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09-23-2016, 08:10 AM   #1
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I Need Help Getting Good Exposure on Backlit Birds

Hi Folks,

Not sure if this is a proper forum subject, but hoping someone can help me out,.....

I am having trouble getting proper exposure on birds, specifically wild parrots, that are sitting high in trees with only sky in the background. I usually take a guess and put in maybe +1 EV. Then I look at the results and usually have to increase that value. This works okay, but sometimes I completely miss the shot when the parrot doesn't sit still very long. If I'm lucky enough to have the birds with leaves in the background, I get good shots nearly always.

By way of background, I had always used mirrorless cameras until trying Pentax. With an EVF, I could increase the EV quickly and see immediate results in the EVF.

My guess is that more experienced Pentax users can help me with this. Maybe spot metering?

Thanks for any suggestions.

Jack

09-23-2016, 08:53 AM   #2
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If your scenes always contain some sky and you want to avoid that being blown-out, then: use manual exposure mode, spot-meter a patch of sky with the green button, take a few test shots of the high-tree area, and adjust the exposure setting until the sky patches are bright but not blown-out.

Then don't touch the exposure settings unless the sky really changes significantly.

Sometimes people give too much credit to autoexposure and think that every little change in autoexposure is meaningful. If the overall lighting of the scene is not changing, the exposure settings probably don't need to change, either.
09-23-2016, 09:00 AM   #3
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I always shoot in spot metering, but I find that exposure depends on how much that the bird fills the frame. If the bird fills most of the frame +1 or 0 if the bird only fills a small amount of the frame with most of the frame a light colored background +2. Of course it also depends on the color of the bird, darker bird I lean higher, light colored bird not so much. I always make sure that the rear display is set to show blown out highlights (especially with white birds) and I always shoot in RAW or RAW+ as the RAW file will give you a lot of latitude to recover details as long as the histogram isn't off the scale either to the left or right..
09-23-2016, 09:06 AM   #4
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If you process with Lightroom, lifting shadows can adjust the birds exposure.

09-23-2016, 09:19 AM   #5
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I use the auto- bracketing , take lots of shots, and pray to the photo gods for their favor.....
09-23-2016, 11:41 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Sam Dennis Quote
I use the auto- bracketing , take lots of shots, and pray to the photo gods for their favor.....

Add spot metering to that as mentioned in an earlier post and you are getting there. Meter on the bird.
09-23-2016, 03:29 PM   #7
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Plenty of good ideas. I think the spot metering might make a difference. I had not tried that yet,......

Jack
09-23-2016, 05:06 PM   #8
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Have you tried using LV.... perhaps not a reasonal option outside when kind of looking into light. As I keep saying here, when people explain that APS-C MILC isn't much, if any, smaller than APS-C DSLR, the main advantage of MILC is EVF, not size.

09-23-2016, 05:35 PM   #9
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Yes, I use spot metering too in that situation, but still might need to add some +EV compensation. (I don't think the K-30 is as precise in spot metering as the K-3.)

The real problem is often the high dynamic range (bright sky -> deep shadows). As @Ter-or suggested you can lift the shadows in post-processing. Since blown highlights often can't be recovered, the conventional rule is to meter for the highlights. But then if your main subject is in deep shade, you will lose some contrast and resolution in bringing up the shadows a lot; over-processed HDR photos look awful. For landscape shots, people sometimes get around this by bracketing shots and merging with an HDR program - but this usually requires a tripod and isn't really practical for birds.

So the best solution is to reduce the dynamic range by lighting up the shadows, either with fill flash or with a spotlight (held by an assistant if you can recruit one!). I really like the Rogue Safari flash extender on the popup flash for this - but while it works a treat on the K-3 I haven't had good results on the K-30. The alternative is a speedlite with a flash extender (JJC flash extender is good, and cheap). Unless you use a flash with HSS, you are limited to the maximum flash sync speed of the camera (1/180th second on the K-30), but if the shade is reasonably deep (say -2EV or more compared to the background) the flash will serve to freeze the subject surprisingly well.
09-23-2016, 06:09 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Des Quote
....
The real problem is often the high dynamic range (bright sky -> deep shadows). As @Ter-or suggested you can lift the shadows in post-processing. Since blown highlights often can't be recovered, the conventional rule is to meter for the highlights. But then if your main subject is in deep shade, you will lose some contrast and resolution in bringing up the shadows a lot; over-processed HDR photos look awful.
How about properly-processed HDR using the in-camera system? I have never found a need to use my K-30's in-camera HDR, but I've been quite pleased with what my Q-7 has done.
09-24-2016, 12:32 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by reh321 Quote
How about properly-processed HDR using the in-camera system?
I tried the in-camera HDR (using each of the three levels) when I got my K-30 but gave up. The highest level was awful. Even at the less agressive levels, I found the results inferior to what I could get in post-processing (I use DxO Optics Pro; its various "single-shot HDR" presets are a good starting point). Maybe the in-camera HDR in the Q series is better, or maybe others have got better results than I did.

I don't mean to suggest that you can't get good results from bringing up the shadows in PP. When I started processing RAW files instead of relying on jpg I was astonished at the scope for improvement. I'm just saying there's a limit, after which the quality suffers too much.

So unless you are using fill-light, there are two broad choices:
1. Expose for the sky (or maybe a little over). The bird in shade will be underexposed. Then in PP, reduce contrast, reduce highlights, and bring up the shadows. You will probably need to increase the microcontrast and vibrancy sliders. I also deepen the blacks a bit, which offsets the reduced contrast. The advantage of this approach is that the sky won't be blown out. If the bird is not too underexposed, the result can be OK, but at some point the image of the bird will lack resolution and colour, and the whole scene can look artificial. It is worse with higher ISO values.
2. Expose for the bird using spot-metering and probably +1EV compensation. The exposure of the bird will be OK, but chances are the bright background will be blown. You can try to reduce the highlights in PP, and might improve the background that way, but if the highlights are really blown there's not much you can do. The clarity slider (ClearView in DxO Optics Pro) can help a bit. The results can be OK if you don't care too much about the background (for example, if you crop heavily), although to get the right exposure on the bird in shade you might have had to drop the shutter speed a lot, or increase ISO, and that can affect the image.

Last edited by Des; 09-24-2016 at 07:52 PM.
09-24-2016, 08:17 PM   #12
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Here's an example. K-3 + DA-L 55-300 at 300mm; 1/800th second, f8, ISO 4000, spot metering. (Not a photo I would normally show; more a how-it-could-have-been-better.)

I used spot metering and +0.7EV. That combination, with f8 and 1/800th second, pushed the ISO to 4000. In retrospect I should have used a slower shutter (probably could have gone to 1/320th second) and a lower ISO. (With that lens, it is better to stick to f8; with the FA*300 f4.5 I now have, I could have used f5.6 or f6.3.)

In PP I increased the shadows and reduced the highlights, reduced contrast and increased microcontrast. The result with the high ISO and NR is pretty smeary; the branches behind are awful. If I had used higher exposure compensation the sky would not have come out as well; but on the other hand I would not have had to increase the shadow compensation as much, and I think the result would have been better. I would describe the overall result as no more than acceptable.

What would I do if I had the shot over again (with the same lens)? Use fill flash with flash extender, M (or X mode on the K-3), 1/180th second, ISO 100, f8, -1.3 flash EV and +0.7 camera EV, spot metering. Shot would have been much better.
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