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  • #262090

    With job security on the line, I am thinking of some fun alternatives in earning a living. I was wondering whether one could earn a living taking bird photography in this region? The books on natural history said the chances are slim – competition too tough and buyers are few.

    Initially, I thought the competition may be tough in the western world and thought I could begin my first step by concentrating on the birds in this SEA region. I didnt realise that there were so many great bird photos out there already in this region until I surf the internet on this subject!

    Questions in my head –

    1. Are there any good/success stories of bird photographers able to earn a living from selling their bird photos in Msia/Spore? Talents aside, is it a near impossible dream? Should I drop this vision/hope, get an office job, and just concentrate on enjoying it as a hobby?

    2. Depending on answer to Q 1, it dictates what equipment I should purchase to start out? My first SLR was a Nikon FM10 (the most basic). Didnt use it ever since I got a Canon compact A10. Now I am using a Canon S3.
    If my ultimate desire is to sell my photos to earn a living, I guess I need to buy the professional cameras & lenses; but if it is just a hobby, then I should forget about those super wonderful telephoto lenses with a whopping costs of 5 figures, and get instead a semi-pro camera and lighter/slower lenses….i love the dream of taking photos with the 500mm f4 lenses with IS…. :D …….

    Any wisdom to share on how a novice should start out in bird photography in this region with the hopes of making some money, if possible? What are the ‘wise’ start-up kit other than what I read in the books – "get the best you can afford"?

    3. I am struggling over choosing btw Nikon and Canon. I like the photos taken by Nikon camera (softer) but I find the quoted prices of Canon lenses being cheaper to NIkon. Is this true?

    4. Can a person really carry in the backpack all that weight which is more than half the person’s weight? :sick:

    My dreams are getting dimmer and dimmer……….. :sad wave:

    #282250

    Peacefuldove,

    Here’re my 2 cents:

    I am not aware of any nature photographer (Avian included) makes a living by just selling nature photos in Malaysia and/or Singapore. However, there are some that supplement their income by doing so. Unfortunately the market for nature photographs is not as large as elsewhere, we do not have that many nature magazines in this part of the world that you can apply to be a professional photographer of the like of National Geographic. Therefore, almost all the nature photographers here are doing these out of passion. Of course having said these, it is possible that none of us has found a sustainable business model as a full time nature photographer yet.

    On the gears that you need to start bird photography, I think "get the best you can afford" is a good advise. In general, the image quality from long prime telephotos lens is superior than those from the zoom lens, but you are right, these do burn a hole in your pocket, unfortunately.

    As to Nikon vs Canon, I think this really depends on your personal preference and there is no right or wrong answer. Also, the superiority of one vs the other will change every few years, so no point worrying about that as both systems can produce top notch photographs.

    Yes, those long lenses are heavy, but you will get used to it. Last year in one of my overseas shooting trips, my carry-on camera bag weight 25kg and my check-in luggage only at 15kg. :P

    Cheers,
    SC

    #282267

    Thank you – insightful & helpful indeed.

    If I begin my journey in a small step and wanted only one lens, which of these two would be considered a better choice for bird photography?

    EF300mm f4L IS USM (rrp S$2,699) versus EF400mm f/5.6 USM (rrp S$2,299) – Price difference – S$400

    If I add a 1.4x extender (rrp S$599), I could achieve the 400mm focal length with the 300mm lens – but that would mean the total difference in prices btw the two choices is S$999. Would the IS function be really helpful in bird photography and thus worth the price differential?

    If I ignore the above small step, throw caution to the wind and just get the best lens, but still again, can only have one lens, which one would be more useful and practical to own…

    EF300mm f2.8L IS USM (rrpS$9,599) or EF 500mm f/4L IS USM (rrp S$12,999) ?

    p/s all the recommended retail price (rrp) are obtained from the canon spore website.

    #282275

    Hi peacefuldove,

    Both the 300mm f/4 and 400mm f/5.6 are highly rated. There are a few of our members here using them and get excellent results. Henry (HK2000) is using 300mm and Phek Tong (ptlee), Peter (PA123) and Richard (trident) are using the 400mm f/5.6 . I have some experience with the 400mm f/5.6 before and it is a great lens, particularly for flight shots. The IS is good to have in low light situation with shutter speed lower than 1/80s, I still can’t understand why Canon have not had a 400mm f/5.6 with IS.

