Last week I visited the Hamill Family Wild Encounters exhibits at the Brookfield Zoo. Within the area is a large indoor free-fly exhibit which features hundreds of parakeets. It's a great place to spend time practicing photography with some challenging subjects!
The colorful parakeets are very small. A parakeet will easily fit within your hand. On average, the parakeets are 6 inches tall.
The parakeets are also fast and fidgety. They rarely stay in one place for long. I had many failed attempts at capturing pictures of these birds due to having a blurred parakeet in the frame.
Controlling the background is also challenging within the exhibit space. My goal was to seek clean backgrounds in order to highlight my subject. It takes patience to wait for a parakeet to perch on a bare branch that offers an uncluttered background.
Controlling the depth of field is another challenge. At first, I selected a wide open aperture (f/2.8) to help minimize background distractions and to help account for the relatively low lighting inside the exhibit. However, at f/2.8 the depth of field was so shallow that only a small portion of the bird was in focus. When I locked focus on one of the eyes, the feet were blurred. As time went on, I narrowed the aperture for greater depth of field. This meant that I had to be even more careful about the backgrounds. A narrower depth of field also results in a higher ISO setting (sacrificing a bit of image quality) to maintain proper exposure. At some point, I settled in on an aperture of f/7.1. This rendered more of the parakeet in focus while adequately controlling the background distractions and maintaining a reasonably low ISO setting for proper exposure.
The lower feathers of the parakeets extend so far away from their bodies that it's impossible to have the entire bird in sharp focus--regardless of the aperture setting. That would require focus stacking, which wasn't practical for most of these photographs. I did, however, use a focus stacking technique to save one of the photographs. The following photograph was initially ruined because the parakeet on the left lifted one of his legs very quickly during the exposure--creating a distracting blur. I captured a second photograph and then replaced the shaky leg with the steady leg in Photoshop.
I used my Nikon D800 camera, Nikon 300 2.8 VR lens and Nikon SB-900 flash unit throughout the visit.
To view six other images from this photo shoot, please CLICK HERE.