I’m way behind on posting reports from my birding trips, and with more trips to come I’m going to have to take a more compressed approach. So instead of long and detailed stories, these will be mostly pictures with a little bit of context. Let’s start with Southwest Ecuador in March 2022.
Ecuador is one of the bird-rich countries – number five in total species, behind only Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and Indonesia. But a quick glance at a map will tell you that the countries ahead of it are much larger, meaning the density of birds is high. So Ecuador is a must-visit destination on the world bird circuit.
Broadly speaking Ecuador has three main birding regions: the Northwest, running from Quito up to the Colombian border, the eastern slope of the Andes leading down to the Amazon basin, and the southwest corner bordering Peru. The latter option was the one I visited in March, though I did do a few days of bonus birding in the Quito area at the end of the trip.
This article contains a lot of technical information about camera settings that will only be of interest to people with relatively modern DSLR and mirrorless cameras. It contains a few amendments from the version published in Volume 69 No. 1 of The Blue Bill, the quarterly journal of the Kingston Field Naturalists.
One of the challenges of working with current DSLR and mirrorless camera bodies is the bewildering variety of options they present. What should one do when faced with the myriad of possibilities embedded in the basic camera controls for ISO, metering, shutter speed, aperture, and autofocus modes, much less the arcane stuff buried in the custom menus (53 options in my particular camera of choice)? Isn’t there a one-size-fits-all choice of settings that will let us get on with the business of photographing birds?
Well, yes and no. Readers of this series will know that I advocate learning how to control the basic functions of the camera, and particularly the big three of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. In the most recent article I also explored the importance of understanding and applying autofocus modes. These are functions that you may need to adjust multiple times over the course of a day out, and in my experience an ability to understand these and balance between them is one of the keys of creating good images.
So there is no single answer that works in all situations. However a quick scan through the internet will turn up a number of articles proposing the “right” settings for bird photography, by which they mean the recommended baseline settings to use most of the time. This is a good approach, and (needless to say!) I have my own recommendations. This article provides a set of good choices for standard settings, and capsule explanations for why these are recommended.
In order to confirm whether they were good ones I decided to test them during two recent birding trips by sticking as closely as possible to my recommended settings throughout the trip. The captions to the images accompanying this article will note the settings used, including any deviations from the recommended ones. A Nikon D850 camera body and a NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens were used throughout.