    The 300mm f/2.8 IS and 500 f/4 IS are 2 great lenses. I bought 500mm first and saved enough to get my 300mm later. However, I also know some will not go for 500mm as the weight is just too much for them. Most of the birds are shy (other than the super model at SBG), the longer the reach the easier to get a decent image. A 300mm with a 2XTC will have 600mm at f/5.6, whereas a 500mm with 1.4xTC will give you 700mm f/5.6

    Cheers,
    SC

    #282281
    Profile photo of ptleeptlee
    Participant

    Hi Peacefuldove,

    I must add to SC’s words, that while I do use with 400mm f/5.6, and quite often with the 1.4x TC with good results, I lose AF on my 40D with the 1.4X, and even with the taped pins trick, the AF is only usable at best when light is good. Many times I end up with MF esp with recent forest dwelling birds.

    It’s hardly ever a clear cut best lens available, even a comparison between two lenses, there are pro’s and cons, like the 400mm I own doesn’t have IS, and I do wonder many times if the IS would help even though my gig is on a tripod, with MLU and a remote shutter release. IS would help in the ‘panic’ shots cases, when the bird is moving from one branch to another, and I don’t have the time to get the setup stable. To sell shots, the photos better be of certain sharpness and details have to be there.

    I’m also contemplating other more ‘high-end’ lenses to see if the improvements is worth the extra $$ for a beginner like myself. And, there’s also the significant cost of a good tripod, ballhead/ wimberly/Gimbal, flash bracket etc to consider. While I already have a decent tripod, ballhead, flash bracket that cost about the same as the 400mm, an upgrade to the big lens would mean I need to invest in a more stable support, with better manoeuvrability.

    Don’t mind me asking, but are you also considering other areas of photography that can sell? I’ve seen people doing well with travel shots, small studio shots, and seems they don’t always have to use top-of-the-line equipment so to speak.

    Cheers,
    PTLee

    #282291

    Thanks for that AF knowledge! And I will be like that too, if I didnt get the IS, I will always be wondering, if I had IS, would the pic turns out better….(human never get satisfied……).

    I guess I havent finished my homework on costing these things out – are you saying all those accessories’ total costs = 400mm lens, or just the flash bracket = cost of 400mm lens?? :worried:

    I knew a person paid a photographer S$500 for a few shots of her daughters! I also heard that there are demands in events shots (eg wedding) but this idea put me off totally because last month, I was at a friend’s wedding dinner and was watching the photographer (also my friend & friends of the bride&bridegroom) doing his work – poor guy, we were all eating & enjoying the delicious meal while the whole night, he has to go from table to table to do group shots…! Not a job that I like at all. :? :P . Somehow I am not a people-photo….

    I was reading from a book titled "How to make money from your photos". He said you need to love & know the subjects that you are taking. I agree! I love the beauty of nature life, particularly birds ~and other wildlife like insects, animals, flora etc. I enjoy seeing all these beauty captured by camera……(although I am not there yet…I am referring to the books that I read……)

    #282295
    Profile photo of ptleeptlee
    Participant

    peacefuldove,

    My tripod + ballhead + flash bracket would be around the cost of the EF400mm f/5.6L, and do not forget the price of the flash as well, the canon 580EX II costs about S$650-720, I think. For a bigger lens setup, it’ll be necessary to get the full wimberly head instead of a ballhead. There is no alternative for a good solid support.

    Cheers,
    PTLee

    #282466

    PT

    Thanks for the additional information.

    Found this article (may be very old) on other websites (hope the link worked)- i might follow his direction on the lens that a bird photographer should have….so, for a start, a 300mm f4. When I am super steady, I can dream about a 600mm…My problem with 300mm is Canon has a IS model but Nikon does not, and both about the same price. I still like D300 more than 50D….. :huh what:

    http://www.vividlight.com/articles/704.htm

    #282612
    Profile photo of hanYeo, Wee Han
    Spectator

    Hi Peacefuldove,

    Hmmm, im not sure you should start way bottom first. A 300 will be too short to get anything serious to be recorded as a keeper. I do recommend at least a 400 for a start. A good quality 400 with a good teleconverter will be a fantastic start. If you want stabilizing for your Nikon, get the 200-400 VR…. ;) . It will still be good with a 1.4X TC.

