First Light

With my new 300mm lens in hand I headed out into the fields and woods surrounding my house and a nearby pond. I didn’t have any particular goals in mind for this shoot, except to try out the new lens and see what kind of results might be possible. There are several bird feeders set up around the house that attract song birds, woodpeckers and squirrels alike. I decided to camp out near one feeder handing from a blooming dogwood tree. Depending on where I sat I could fill the background of the image in a number of ways, but primarily shot so that a large red barn in the background would create a bright creamy bokeh.

I was immediately blown away by the new lens. The auto-focus was incredibly quick and accurate, especially compared to 18-55mm kit lens. If the T3 camera body is holding back the auto-focus in any way I don’t have the experience to notice. The clarity of the lens was also superb, showing good detail throughout the frame. Between the 300mm focal length native to the lens and the 1.6x crop factor of the T3, the field of view was nice and tight, allowing me to frame small birds even from a moderate distance.

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Canon T3, Canon 300mm f/4L IS USM
1/1600th, f/4, ISO 1600

On the first day I got a nice variety of images. Subjects include the Red-bellied Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Nuthatch, House Finch, Robin, Blue Jay, Cardinal, and Tufted Titmouse. I missed many more shots than I made, but learned a lot along the way. The image above is one of the few that really impressed me and convinced me of the quality images I could hope to achieve. I find the colors of the Dogwood blooms and branches, along with the red backdrop of the barn, compliment the woodpecker beautifully. The image is cropped slightly to improve the composition and increase the size of the bird in the frame. Some non-interesting details were cut from the bottom and left sides, so that the bird’s head could be placed on the lower left intersection of thirds. If you are unfamiliar with the rule of thirds check out this article, as it is a very useful composition technique.

I managed to get a series of decent pictures of a male House Finch perched in the Dogwood. I am undecided about my favorite picture of the set, but have narrowed it down to two images. Both have a very shallow depth of field that creates a creamy nest of branches in the foreground and background, framing the bird well. I cropped these pictures slightly as well, but decided to keep the Finch center frame to compliment the effect of the branches. To my eye, the picture on the left shows the subject more fully, but his pose hides some of the nice detail in the feathers. The right picture, on the other hand, keeps the bird slightly obstructed. There is more interesting detail in his feathers, however I find the pose of the subject to be slightly less engaging. While I am still undecided, I am leaning towards the left picture. Let me know which you prefer in the comments below!

Black-capped Chickadee
Canon T3, Canon 300mm f/4L IS USM
1/1600th, f/4, ISO 800

Black-capped Chickadees are my favorite song bird. I was lucky to see one on my first day, but am disappointed that I missed every shot. This picture is the best from the series, and while it looks nice at a glance, it is not the picture I envisioned. Looking more closely, you can see that the focus is actually on the flowers in the upper right hand corner of the frame, keeping the Chickadee slightly out of focus. I did, however, learn more about the auto-focus, and more specifically its limitations, from this photo. I noticed that in visually dense areas with many objects at various distances, the auto-focus would often jump between different branches as the camera swayed in my hands. To combat this issue I found that using the auto-focus worked most of the time, but if I struggled to get the subject into precise focus, I could very easily use manual focus for fine tuning. While I continued to miss shots afterwards, I missed less due to focusing issues in the Dogwood.

Canon T3, Canon 300mm f/4L IS USM
1/1600th, f/4, ISO 2000
Honey Bee
Canon T3, Canon 300mm f/4L IS USM
1/2000th, f/4.5, ISO 800

Between the first and second day of shooting with the new lens, I managed a few good shots that demonstrate the versatility of the 300mm f/4, and why I chose it over the 400mm f/5.6. I have a strange fascination the complex social structures of both ants and Honey Bees, so I was happy to find visually interesting ways to photograph both. Neither image is cropped, so you can see the full potential of using the 300mm as a stand-in macro lens. If you look closely at the bee, you can even bits of pollen stuck to his legs! If I could change one thing about either of these photos, it would be a slightly slower shutter speed for the bee. Ideally I would have found the ideal shutter speed to give motion blur to the wings, while still freezing the motion of the bee itself. However I am still overall very happy with both of these shots.

Female American Goldfinch
Canon T3, Canon 300mm f/4L IS USM
1/2000th, f/4.5, ISO 800

My goal for the next few days is to drive over to a nearby lake and try taking some pictures of birds in flight, along with whatever else I may find. I struggeled to take a satisfactory image of a Red-winged Blackbird flying near the pond today, and hope to practice this skill. For now, I’ll leave you with two of my favorite shots from my first two days of shooting. Above a female American Goldfinch perched on the limb of the Dogwood tree that holds the bird feeder. Below, a young male Baltimore Oriole taking flight by diving off a branch.

Adolescent Male Baltimore Oriole
Canon T3, Canon 300mm f/4L IS USM
1/1250, f/4, ISO 400

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