Making the most out of low light conditions

High Key and small in the frame Loggerhead ShrikeHigh key and small in the frame Loggerhead Shrike – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 1250, +2.0 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

After 6 days without going into the field I went to Farmington Bay WMA yesterday even though the light was cruddy because my addiction finally got the best of me and I needed a fix.

One of the first birds that was close enough to photograph was a Loggerhead Shrike perched on top of some phragmites with nothing but clouds in the background. I knew it was going to be high key and that the shrike would be small in the frame but at that point in time I thought it might be the only bird I would photograph so I cranked up my ISO and exposure compensation and took some shots. I’m not sure I like the image all that much but it might grow on me.

Red-winged Blackbird male displayingRed-winged Blackbird male displaying – Nikon D810, f8, 1/500, ISO 1250, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

The next bird I was able to photograph was a male Red-winged Blackbird displaying on some phrags very close to the road. I opted to keep my D810 in DX mode and the blackbird nearly filled the frame. It seemed odd seeing this male and one nearby already displaying like this in January but later in the day I spotted two Red-tailed Hawks in a nest and that truly seems way too early to me. We have had such a strange, warm winter so far, maybe the birds are confused.

The low light really wasn’t as challenging with this blackbird as it had been with the shrike and I liked the back view of the raised colorful epaulets in this frame.

Male Belted KingfisherMale Belted Kingfisher – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 1250, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

The last bird I photographed was this male Belted Kingfisher and I was surprised that it stuck around as long as it did. I wished for better light and a more appealing perch as I took frame after frame of this normally elusive species.  To date this are the closest images I have of Belted Kingfishers and I am happy with how they turned out.

I can’t imagine using my first DSLR, a Nikon D70, at the high ISO’s I feel confident using with my Nikon D810 because the images using the D70 would have been filled with excessive noise but with the D810 I don’t give it a second thought because it handles high ISO’s so well.

I spent my time in the field yesterday making the most of the low light conditions. Hopefully the light will be better soon.

Life is good.



  1. Utahbooklover January 15, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    So glad you needed a fix. I enjoyed all of these images. Yes, the weather is overall warmer and confusing. Even some global warming deniers are beginning to see the light.

  2. Rachel LeBlanc January 15, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    Mia, I love the epaulets on the Red-winged Blackbird. I’ve never seen that perspective before. It’s like you’ve captured the wind.

  3. Elephant's Child January 15, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    The shrike looks like a harmless fluffball in that shot. Deceptive – but beautiful.
    I love all of the other shots too – and wonder whether the birds displaying and nesting know more than we do – not being bound to a calendar.

  4. Jolanta January 15, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    Beautiful birdies!

  5. Dan C January 15, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Yeah, with newer cameras and Lightroom you can still get some pretty great pictures at high ISOs. I’m still using just a Nikon D3200 and I’m still able to often get usable pictures at ISO 3200, though I try and keep things below ISO 1600 whenever possible.

    Beautiful Kingfisher shot!

  6. Jane Chesebrough January 15, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Because of your examples and teachings, I have used much higher ISO settings and exposure compensation in the AF mode. Mostly happy with the results, although my camera can only go to 1600 with resulting noise. But it is good to stretch the camera’s limits so I know what I can get out of it. I like the high key effect and the detail in the feathers of the kingfisher.

  7. Humming Bird Lover January 15, 2015 at 8:36 am

    Hi again! I think your first bird is beautiful! The background and the tuffed weed it is perched on makes a great photo! great work ! Love the picture.

  8. Alan Kearney January 15, 2015 at 8:31 am

    Mia, I’m always so impressed with your photo’s with your D810! I have the same camera and I agree with it’s ability to deal with noise, wonderfully.
    My question is more about the use of the TC 1.4 with your lens. I have the TC 1.7 and newer TC 2.0 and of the two think I have better images with the 2.0, but I notice that both you and Ron Dudley both use the 1.4’s exclusively. That’s not much of an extension but do you use this TC because of quality over length?

    If you find the time and answer, thank you so much, and I just love the work you do almost each day. Yours are the first emails/web pages I read when I’m up in the morning ;~), they can make day.

    Thanks again, Alan Kearney

  9. Humming Bird Lover January 15, 2015 at 8:27 am

    Hi! I love all the birds! But the Kingfisher is so cute! He is saying ! I might loook roughed up,but I am tough! ha ha Have a great day sweetie!

  10. Liz Cormack January 15, 2015 at 8:17 am

    Regardless of the light, they are wonderful shots. I think the shrike is marvelous again the gray sky.

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