Mute swan and cygnets

By Monday, May 27, 2013grafphoto
Mute swan w/ cygnets at nest in rain

Mute swan with cygnets at nest in pouring rain | D800, 200-400 f4, ISO 3200

I have been itching for some more practice with wildlife and my D800.   Since I don’t have the Nikon expensive vertical grip, my frame rate is limited to 4 fps (frames per second) in FX mode, and the camera can do 5 fps in DX mode.   The vertical grip would give me up to 6 fps.  With moving wildlife, I know one frame can mean the difference between a keeper and a throwaway, but I have been hesitant to add bulk and expense with the extra grip without getting some more trials in with the native speeds.

I went back to one of my old favorite spots a couple of times over the past few days, Kensington Metropark near Milford, Michigan.    This place always seems to have something to offer up, especially in spring time where herons are nesting, swans, sandhill cranes, turtles (not a good test of frame rate 🙂 ), and generally very acclimated wildlife to people.   It is the go-to spot for area nature photographers.   I used to spend a lot more time there, but have taken up exploring other spots over the past few years.   I was reminded that Kensington remains pretty special when it comes to wildlife encounters.

The first day was quite overcast, meaning I had to use high ISOs to get any type of decent shutter speed to stop motion.   A mute swan had made a nest just a short distance from the main boardwalk there, providing for very comfortable access shooting platform.  I spent a good part of the morning testing out various crop modes of the D800 so that I have a decent feel for it now.   Going to DX mode definitely helps, and a majority of the time it is eliminating unnecessary pixels anyway.  So I will take the extra frame per second when needed.

As you can see in the picture above, I was caught in some significant rain.   It has been awhile since I have photographed in rain, and I ended up liking the different type of image it offered.   The swans didn’t seem to mind it at all, and I like that portrayal of a less than ideal environment.   The image also held up well at ISO 3200.

mute swan and cygnets

Mute swan and cygnets on Wildwing Lake, Milford, MI

I returned back again a couple of days later to entirely different conditions.   Clear skies, and morning sunshine.   I was happy to see all 5 cygnets still around as they are known to succumb to the snapping turtle population in the lake.   I was able to get higher shutter speeds and practice some flight photography also.

All in all, not a bad couple days at one of my old stomping grounds, and a bit more experience under my belt with the wildlife capabilities on the D800.   As for right now, 5 frames per second I think will be just fine.

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Paul Grecian says:

    Hey Mark, I’m curious if you have found the 200-400mm weak at longer distances and what these distances may be. Also, have you been happy with teleconverters attached? Thanks.

    • Mark says:

      Hi Paul – well, with my 1.7x converter, I am not too happy at all with it on the 200-400 – which is why I when I back for round 2 on this particular trip, I brought my 500. With the 1.4x it is just fine.

      By weak do you mean soft? I noticed that a little at 400, but I think that was when I had my 1.7x on it. I can’t recall having an issue any other times as I am mostly using it at 400mm.

  • It’s the snapping turtles and the Snapping Turtle Turks (the Beatles) you have to watch out for, well sometimes for some people. Anyway, you seem to have stopped action very well in these two images. The second being my favorite from an “artistic” standpoint, but the first having more naturalist’s interest.

  • I like both images but the wonderful light on the second helps make it pop more. The rain and overcast skies made for a moody feel in the first image and reflects how wildlife needs to adjust to natures conditions. Glad you enjoyed yourself and learned the lessons required for the D800.

    Oh, and it does take a good photographer to capture those speeding turtles. 🙂

  • Alan Jones says:

    Love the shot of the swans in clear water. I got several shots last Tuesday and Wednesday but never in open water. What were your settings for this shot? Although I agree that DX mode has advantages, particularly with your 200-400mm lens, I found that with my 500mm lens the FX mode worked better because at times I was too close (eg when she flapped her wings or when both parents and cygents were all present). Like you I am learning to adjust 4-5 fps vs 12 fpx with my D300s. Thanks for posting your images and commenting on your D800.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks Alan. Actually the water shot was with my 500. When I went back the second time I brought both and used the 500 mostly. The water shot was 1/4000 sec @ f11 ISO 800 in FX mode. I found myself shooting at f11 / f13 quite a bit because the chicks were rarely parallel with the plane of mom, and I certainly had enough light on the clearer day.

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