You and I have read all of the “right way” articles instructing us how to photograph birds, post-process the images, and store the files. These have given me some valuable tips, maybe even from your blog, but in the end I must make my own way, experiment, and go with what works for me. When this deviates from accepted practices there is some hesitation, or even embarrassment in mentioning it. Despite this I’m offering my bird photography confessions; please don’t laugh or ridicule.
On the input side I’m pretty conventional and follow consensus. Use good equipment, the best that budget allows, take a lot of pictures (a day of birding typically results in 500+ shots), use aperture priority trying to keep exposure times to 1/800 seconds and faster. Get close and stay low for ground birds. Frequently check and adjust brightness compensation as conditions change, and if anything slightly under expose the bird.
Here comes confession #1, I don’t like RAW. If I was a professional and trying to make a living with bird photography I would use RAW, but I’m not and I don’t. The RAW files are simply too large and the post-processing too time consuming. JPEG suits me just fine. Remember, I have 500 photos to sort through when I get home, even before post-processing begins.
A quick run through the 500 shots eliminates 400 due to motion, poor exposure, bad composition, or simply too many pictures of the same bird and pose; it’s easy to get carried away when the light and bird are perfect. This brings me to confession #2, I do not use a sophisticated photo-processing program such as Photoshop or Light Room. I’ve tried them and found that they are overkill for my needs. The guiding principle here is KISS (keep it simple stupid). Don’t laugh; I use Mac Photos 1.5. It’s free and came with the computer.
My post-processing goal is to take the remaining 100 shots and with reasonably little effort reduce that to 10 or 15 “keepers” suitable for long-term storage. I crop most of my shots, stopping just before graininess becomes apparent and often realign the photo keeping the “rule of thirds” in mind. A few quick tweaks to the exposure, brightness, and shadow controls and I’m done. I almost never change tint and color. If the shot doesn’t look great after these simple steps it goes into the trash.
Confession #3 is my methods for file organization and storage. For a while a used Light Room’s rather complicated system entering tags and species identifiers to facilitate sorting. When newer versions forced me into the Cloud I left LR and looked for a simpler solution. I’m a little paranoid about the Cloud and the Russians–what if Vladimir Putin steals my warbler pictures? Mac Photos 1.5 suits me well with periodic back-ups to a second computer and also to a free-standing hard drive stored in a fire-proof safe. By the way, Photos 1.5 even handles RAW images if you must.
I’ve used multiple filing systems for bird photos and have switched to the scientific bird classifications. In Photos I’ve created a separate album for each Order of birds, and a subfolder for each Family in the Order. The Order names end with “…formes” and the Family names with “…idae”. For instance a pelican photo is placed in a subfolder called Pelecanidae which is located in the folder called Pelecaniformes, and a nuthatch photo is placed in a subfolder named Sittidae which is in the folder Passeriformes. This system has the value reenforcing my knowledge of bird classification as well as reminding me of the various birds’ anatomical and behavioral traits that place them into a specific Order and Family.
On a few occasions a photo may be placed into an additional album. For instance, bird photos from a trip abroad are placed in a country-specific album in addition to the entry in the bird classification file. I also have a separate album for interesting flight shots. Lastly I name the photo by common name and genus and species while the camera attaches a number, date, and now with the Canon 7DII, a GPS location.
So I confess to KISS, but am always open to suggestions and experimentation. I apologize to the non-photography readers for the shop talk in this post but hope it triggers some conversation or comments from my fellow shutterbug friends. It’s always fun to see how others handle their photos and files and is just another factor contributing to the many pleasure of this hobby.