Focusing Issues

OnTheFly7

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I went out the past two days and tried photographing Pheasant hunts.

I have to say, I am more than disappointed with the majority of the images initially. I am not a full-time professional, but far from shitty with a camera! I do not know what the issue is. I shot some basic rodeo with a D800 and a kit lens with pretty good results. For these hunts, I was shooting an 810, with 70-200mm f/2.8. I had a hell of a time nailing focus.

I shot shutter priority, continuous high, release priority, 51pt focus with focus wrap around. Again, I can not stress enough how disappointed I am with the images. I had some great "potential images", had they been in focus.

Any thoughts?
 

Derrel

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I used to regularly hunt pheasants; they are a challenging bird. Using 51 point AF would probably be the first mistake, if you were trying to photograph birds that were flushed by dogs, or birds that were being shot on the rise, or on the wing. I have not seen a single one of your images, but my guess is that you had LOADS of images where the background was sharp, the things BEHIND the desired focus point were what came out sharply focused.

Did you know the KIND of photograph you were trying to make? Did you have the framing pre-decided upon? I cannot imagine you had too much trouble with the dog or dogs, or shots of the hunters. Like almost any well-understood sport, there are classical ways to photograph it. Not sure how much of a pheasant hunting person you are, so please don't take anything I say the wrong way.

I have hunted pheasants with a 12-gauge side-by-side in both berry brambles, and in open Oregon country, where the shots are typically at 30 to 40 yards. Modified barrel, 1 1/4 oz of #6 shot for the first bird that rises, and for the second rooster, the full choke barrel at about 40 yards with a heavier charge of #4 shot or late season even a 1.5 ounce short magnum load of #4 hardened copper-plated shot...this is for open-field hunting-- wheat stubble, open corn stubble hunting here,not much brush behind for acres and acres. If there was a lot of brush and trees and such behind the birds, AF is going to be tricky. In bramble-type shooting, AF is going to be a nightmare with a 70-200, and the ranges could easily be very short, like 15 to 25 yards, and you need a semi-wide angle lens.

Almost every open-field shot here is at 25-40 yards. Did you try pre-focusing by hand to an approximate range for the rise? Anyway...51 point AF is too many points in many situations, gives too much potential target acquisition priority to undesired stuff, like background brush, limbs, brambles, etc. A rooster himself is a smallish target: if a smaller focus group, like 21 point had been selected, and the focus distance at least estimated and pre-positioned, and a sort of-high-up AF area group had been selected, with the camera in a TALL orientation, you might have had some luck shooting birds that were on the rise, and maybe even gotten a feathers-flying shot or two.

I dunno...I've seen a lot of nice pheasant hunting images over the last three decades; MANY were shot with a moderate lens, like a 35mm or 50mm angle of view. The classic, from-behind-the-hunter-with-rooster-on-the-rise shot with the hunter with the gun up and acquiring the bird is a classic shot, and it's based on the photographer pre-focusing on the DOG, or in being able in typical Oregon country, to KNOW where the birds are crouched, and pre-focusing on that cover, at a rather longer distance, so there is PLENTY of depth of field, and you have actually a 20-foot margin of error. Did you have communication with your hunter? Were they hunting with dogs? Have you hunted pheasant before?

Again, it's hard to know much about how your photos came out or why there were not up to expectations, but frankly, the MAJORITY of the absolute best pheasant hunt photos I have seen were taken well before autofocus was invented, and were shot with shorter lenses, and then cropped. Pre-focused at the right, general distance, like...5 feet in front of the dog, at a moderate aperture of about f/4.5 or so. The easiest focus is pre-focus. A tele like a 70-200 is going to be a very narrow-angle lens. THe issue is that, on the rise, you have about 1.5 seconds before the hunter acquires and takes his top of the rise shot, then the bird's going to move into flight. You then have about 2.5 more seconds. This is being generous. The old-fashioned, pre-autofocus method is the approach you might want to take, with a pre-focus set at the distance the dog is working, at f/4.5, f/4.8, f/5.6 and today, NOT, I repeat NOT in Shutter Priority, but instead in AUTO ISO mode, so you can keep the 1/800 or 1/1000 second shutter speed you'll want.

Again...not sure where you hunted at, or if you know the general behavior of pheasant either hunted dog-less or with dog, but if you have a dog, you have a focus distance to start with.
 

