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When we lived in England I would sit at my desk in my study and look out of the window into the cherry tree standing just outside the house. There I’d watch the Chaffinches, Blue Tits & Great Tits who visited, eating their way through the balls of fat and peanuts that we’d hang out for them. Then we moved to Canada and bought a house with no garden and where the office window looked out onto the fence that divides us from our neighbour.

Over the last 3 or 4 years the garden has been transformed, the pool that took the whole area has been removed and we now have grass, plants, flowers and shrubs. We also no longer have our dog, Gracie, who, although she was a sweet basket case of a hound, made the garden smell pretty awful at times. With Gracie gone and the garden recovered, we decided it was time to put in some bird feeders and see what we could attract. Of course, bird feeders means bird photography and that meant getting out the Sigma 150-500. Which camera to put it on? Well, this is where the DX crop of the D7100 wins out over the higher quality of the D610 full frame sensor. Add to that, the D7100 can also shoot in a further crop mode, giving the lens an effective reach of nearly 1000mm.

Male House Finch
Backyard birds

We quickly started to see birds arrive, Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers and the ubiquitous Starlings and sparrows. But all of them wonderful to look at and photograph. If you can’t get away at a weekend to shoot, look and see what’s in your own backyard. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the opportunities on your doorstep.

Mourning Dove
Backyard birds

Male Northern Cardinal

And you never know who else might drop by…
Backayard visitors

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One thing I have always been intrigued by is Infrared photography. You know, those magical, fantastical looking pictures of Narnia-like white trees with their ethereal leaves against a black, looming sky. I briefly tried using an ir filter (820nm) on my D610 while on a shoot last year and while I was pleased with the picture I wasn’t quite so pleased with the length of the exposure I needed to make. Unlike using a ND filter, there isn’t a simple calculation you can make to determine the length of the exposure. Because camera models, and the strength of their IR reduction, vary, it can be a matter of hit and miss and experimentation.

So unless you want to go for a full IR conversion of your camera, you’ll be stuck with using an IR filter. In which case, check your camera model for its suitability. Luckily, I happened to have an old Nikon D70 still sitting around. Bought in 2004 it’s a 6mp DSLR which adapts very well to taking an IR screw-on filter. Exposures of minutes with a D610 or D7100 take only a couple of seconds on the D70 and it still a very decent camera.

Over and above the right equipment, the one component I had no control over was the environment. If there are no leaves on the trees then you ain’t getting ethereal leaf shots, no matter what you’re shooting with. So I had to wait until the long, if mild this year, Canadian winter came to an end. Then we struggled through early Spring until finally, in early May our trees started to sprout their leaves. Shooting landscapes you get used to having to wait for the right light. In this case I had to wait for the right month!


Take a tripod, because even with a camera as ir-friendly as the D70 you’re still looking at long exposures. Take a cable release or remote and be prepared to judge the exposure from the histogram. The D70 has a miniscule rear screen compared to more modern cameras, so trying to assess your exposure by sight on that tiny monitor is not going to help you much. Especially as your initial image will be predominantly red.


Once I had my images the next step was to turn them into something presentable. My plan was to produce a set of contrasty black and white shots so I used Nik (Google) Silver Efex 2 to do the conversion. This product is now available with the rest of the Nik plugins from Google for FREE. OK, Google has admitted that they won’t be developing the software any further, but the suite contains some of the most powerful tools currently available and if you have PS or LR and you don’t have Nik, then get it.


But then I found that there’s more. By adjusting Curves in Photoshop I could give the image even more interest; this is a simple way to emulate some of the current filters available in Instagram. Normally I avoid filters like the plague but a little experimentation can be a good thing and I ended up recreating the Clarendon or Verve filter using some Curves settngs I found on the web. I think it works.

So if you’ve got an old camera hanging around that you don’t use any more, see if it’s suitable for an IR filter. Better yet, why not go the extra mile and get it converted? There are a couple of companies around who will convert your camera so that it shoots IR ‘natively’. That way there are no filters, no delays or long exposures unless you plan them, and the camera shoots and exposes normally. Give it a go – you might be surprised.

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