch MDF for the construction.
I had some wire mesh (1/4 inch openings) left over from making
some gouldian nests. The only thing I had to buy was a
piece of clear plastic (Plexiglass), about 1/16 of an inch thick.
The base of the cage is a square, 12 inches on a side.
First I sawed some 1 inch strips and used them to make a
"picture frame" that was 12 inches on each side. After
attaching the wire mesh to them I attached them to the base to
form the sides and top. The back was another solid piece
of MDF, cut to fit the opening. I made another "picture
frame" of MDF and cut a thin dado in the inner edges, so that
when the frame was assembled around a square of clear plastic it
held in position. The front was attached to the top with
hinges, and the lower ends were held shut with screen door
hooks. I built a perch with some dowels I had in the scrap
bin, making it a "T" shape, and put it in a hole in the center
of the bottom. That way the perch could be rotated to get different
angles on the birds.
My first photo "shoot" convinced me that the white background
was too severe for the photos, so I have been using leftover
scraps of material as a "curtain" on the back of the cage to
provide a contracting background to the bird.
I have used flash to take pictures of the birds but was
concerned that it was putting too much stress on them. I
have founds that I can do quite well using with a single 18 inch
fluorescent light fixture above the cage (the same ones we use on
our normal cages). We use the Philips "Natural Sunlight"
bulbs both on my cages and for photos. Other brands that
provide light at a color of 5000 deg K would also work. I
am experimenting with additional lighting at the sides to fill
in the shadows.
The comments here are necessarily specific to my camera
(Nikon D80 DSLR) but you can adapt them to the specifics of your
- ISO 400 appears to be about the best sensitivity
setting to use. I saw no evidence of noise at
this speed, and it allowed me to shoot the pictures with a
shutter speed fast enough to freeze their motion. It
also allowed apertures consistent with a reasonable depth of
- Manual focus works better than auto focus.
Focusing on the bird's eye seems to be the most effective.
I have tried using several of the automatic focus modes on
the camera and I get the best results with manual. The
next best was to use automatic focusing but to manually
select the area to be used for focusing.
- I found that, in most cases, center exposure
metering gave better results than the matrix mode metering,
unless I was shooting two birds who were sitting a bit apart
from one another.
- I started out using exposure bracketing at .7
EV above and below. Now I have been using bracketing at
.3 EV below and it seems to work well. Between the two
shots one is normally close to the desired effect. I
shoot in continuous mode and take the bracketing photos with
one shutter press.
- I found the automatic white balance to be useful,
although I have been experimenting with alternate settings.
You can easily see that in some of the color variations on
Use of a Tripod
The tripod is essential. It eliminates the problem of
camera shake and allows you to wait to catch the bird at the
proper place (sometimes they are very uncooperative subjects for
pictures). Sometimes Tina has had to coax them by first
getting them to perch on a knitting needle, and then slowly
moving them to the perch we want to use for the photo.
"Digital Darkroom": image processing software
I first learned how to work in the darkroom helping my Dad
develop family photos. That was a long time ago, and we have come a long way since then:
now the darkroom is software sitting on my PC. Adobe
Photoshop is the standard software for this, but I find the
price tag is a little too much for my tastes. I have used
Paint Shop Pro in its various forms for years, and continue to
use it for manipulating digital images.
I just (in November 2007) updated to Paint Shop Pro Photo X2.
I had some problems with with the previous version: it
crashed on my laptop with some degree of regularity. The
new version has been very stable This version also has
improvements in some of the photo tools.
It costs about 1/6 of what Photoshop costs and you can do most
of the same things that you can with Photoshop. I have
used it for these photos to crop them to a standard size, and
then make them a small size and resolution for the web page.
I have had to do some digital burning (lightening up specific
areas) and dodging (darkening specific areas) for the photos on
this page. I occasionally use the perspective correction
or "One step photo fix" for other adjustments. I recommend
it as a cost effective alternative to Photoshop.