SCraig

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Having photographed birds for a good while I can tell you for a fact that there are about a dozen ways to ruin a photograph and only a few ways to make a good one. Without seeing a photograph showing your issues my guesses would be: 1) Depth of field too narrow, 2) Shutter too slow, 3) As Derrel mentioned, using the wrong focus mode, 4) Trying to use single-point autofocus (AF-S) instead of continuous (AF-C) because they are the most common.
 
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OnTheFly7

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I appreciate the replies.

Here are some of the images. Even the dogs were not right. I am really upset about the series with the dog jumping the fence. I know there is a ton going on, on a hunt, but the results are not good. I wasn't too concerned about birds taking wing. I was more interested in the overall hunt.

Dropbox - No Good

I also noticed that even attempts of shooting the hunters, who were a decent distance away were futile.
 
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SCraig

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All of them were shot wide open at f/2.8 which will seldom work in situations like that. A D810 at 200mm focal length, f/2.8 and a focal distance of 25 feet (just a guess) has a depth of field of six INCHES, or in other words the depth of acceptable focus will extend from 3" in front of the plane of focus to 3" behind it. Nowhere near enough to get a subject like that in focus. At 85mm focal length it increases to 2.84'. Personally I would have used something around f/8 to f/11 for those shots, sacrificed some of that 1/2000 second shutter speed, and raised the ISO.

Just because you have a fast lens that will go down to f/2.8 doesn't mean that it's always usable.
 
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OnTheFly7

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All of them were shot wide open at f/2.8 which will seldom work in situations like that. A D810 at 200mm focal length, f/2.8 and a focal distance of 25 feet (just a guess) has a depth of field of six INCHES, or in other words the depth of acceptable focus will extend from 3" in front of the plane of focus to 3" behind it. Nowhere near enough to get a subject like that in focus. At 85mm focal length it increases to 2.84'. Personally I would have used something around f/8 to f/11 for those shots, sacrificed some of that 1/2000 second shutter speed, and raised the ISO.

Just because you have a fast lens that will go down to f/2.8 doesn't mean that it's always usable.


Do you think shooting "Aperature Priority" would be a better route then?
 
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OnTheFly7

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I used to regularly hunt pheasants; they are a challenging bird. Using 51 point AF would probably be the first mistake, if you were trying to photograph birds that were flushed by dogs, or birds that were being shot on the rise, or on the wing. I have not seen a single one of your images, but my guess is that you had LOADS of images where the background was sharp, the things BEHIND the desired focus point were what came out sharply focused.

Did you know the KIND of photograph you were trying to make? Did you have the framing pre-decided upon? I cannot imagine you had too much trouble with the dog or dogs, or shots of the hunters. Like almost any well-understood sport, there are classical ways to photograph it. Not sure how much of a pheasant hunting person you are, so please don't take anything I say the wrong way.

I have hunted pheasants with a 12-gauge side-by-side in both berry brambles, and in open Oregon country, where the shots are typically at 30 to 40 yards. Modified barrel, 1 1/4 oz of #6 shot for the first bird that rises, and for the second rooster, the full choke barrel at about 40 yards with a heavier charge of #4 shot or late season even a 1.5 ounce short magnum load of #4 hardened copper-plated shot...this is for open-field hunting-- wheat stubble, open corn stubble hunting here,not much brush behind for acres and acres. If there was a lot of brush and trees and such behind the birds, AF is going to be tricky. In bramble-type shooting, AF is going to be a nightmare with a 70-200, and the ranges could easily be very short, like 15 to 25 yards, and you need a semi-wide angle lens.

Almost every open-field shot here is at 25-40 yards. Did you try pre-focusing by hand to an approximate range for the rise? Anyway...51 point AF is too many points in many situations, gives too much potential target acquisition priority to undesired stuff, like background brush, limbs, brambles, etc. A rooster himself is a smallish target: if a smaller focus group, like 21 point had been selected, and the focus distance at least estimated and pre-positioned, and a sort of-high-up AF area group had been selected, with the camera in a TALL orientation, you might have had some luck shooting birds that were on the rise, and maybe even gotten a feathers-flying shot or two.

I dunno...I've seen a lot of nice pheasant hunting images over the last three decades; MANY were shot with a moderate lens, like a 35mm or 50mm angle of view. The classic, from-behind-the-hunter-with-rooster-on-the-rise shot with the hunter with the gun up and acquiring the bird is a classic shot, and it's based on the photographer pre-focusing on the DOG, or in being able in typical Oregon country, to KNOW where the birds are crouched, and pre-focusing on that cover, at a rather longer distance, so there is PLENTY of depth of field, and you have actually a 20-foot margin of error. Did you have communication with your hunter? Were they hunting with dogs? Have you hunted pheasant before?

