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Photographing Blue Jays

Stuart Fish won our photo competition in June 2018, with his shot of two jays coming in to land. Here, Stuart shares how he got the shot, the settings he used and his tips for capturing wildlife.

“The shot was of a couple of blue jays in the Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. I shot it back in March. Although it was almost the end of winter, it was still about -5°C during the day, with a generous covering of snow.

“Being prepared with winter clothes is essential, but I had forgotten my snow boots and only had a pair of cheap walking boots (not the best for a day out in the snow). We went to the park to look for pine martens in a known spot but, while waiting, the jays were an entertaining diversion. The jays are quite accustomed to humans in this part of the park and people were feeding them peanuts on a post in a snow bank.

“My aim was to get a shot of them landing with their wings spread. I set up my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a 300mm lens on a tripod, and focused it on the area above the post. I wanted to frame it as best I could to avoid getting the post in the shot and miss the dark areas under the trees in the background. I used a low camera position and had to kneel in the snow to use the viewfinder and set the shot up. I always carry half a Karrimat for sitting or kneeling when out and about.

The settings

“I took the shot on manual so I could get 1/4000th speed – enough to freeze the motion. I also chose f8 to get some depth of field. Then, with auto ISO selected, it ended up at 640.

“With the metering on evaluative, I overexposed by 2/3 of a stop to keep the snow white, but I could have gone up to two stops for a similar result. With the camera all set up, I switched it to high-speed continuous shoot mode. Then all I needed to do was wait until the birds came down to feed, and hold the trigger using a wireless remote. This is a fairly standard set-up – the same one I’ve used for flight and landing shots for other species, where there is a predictable landing spot.

“I was there for about three hours, and took about 600 shots. Out of that, I had maybe three shots I was happy with. I kept post processing to a minimum. Shooting in RAW meant I was able to use Photoshop Elements to increase the exposure and lighten the shadows a little. I also tweaked the saturation a tiny bit to draw out more colour in the blue feathers. The background had some dark areas under the trees so I used the lighten brush to tweak those. Better light would have helped with the bird but it would have made the dark undertones worse.

The Photographer

“I’ve been a bird-watcher all my life and enjoy watching and learning the behaviours and habits of birds and other wildlife. There’s no doubt in my mind that to do these kinds of photos well, the one thing you need more than anything else is patience.

Stuart has been taking photos since the film days, when he used to do his own black and white developing. He loves the opportunities digital has brought, and particularly enjoys wildlife and night-time photography… as well as a little urban exploration when the mood takes him.

Here are a few more images from Stuart. You can find more of his work at www.flickr.com/photos/stu8fish/

Interested in the Canon EOS 5D MK IV? View some of Jessops offers.