Larry Treadwell  

Common Tern by Larry Treadwell

February 2021 - Common Tern

About the Image(s)

D810 80-200mm lens at 200mm, ISO 250, f2.8, 1/5000

Who Needs Big Expensive Glass (sometimes I do”but not this time)
You don’t always need big glass for little birds, but without it, it does take patience!

I had been on a predawn beach hike to a favorite location for sunrise and now was heading back toward my car. I came across this little tern scurrying across the sand. I decided to grab a quick shot. Since I have been on a landscape shoot I longest lens in my bag was my rugged Nikkor 80-200 all metal construction f2.8 lens. Not exactly the best birding lens in my arsenal. I slipped the lens on my camera, and got down to bird level, that is on my belly on the sand. The birds was too far away to fill the frame, so I began to slither along the sand. I hated the background so I decided to use the lens to remove it. Shooting at f2.8, I should be able to blur the background, if I could get close enough to the blue. So I slithered. When I took this shot I had slithered more than 200 feet across the sand, leaving a trail behind me. I finally managed to get about 11 feet from the bird as that is the closest my lens would focus. I was sliding the camera across the sand while it was encased in its Lenscoat raincoat to keep it clean. My only demand was the f2.8 aperture (remember I wanted to blur the background). I started at ISO 250 , f28 with a shutter of 1/500. However, as I stalked the bird the day got brighter, so I increased the shutter speed to maintain exposure. I wondered just how close I could get to the bird and was quite satisfied with my final distance of 11 feet. The background came out great (I think) and I managed to fill the frame. The only cropping was to take some sand off the top. I might have looked a bit nutty in my pursuit of my quarry, but I had a good time and came home with an unexpected image.

9 comments posted

Jason Stewart   Jason Stewart
Beautiful shot, I love the way the background begins to fade into nothing. Bird stands out nicely.   Posted: 02/01/2021 10:50:37
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Thanks Jason.
I was planning on going to the seashore later that week and knew I wanted to work with backgrounds. This little guy gave me a change to practice with an f2.8 lens. I used the same technique with some shore birds when I shot with my 200-400 with the 1.4 tc. Maybe I'll post one of those shots next month.
This was all about creating a perfect background. It came out pretty good. (but I had a good model)   Posted: 02/10/2021 15:40:48

David Kepley   David Kepley
Love the story of you stalking the bird!
The subject is well framed with room on the right where the bire is headed. It seems sharp on the bird's head and eye and you got some catch light in the eye! Well done. You successfully blurred out the background to a soft sand brown.

Because you shot so wide open, however, the bird's mid-body through its tail are soft. I would recommend an f8 or so. Another suggestion would be to blur out the sand on the right in post processing. It is sharp so it takes my eye away fdrom the subject.   Posted: 02/03/2021 12:38:58
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
I purposely shot this at f2.8. This was done strictly as an experiment to see how much I could blur a full daylight background using a telephoto lens at f2.8. Normally I would shoot birds at f8 or more to get them entirely sharp, but in this case that was not my goal. This was about achieving the greatest amount of out of focus area as possible.

When this was originally taken there was some foreground sand that was out of focus. I cropped that from the presented image as leaving it created a "donut" appearance with a very blurred foreground, a bird with a sharp head and an out of focus background. The in focus sand is on an equal plane with the bird and is thus in focus. The total range of material that is in focus (according to Nikon's lens specification chart with the lens set at f2.8 and a subject at minimum focus distance is 3.87 inches. The lens was focused on the bird's eye. Note that I used the lens at its minimum focus distance as I was only 11 feet from the bird which is as close as that lens will focus. Had I positioned myself at 13 feet from the bird and used the same settings my DOF would have increased to 6.37 inches but I chose the 11 foot distance to see what the effect would be on the background at f2.8   Posted: 02/03/2021 13:47:24

Bud Ralston   Bud Ralston
Larry - Your story paints a great image and you had me crawling along the sand with you. I'm amazed the bird allowed you to get that close. I don't know if my old body could have gone that far on my belly only to see the bird fly off at the last minute. But, you got the shot and blurred the background beautifully. Love it.   Posted: 02/04/2021 18:56:26
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Hey Bud, I never said I had an easy time getting back up! :-) As for getting close to the bird I moved only inches at a time, only using my feet to push forward with. Very little upper body movement. Between my hat and camera my face never showed. I often use this technique when working with shore birds, I generally can get quite close and after laying there for 30 minutes or more they will frequently come to me. Last year I had sandhill cranes actually standing next to me. It just takes patience. Sometimes they fly off but better than half the time I get at least one good shot.   Posted: 02/05/2021 11:57:31

Michael Weatherford   Michael Weatherford
Hi Larry, in your description you had me with "grab a quick shot". That's more my style, sorry to say. But actually you were quite patient and were able to get remarkably close. Great shot, of course. Your original shot probably has more feather detail but if not I wonder if applying a little selective sharpening and clarity on the bird would be a good idea.   Posted: 02/17/2021 14:21:04

Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Well, I intended it to be a quick grab---it evolved into a long creep. :-)

Yes the original is a bit sharper but I could probably add a touch of sharpness. I was much more concerned about what the background was going to look like. I think you will see why, next month. ( I hope)   Posted: 02/17/2021 14:47:17
Richard Matheny   Richard Matheny
Very nice image and good work as usual. I love shooting the terns. I don't often get to see many Common Terns and don't have a good photo of one. On my bucket list. The DOF is extreme so again good work. As for crawling any great distance for this old guy is out of the question. You are to be commended. I will settle of long lenses.
Posted: 02/25/2021 19:12:08 Reply Edit Delete
  Posted: 02/25/2021 19:14:13


Please log in to post a comment