Again, it's hard to know much about how your photos came out or why there were not up to expectations, but frankly, the MAJORITY of the absolute best pheasant hunt photos I have seen were taken well before autofocus was invented, and were shot with shorter lenses, and then cropped. Pre-focused at the right, general distance, like...5 feet in front of the dog, at a moderate aperture of about f/4.5 or so. The easiest focus is pre-focus. A tele like a 70-200 is going to be a very narrow-angle lens. THe issue is that, on the rise, you have about 1.5 seconds before the hunter acquires and takes his top of the rise shot, then the bird's going to move into flight. You then have about 2.5 more seconds. This is being generous. The old-fashioned, pre-autofocus method is the approach you might want to take, with a pre-focus set at the distance the dog is working, at f/4.5, f/4.8, f/5.6 and today, NOT, I repeat NOT in Shutter Priority, but instead in AUTO ISO mode, so you can keep the 1/800 or 1/1000 second shutter speed you'll want.

Again...not sure where you hunted at, or if you know the general behavior of pheasant either hunted dog-less or with dog, but if you have a dog, you have a focus distance to start with.


I've hunted them for a long time, just recently thought about photographing these hunts.

After I left today, I starting thinking to myself.......the 24-70mm 2.8 may be a better lens for "all around" images. That has been the next lens on the list for a couple of months. Guess now I have to decide on either the lens or a new over/under!
 

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No, not necessarily. I shoot a lot of birds, and also shoot a lot of motorsports. When the subject is moving I virtually always use either shutter priority of manual, BUT when using shutter priority I always keep an eye on what the camera is using. This is especially important in changing light conditions.

As I recall all of those photographs were using an ISO around 450 (I can't remember for sure though) and a 1/2000 shutter speed. For slow-moving subjects like the dog 1/2000 was way too fast and that camera can go well past ISO 450. Try something around ISO 1600 and 1/250 second shutter speed and pan with the subject. Also be SURE to set the autofocus mode to AF-C (continuous focus). Keep in mind that when hunting nobody holds their shotgun steady and waits for the bird to fly into it, they track with the bird. Do the same thing with your camera and pan smoothly with the subject.
 
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OnTheFly7

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No, not necessarily. I shoot a lot of birds, and also shoot a lot of motorsports. When the subject is moving I virtually always use either shutter priority of manual, BUT when using shutter priority I always keep an eye on what the camera is using. This is especially important in changing light conditions.

As I recall all of those photographs were using an ISO around 450 (I can't remember for sure though) and a 1/2000 shutter speed. For slow-moving subjects like the dog 1/2000 was way too fast and that camera can go well past ISO 450. Try something around ISO 1600 and 1/250 second shutter speed and pan with the subject. Also be SURE to set the autofocus mode to AF-C (continuous focus). Keep in mind that when hunting nobody holds their shotgun steady and waits for the bird to fly into it, they track with the bird. Do the same thing with your camera and pan smoothly with the subject.



With an aperature around 8?

Again, that is with overcast skies. I'm assuming I would have to go higher on sunny days, with a bit lower ISO.
 

SCraig

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With an aperature around 8?

Again, that is with overcast skies. I'm assuming I would have to go higher on sunny days, with a bit lower ISO.
I didn't do the mental math to convert the exposure, but yes you will have to adjust for the conditions. Find a shutter speed that will reduce the movement the way you want it, and an aperture and ISO combination that will support that. It will take some trial and error, but there is a combination that will work and give you what you want, you'll just have to find it.

When I shoot drag cars I like to use about 1/125 second and pan with the cars because I want the wheels and background to have motion blur. When I shoot birds in flight I use between 1/1000 and 1/2000 second because I DON'T want things to have a lot of blur, just a touch on the wing tips. Did I waste a lot of images figuring out what I wanted? You betcha! Everyone does, that's just part of learning and you can't let a failure get to you. Go out in a field or your back yard and play with your camera using the birds and squirrels and dogs for subjects. Learn what works and what doesn't and you'll be a step ahead next time you try to photograph a hunt.
 

