Sunday, 10 February 2019

Photographing Birds, Challenges and Tips to overcome them

1/2000, f/5.6, focal length 250 mm, Focus mode AI Servo ISO automatic

Ok, so you wanted to take a few snaps of birds in flight but came away disappointed and disheartened. You used a tripod and even your zoom lens but then the eyes of the birds were blurred. Perhaps the greatest and most important factor is light. Many a time, photographing birds in flight can be a challenge especially when the lighting changes every minute. Moreover, the angle of the sun can affect the quality of the photograph. In the mornings, when the sun is rising, you might be able to get better snaps of birds that are flying rather than those that are on the ground. This is something that I learned, the setting of a shutter speed of 1/2000, f/7.1 and an AI Servo focus option gave me dark photographs of birds that were on the ground. The same setting worked fine when the birds were flying! A few examples of slightly darker photographs is given below.

Shutter speed 1/2500, f/5.6, focal length 250mm, ISO Auto, focus mode AI Servo

Shutter speed 1/2000, f/7.1, ISO Auto, Focal length 250mm, focus mode AI Servo

I use a Canon 1300D with a 55-250 mm lens. I don't generally carry a tripod as I feel carrying a tripod hampers movement. I like panning the camera to catch birds in flight. Moreover, I feel more comfortable shooting snaps as single shots and not in bursts. Somehow, it requires one to be more alert and one needs to be able to anticipate the bird's movement. Some of the most pleasing sequences of flight come through panning the camera to follow the bird's flight path.

Shutter speed 1/2000, f/7.1, focal length 250mm, ISO auto, focus mode AI Servo

Shutter speed 1/2000, f/7.1, focal length 250mm, ISO auto, focus mode AI Servo
However, some of the snaps that are most pleasing ones are the distant shots of birds in flight where you to look more closely in order to identify some of its features. In the case of the Black Ibis, it was on zooming in that I could make out its beak. This, of course, is a personal observation!

Shutter speed 1/2000 f/7.1, focal length 25mm, ISO auto, focus mode AI Servo

Shutter speed 1/2000 f/7.1, focal length 25mm, ISO auto, focus mode AI Servo
Sometimes you might have to be stuck with a fast shutter speed and yet decide to take a snap of landing birds. In the case of the white heron with the fish in its beak, I decided to shoot without making a change in the shutter speed. The result was good, probably because I had allowed the camera to decide on the ISO. The only thing that I tweaked was the zoom.

Shutter speed 1/2000, f/7.1, focal length 146 mm, focus mode AI Servo

Shutter speed 1/2000, f/7.1, focal length 208 mm, focus mode AI Servo

Shutter speed 1/2000, f/7.1, focal length 225 mm, Focus mode AI Servo

For still photographs of birds perched on branches or sitting on the ground, it is often OK to have a smaller f-stop number and you could also reduce the shutter speed to anything from 1/200 to 1/800. Also, you could turn to the Single shot focus mode. Here I would like to add that selecting a focus point in the camera could prove a boon. For the photographs of the white-throated kingfisher, I also used a fill-in flash especially because of the poor lighting, and to give the eyes a glint.

Shutter speed 1/200, f/9, focal length 250mm, forced flash, focus mode single shot

Shutter speed 1/200, f/9, focal length 250mm, forced flash, focus mode single shot

Not all birds in flight come up well, unfortunately! Those that are still and unmoving, though ready to take off can be eye-catching too! This black cormorant gave me one of the best stance I have observed so far! The webbed feet along with its bad hair day look seemed to attract me the most!

Shutter speed1/640, f/5.6, ISO Auto, Focus mode single shot

There is something that is graceful about the movement of birds in flight, somewhat like dances gliding on the dance floor. I have posted a photograph below the values of which, I would like you to guess.

The photographs were taken at the Sultanpur National Park close to Gurugram one fine Saturday morning after the fog had lifted up somewhat.
Note: The Auto ISO was limited to an upper limit of 800.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Analysing Kamala Dass' "My Mother at Sixty-six

The poem, My Mother at Sixty-six explores the theme of ageing, bereavement and loss. In this poem, the narrator who is travelling to another city, probably another country is suddenly struck by the thought that she might be seeing her mother for the last time. 

Kamala Dass explores the fragility of human relationships that are limited by time and the process of ageing. Bereavement is a childhood fear that all humans harbour. No one imagines that one would lose one's dearest one to old age. We take the presence of our dearest ones for granted. 

The message delivered in the poem is that ageing and bereavement are inevitable. The loss of our dear ones is inevitable and a natural process. life and death are universal; although one's grief is painful, it is, however, personal and that the world moves on in spite of our grief!

Style of Writing

The whole poem is written as a single sentence. A single thread of thought is contained in the poem, (the thought of losing her mother) and this thought is interspersed with observations of the real world around the narrator ( trees sprinting, children spilling airport's security check). It is rather like a stream of consciousness where the narrator keeps drifting from deep inner thoughts to the world outside. It is as if to suggest that one needs to see the bigger picture - although one's grief is painful, it is, however, personal and that the world moves on in spite of our grief!

