Every winter, the Conowingo Dam in Darlington, Maryland is home to countless Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons, Seagulls, Cormorants and other water like birds. My first visit to the dam was last year, when I rented a Canon 400mm L f/2.9 IS USM lens from Borrowlenses.com.
I quickly learned that not only was my Canon 60D faulty, but I also was a complete idiot in trying to capture huge Bald Eagles in flight. Even with my mumblings and cursings, I managed to capture a few half-way decent photos, vowing that I would be back the next year better prepared.
After upgrading my camera to a Canon 7D and lots of practice, I took the plunge and rented the super telephoto Canon 500mm F/4.0 L IS from Borrowlenses.com. Ordering the lens, Gitzo tripod, and Wimberly Gimball II Head, the staff were meticulous with my order. As I already own an Arca Swiss Mount plate, I didn’t include it with my order. On the day of shipment, Borrowlenses called me to make sure I really didn’t need a mount plate. The last thing they wanted to happen is for me to not have what I needed to have a complete tripod/lens kit.
Arriving in a huge box by a friendly Federal Express person, I quickly opened up the box and put the kit together. Now the excitement begins as I can’t wait to play with this huge lens while birding.
With the whole kit and kaboodle of camera’s, lenses, extra batteries and memory cards, and the hefty tripod, I loaded up the car and headed out before dawn to reach the dam around sunrise. It was to be a cold day even though a high of low 50’s was promised. A lot of standing around leads to a cold body. So I bundled up like a powder puff kid and off I went.
Arriving at Conowingo Dam, Turkey Vultures lurked about, watching over the parking lot with a keen eye hoping for some breakfast.
But the stars of the day were to be the Bald Eagles. Setting up along the chain link fence, I began the long and patient wait for the Eagles to make their presence known. The morning started cold and cloudy, but moved on to a warmer and sunnier day. But the Sun was the only one that was smiling between the two of us. It proved to be another day of mumbling and cursing.
You see, I always have difficulty finding focus. No matter how hard I tried, I kept capturing shots that were blurry. Of course, that being said, the first challenge for me was that I discovered that my sensor was super dirty ! I never noticed all the specks and dust until this morning. As a girl scout, I’m always over prepared. But invariably something is forgotten. Today’s forgotten item – the all so important lens cloth and cleaning kit. Cursing and doing the best I could with what I had available to me, I continued to try to shoot.
Setting the camera on Aperture Priority, I selected F/7.1 and with the sun I was able to drop down to an ISO of 400, allowing the camera to select the shutter speed. It has been always suggested that when photographing birds in flight to use the AI Servo option (Canon) which allows the camera to continuously focus. Allow me to say, that AI Servo doesn’t work for me. I find it continuously searches and inconsistently focuses on my desired subject.
Centered focus point – yep, still no focus. Auto 16 point focus – yep, still no focus.
But the unfocused shots didn’t discourage me as I kept trying by going back and forth between AI Servo and One Shot focus. Centered Focus Point, to Autofocus 16 points. Surely something would be a keeper. One great success though was my exposure. Now shooting exclusively in RAW, and using a -2/3 Exposure Compensation, I was able to capture the birds without blowing out their heads and tails.
Perhaps in the maxed out 32 Gig, 1200+ photos that were taken today, surely there is a gallery shot in there somewhere. Lots of patience required as the activity was slow today. Watch and wait..hope that a Bald captures a fish and the subsequent battle for the fish occurs.
Stay tuned for my next post on my efforts for that “Gallery Shot” of the Bald Eagles. At least one more visit will be taken this week before having to return my borrowed lens.