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Okay, thanks for the DropBox link. I just looked at all six images and scrolled through them at 100 percent, and I have to say--there was some kind of SERIOUS issue going on. I see what looks like three potential issues. Complicating it is the fact that with my basic EXIF red or LR I cannot see your EXIF, but I don't really NEED to see the EXIF data, since I can about guess the f/stops were wide, and the issues I see look like 1) the lens might not have actually been in autofocus (dog shot #1 is so,so horribly OOF that nothing within the shot is in-focus; the shot of the two men with red barn(shot 0663) shows deep, 1/16 mile back-focus but has horrible aberration on the closer stuff; in the fence crossing sequence, the hunter on the left with the camo cap--there's a streaky blurring smeared look which I can see in 05663, and in the other frames as well. I can also see the poorer and poorer corners of the frame, with the lens looking worse and worse and worse at the edges in one close shot.

I think that the issues, which are really,really BAD are mechanical, with either a badly decentered lens element, or the VR system's group malfunctioning, or the VR system set to ON at too high of a shutter speed, or the focusing system not in AF. What looks really bad is the weird,smeary look, and the awful corners on the second shot: everything the lens is showing has a sort of almost double-edged blurriness to it. it looks like there's a SERIOUS lens centering or alignment issue. This is the way telephoto images tend to look when a zoom has taken a bad knock, or when VR is left on at really high speeds, and the VR group oscillated in a feedback loop, wayyy back in the optical path, so it looks similar to, but not quite the same as a deceeentered element, but yet kind of like that.

These,all of them, suffer from a serious lens problem. I'm hampered by not being able to see the EXIF, but at the same time, I can see by visual that even the IN-focus areas have a very strange look to them. I think it's a VR problem. I HOPE for your sake that you just left VR on accidentally, and used a fast shutter speed, and got a VR feedback loop. Otherwise, I think the lens has been SERIOUSLY knocked out of alignment. Even where the focus is sharpest, you can see that weird, vibrate-y-look? That's not just a focus error, it's not just too shallow of a DOF band, it's a serious problem.
 

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Complicating it is the fact that with my basic EXIF red or LR I cannot see your EXIF, but I don't really NEED to see the EXIF data, since I can about guess the f/stops were wide, and the issues I see look like

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GainControl : Low gain up
Contrast : Normal
Saturation : Normal
Sharpness : Normal
SubjectDistanceRange : Unknown
SerialNumber : 3043908
LensInfo : 70-200mm f/2.8
LensModel : 70.0-200.0 mm f/2.8
Compression : JPEG (old-style)
XResolution : 72
YResolution : 72
ResolutionUnit : inches
ThumbnailOffset : 986
ThumbnailLength : 13894
 

Designer

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I was shooting an 810, with 70-200mm f/2.8. I had a hell of a time nailing focus.Any thoughts?
There's your main problem right there.

Why do you do that?

Calculate the DOF of those shots, and you'll see that there is almost no hope of getting good photographs at that aperture.
 

Derrel

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SubjectDistanceRange : Unknown. Again...this is perplexing...I was wondering if the lens was set to Manual focus...

And also, even when you DID hit focus, there's a secondary, smeared-looking image, as if the image itself is "in motion".... look at the camo hunter in the fence-crossing sequence...look at the dog trotting broadside to the camera, and look at the ghosting on the wheat straw behind the dog's distance to the right...on a panning shot like that, there's no way there'd be a 1/2 inch smear...

Look at DSC_0690 at high magnification, scroll thru, look at the oak trees far background back by the barn's distance, left side, then look at the fence-crossing area...there's a commonality in the entire set of 6 frames; every shot has a ghosty-like, vibrate-y look...EVERYTHING in the images looks like the lens has a horribly,horribly out-of-center element, or like VR was left on...it's almost like a type of high-speed "vibration-impact" type of look is all over the image data, no matter the distance.

What is that lens's Focus Limiter options? Is the VR currently set to ACTIVE? Is the VR switch (still) set to ON?

Can you get a sharp picture with this lens tonight? There's a major malfunction going on in these six frames, in this 91-frame span.
 
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O

OnTheFly7

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3 more images added to the dropbox link.

I sure as hell hope there is nothing wrong with the lens. Yesterday and today were the first 2 days that I have actually used the lens. It was a Christmas gift, purchased new, for me from the fiance. Delivered via UPS or FedEx from Adorama. No damage to the box. The 810 was also in that box.

Also, VR was turned off.

Again, yesterday and today were the first 2 days I used this lens (and I have babied it).
 
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