Figures of Speech
1. The poem abounds with similes throughout. A few of the examples are listed below:
  a) Simile 
     i.  "Her face ashen like that of a corpse"- her mother's pale face is compared to that of a corpse.
     ii. "Wan, pale as a late winter's moon"- the mother's appearance is compared to that of the moon.
  b) Contrast
     i) "Trees sprinting, the merry children spilling"- energy and youth as contrasted with old age.
  c) Repetition
      "All I did was smile and smile and smile"- the repetition of the word "smile" brings out the
         artificiality of the expression meant to reassure her mother that they will meet again.
  d) Irony
      "See you soon Amma"- this is ironical as the narrator is not very sure about seeing her mother
        when she returns from her journey abroad.
  e) Metaphors and symbols

      i) winter's moon - end of life cycle, old age weakness
      ii) merry children - dynamism, youth, energy
      iii) trees sprinting - relativity, movement as opposed to stillness

Reference to context questions and their answers:

I. Lines 1-6 "Driving...with"
   a) Where was she driving to?

        She was driving to the Cochin Airport in a car.

   b) Who was she driving with?

         She was with her mother who was rather elderly.

  c)  Identify the figure of speech in lines 5-6 and explain why and how it has been used.

         The figure of speech is the simile. Her mother's appearance has been compared to that of a  

 d)  What did she "realise with pain"?

         She realised with pain and grief that her mother had grown old and that she might lose her.

II. Lines 9-18  "that she...felt that"

    a) What "thought" did she put away?

        She put away the thought that she might lose her mother.

    b) Why did she look away from her mother?

        The thought of losing her mother was too painful and distressing. She wanted to divert her sad 
        thoughts by looking out of the window. 

    c) What did she see from the car windows? How did the scene contrast with that of her mother?

        She saw trees that seemed to be sprinting and children who were running out of their homes, 
         probably going to school.

    d) How did her mother appear in line 16?

         She looked pale, lifeless and weak.

     e) What figure of speech has the poet used in lines 17 and 18? Why?

          The poet has used a simile to compare the weak, pale and lifeless appearance of the mother to 
          that of the late winters moon. Both the moon and the mother look pale and weak. They are 
          nearing the end of their life-cycle.

III. Lines 19-24 "old"

       a) What was her "familiar ache? my childhood's fear"?

             The fear of ageing, the fear of losing her mother, the fear of bereavement. 

       b) Why did she say, "see you soon Amma?" Did she really believe she would?

            She wanted to reassure her mother that they would get to see each other when she returned.
            The narrator was not very sure that this would be. But then she didn't want to distress her 
            mother into thinking that she was going away leaving her mother to die!

       c) Identify the figure of speech used in lines 23-24. Why has the poet used this figure of speech?

            Poet has used repetition to lay stress on the word smile. This is intentional. She wants to 
            highlight the artificiality of the smile.

       d) How does the statement, "see you soon, Amma" contrast with the "childhood fear of the
          She was afraid that since her mother was already frail and rather sickly, she would probably 
          not get see her when she returned. However she did not want to distress her mother with her 
         own apprehehension. Thus to reassure her mother and, perhaps to assuage her own sense of 
         guilt she kept smiling.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Juvenile and Adult Painted Storks, Redstart and Others at the Sultanpur National Park

This Saturday when I visited the Sultan[ur National Park, I had thought of focusing on birds in flight. For this, I opted for a really fast shutter speed (1/20000) and an aperture of (f-5.6-f-11). Unfortunately, the fog played spoilsport and I ended up with a few rather smudged up snaps that wouldn't pass muster as mug shots of the Loch Ness Monster taken with a black and white film roll! This post is a reminder that light plays a great role in good photography. Unfortunately, the birds in the Sultanpur National Park seem to disappear from the National Park after nine in the morning. It is as if they like to fly away for shopping after having a hearty meal of fish and snails!

I counted myself lucky to be carrying a smaller lens (55-250 mm) which meant that I might be able to scrape through the dim light especially since I had an f 1:4-5.6 lens. There were others who were carrying 600, 1000 mm lenses that would have had a narrower aperture thus requiring more light!

I was lugging a tripod to which I had attached my camera. This in itself made it a bit difficult to pan or swing to get the flying birds within the view. In the end, I opted to swing the camera using the tripod legs, (unopened) as a pivot. I was able to somehow spot a brace of spot-billed ducks make a landing in the water. I have pasted the snap above.

Nothing can beat the gracefulness of birds in flight, especially the lumbering giants like storks and cranes. I had thought of taking a snap of the lone Duckbill in flight that I had spotted a week before, but alas, it seemed to have shifted to another spot! 

The Juvenile storks, however, seemed to be plentiful and I decided to turn my attention towards them instead. The Juvenile Painted storks lack the bright colours of the adults. Their beaks appear to be dull and their heads lack the bright orange-red colour of the adults. 

But then I was also pleasantly surprised to spot the Black Redstart Bird at the Sultanpur National Park just prior to exiting the park. A rather colourful bird with an attractive colour scheme!

The resident White-throated Kingfisher and the ubiquitous Heron were there as usual, though I would like to add that Kingfishers seem to be aplenty!  The shot posted below seemed to have caught the morning rays of the rising sun to its benefit. Photographers call the morning hours as the golden hours because of the warmer tones!

The Grey Heron seemed to be as curious of me as I was of it! Well, it turned a number of times wondering what I was doing paying it so much attention. It even gave me a full-fronted glare!

The Purple Heron stretched its neck out, unmoving so still, that one might mistake it for an unmoving branch. These birds are known to wait patiently for fish to swim into its vicinity before pouncing for it. At this time of the year, the Sultanpur National Park teems with Herons and Egrets of all kinds.