Common Redpoll

The invasion of Common Redpolls became apparent this weekend in western Maine. Flocks of them could be found down logging roads feasting in the seed trees. They are very fast and both focusing and catching one in the right pose can sometimes be challenging and then before you know it they are gone. I was happy to catch this little one before she flew off.

Specific Feedback Requested

I did crop this and zoomed it in, shapened it a little and reduced noise. . . thoughts?

Technical Details

Is this a composite: No
Nikon D500 camera
Nikon 500mm 5/6 fixed lens
ISO 160
manual mode

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I like it, but really wish there was more detail and focus without the need to try to get it there without the original data. These guys are so flitty and cute so they’re difficult to shoot. We get flocks of them here in the winter. I think they go north in the summer, like the juncos. Color looks spot on and I like the setting you’ve included. Keep trying. Maybe I’ll sit outside the next time they come by and see if I can get something anywhere close.

I like the setting; the background works well with the bird. The motion blur gives it a somewhat painterly feel. One thought would be to shoot at a faster shutter speed, say 1/1000. It will kick up the ISO, but probably not to an unacceptable level.

Thanks Allen, yes I have been using a faster shutter speed mostly but forcing the higher ISO. I was trying to get less noise which is driving me crazy so with this one I did play with the lower shutter speed which I agree didn’t work to my advantage. I do love photographing birds. My biggest obstacles are noise and unsharp subjects. I have 2 autofocus setting that help somewhat when light is good and birds sit still .

I really like the overall feel of this image Norma. A cute little bird (which I have never seen before) and a beautiful BG. The splash of red on the bird is a wonderful compliment. I don’t mind the degree of detail and focus.

The face, particularly around the beak, needs a little bit of refining.

I agree with Allen. Push the ISO to get a faster shutter speed.

Thank you, I agree about the face too.

For birds in flight, or for small quick moving little birds like this, I would suggest never going below ISO 400. That would have given you a shutter speed faster than 1/1000. I strongly encourage people to stop worrying about noise. It is a non-issue with modern software. I use DXO pure raw and get fantastic results. Others use Topaz Denoise AI. Others use the product from On-One software. Whatever works for you. The choice is too slow a shutter speed which results in an image that can not be salvaged, or a higher ISO that gives an appropriate shutter speed that can easily be processed with any number of NR software systems. With your D500, ISO 400 is a complete non-issue anyway with no NR processing.

This is great information Keith exactly the kind of help I am looking for so thank you! I will use it in my next bird photo adventure. Great stuff!!! Noise shouldn’t be what is holding me back, got it!

Beautiful species, which we hardly ever get to see. The pose and setting are nice, but sadly enough there’s the image quality issues already mentioned. I can only echo Keith’s comment. I own a D500 as well, and you could easily go up to ISO 1000m without having real issues (depending of course whether or not the exposure is correct). If there’s still an issue, as Keith points out, noise reduction software will be your friend ! Best, Hans

Thank you Hans, I wish I could go out today and try all the great advise from everyone. Lesson learned don’t be afraid of going higher on ISO and Shutter Speed to preserve image quality.

This was a great opportunity, with a lovely BG, but as pointed out, the bird has too much of the plastic look of clumsy NR combined with too much “sharpening”. The programs mentioned above by @Keith_Bauer won’t do that if used correctly. Sharpness needs to be in the capture, and it can only be improved very slightly in post.

The noise profile for the D500 is easy to control in post processing so as others mentioned, use a higher ISO so that you can freeze motion. For post processing, start with Levels followed with noise reduction and sharpening before doing anything else. I use Topaz DeNoise AI and it gives very reliable results when used correctly. Set your ISO, aperture, and shutter speed manually and take a few test shots to get a feel for the exposure. Look up ETTR which provides a way to reduce noise especially in shadows. Getting the correct exposure is the first thing to determine when you head out with your camera. And that can be challenging to say the least…Jim

Thank you so much Jim! I will look up ETTR. This is exactly the kind of input I am looking for it really helps.

Noise is just that – it’s not signal. As in signal-to-noise ratio. Noise is basically the combination of the type of sensor and the process of creating a digital file in any camera. On all shots. Every time you click the shutter. The level of noise is always the same. The noise part of the image is the camera’s computer trying to fill in blanks by creating luminosity and color on the fly. Changing your ISO setting to something more light ‘sensitive’ is really a misnomer. Your sensor isn’t magically more sensitive to light at 5000 compared to 500, but it does make that background noise more apparent. What you want to do is overwhelm the noise with signal – create a signal-to-noise ratio in signal’s favor. That means correct exposure or at least exposing as far to the right on the histogram as possible. The noise gets drowned out. The best way to reduce noise in your photos is to not introduce it to begin with. This is the essence of ETTR - Expose to the Right. Meaning push the histogram to the right which is the lightest part of the image.

It doesn’t automatically follow that all high ISO photos will be too noisy to be usable. With proper exposure, high ISO photos can look reasonably clean. Underexposing is the culprit most of the time. At any ISO. The reason high ISO shots look noisier in general is because we’re usually trying to catch something moving and need high shutter speeds to do it or need that shutter speed to hand hold or you’re in a dim environment and there just isn’t a lot of light to begin with. Even with lenses as wide open as possible, it usually doesn’t result in overwhelming light (signal) to drown out the noise. It’s not enough, but if you expose to the right as much as you can, you will mitigate some of it. Also turn on your camera’s noise reduction function. Every little bit helps.

Kristen I began reading about ETTR as suggested by Jim and now you. I believe I will try this next time. Now I can’t wait to get back out in the field and find more Redpolls!!! I hope to have some results to post soon. Thank you this technical advise is so appreciated!

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Noise is generated when the sensor heats up while obtaining a photo. At higher ISO’s, the camera’s photosensor is working harder and generates more heat and more noise. When you make adjustments that allow more light to hit the photosensor as in slowing down shutter speed and or choosing a more open aperture, the sensor works less hard compiling the scene. Thus, less noise is produced. My old Pentax cameras produced a lot of noise with ISO’s over 800. My newer Nikon’s have much improved sensor technology over my older dslr’s. …Jim

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Jim this is great information, thank you very much for taking the time to help with a better understanding.

Just be careful not to blow out whites with exposure to the right. If the light is reasonably constant, review images on the camera to see how things are looking. If you can display a histogram on the review, check it, but it can be deceiving. If you can do an RGB histogram, it will be more accurate. You’re looking at a JPEG that is generated according to a profile you have set in the camera and you want the one that is least contrasty. The image will look flat compared to some of the other profiles but will be a better representation of what you will see in the raw converter.

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Great info, thank you Diane!

What a wonderful discussion by everyone. Thank you. I think this a very nice image. As noted, it needs to be just a little sharper.