Wild Wings Bird Show

With photography, sometimes you just get lucky, and this was definitely one of those times. My weekend trip to Gilroy Gardens (Bonfante Gardens) started out pretty ordinary, but ended up with some of my best shots to date, especially for portraits. I had originally planned on taking macro shots of flowers and possibly a few landscapes. My best shots, however, came from the Sumer Safari event that was going on in the park. I didn’t know it was being held, and I had packed my bag for macro and wide angle shots. If I knew about the wildlife shows, I would’ve packed some more telephotos also. As it turns out, this gave me a chance to finally use a highly regarded lenses that I’ve been neglecting, the 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor-P.

The 105mm f/2.5 is generally regarded as one of Nikon’s best portrait lenses. It’s well known for being very sharp and for its creamy smooth bokeh. Although my version is older, a pre-AI Nikkor-P, I was still anxious to try it out and see for myself.

Now, I’ve never considered myself a portrait shooter. In fact, I consider myself almost “anti-portraits”. In the age of autofocus, people get impatient with you if you take more than 3 seconds to take the shot. With my manual metering and manual focusing, I haven’t been able to get a subject to hold still long enough for me to take the shot. So I tend to stick to landscapes and wildlife, where I don’t feel the pressure of being rushed.

Before I say anything else, I have to commend to the owners of the Wild Wings Bird Show. It was one of the most entertaining animal shows I’ve seen. The fact that the stunts were done with birds is simply amazing. Of course, these exotic birds also make for some really photogenic subjects, especially when you have their trainers able to control the stunts they do. And the best part came after the show, when the trainers were nice enough to hang around and let the audience get closer to the animals. And when everybody was distracted trying to pet the animals, I went for portrait shots of a trainer and her parrot. These came out to be the best portrait shots I’ve taken so far.

I mainly shot in f/4 for shallow depth of field and to get that blurred background. However, I was often standing too close for a 105mm, so the shallow DOF actually made it more difficult to get both the trainer and parrot in focus. (I think this is one of those times where a 85mm f/1.4 would be ideal, especially on DX bodies — but that’s a $1000 lens, so ouch). I’m starting to learn to trust my eyes more than the AF confirmation dot, which made focusing a bit faster. And the focusing ring on my lens is tighter than my other lens, and that actually helped for fine tuning the focus. ISO was set to 400 so that I could maintain a reasonably high shutter speed of 1/320 to 1/500. I like to go conservative on the shutter speed to eliminate as much camera shake issues as possible. In post-processing, I bumped the saturation a little, as I always do (I like colors to have some pop) and just a tad of sharpening. If you look at it at 100% crop, then yes, it’s not tack sharp. But as you can see from the image above, the results are still very satisfactory.

Although I’d like to believe my photography is improving, I have to admit that luck is a important factor that is always needed. Being there at the right place at the right time makes a huge difference in deciding what shots you get to take home. I was fortunate enough be there to take some great portraits and wildlife. This shoot was so much fun, that maybe idea of doing more portrait photography isn’t that bad after all.