    Cheers

    Han

    #282642

    Hi Peacefuldove,

    Hmmm, im not sure you should start way bottom first. A 300 will be too short to get anything serious to be recorded as a keeper. I do recommend at least a 400 for a start. A good quality 400 with a good teleconverter will be a fantastic start. If you want stabilizing for your Nikon, get the 200-400 VR…. ;) . It will still be good with a 1.4X TC.

    Cheers

    Han

    Han,
    Thanks for the advice…i believe you…now there goes my 300mm dream :sad wave: …..Canon has a 400mm f5.6 for about $2k+. This lens would be too slow if added a teleconverter. The price to pay to get the 400mm f4, one might as well bite the bullet and pay the additional increment to get the 500mmf4. Just checked the 200-400f4 VR lens – the quoted price is $13k..again almost the price of the 500mmf4….i understand telephoto lens delivers better results than zoom lenses (esp if added teleconverter)..however, if i diversify into other wildlife photography, 200-400 would be more versatile than a 500mm.I dont think I am making any headway in this…..too indecisive,.. :huh what: Many thanks though…i have to adopt a wait and see approach for a while…I am just sad because March is coming and i am dreaming of all the migratory birds at sungei buloh..

    #282645
    Profile photo of ptleeptlee
    Participant

    Canon 400mm f5.6L not that bad lah. with the 1.4TC is still usable. :P Good to try out birding before plunging for a 500mm. And the 400mm is good to keep for handheld BIF shots.

    http://npss.org.sg/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=895
    http://npss.org.sg/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=834

    Problem for me is the reach. :cry:

    Cheers,
    PTLee

    #282647

    PT
    LOL – thanks for the ray of hope…… 8-)

    #282649

    Canon 400mm f5.6L not that bad lah. with the 1.4TC is still usable. :P Good to try out birding before plunging for a 500mm. And the 400mm is good to keep for handheld BIF shots.

    http://npss.org.sg/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=895
    http://npss.org.sg/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=834

    Problem for me is the reach. :cry:

    Cheers,
    PTLee

    PT – your shots are very sharp – however your shots’ background are not as blurred as Con’s – it is because of the limitation of the lens, isnt?

    #282651
    Profile photo of ptleeptlee
    Participant

    Hi peacefuldove,

    It’s not a ‘limitation’ of the lens per se. There are a few reasons for better BG, I’m not sure which of Con’s image you’re referring to, but here’s some idea what goes on when trying to get a good BG

    1. background isolation using longer lens
    It’s easier to isolate and choose a more ‘ideal’ BG with the narrower view angle using a longer lens. So a 500mm would have a narrower view angle compared to a 400mm, so it’s probably easier to choose a nice BG. Simply put, try getting the blurred BG with a 50mm at the same distance, you’ll find it difficult, as the wider angle of view puts too much of the BG in the picture.

    2. Distance between lens and subject and lens and BG. To put it in a very simplified way, if BG is much further from lens as compared to subject from lens, then BG gets very blur. I’m not going into the discussions of bokeh & circle of confusion etc, as I’m no way close to being able to explain that. The focal length comes into play as well.

    3. choose your BG, or make your BG. Choose your BG by moving around, looking for angles to get the best BG. Or just make you own BG and put it behind the subject (ahem) :twisted:

    4. It’s the photographer, not the equipment. To put it simply, I’m lazy, I didn’t pick the best BG, but then I couldn’t move easily amongst the twenty photographers shooting the same bird.

    5. Aperture, wider aperture, shallower DoF, blurer BG, and vice versa. yada yada yada… but don’t forget optimal aperture to use to retain detail. Typically f8-f11 is sweet spot, but…. is a guideline, not a rule. I shoot at f5.6 for the 400mm, as it performs pretty well wide open. Depending on subject distance, sometimes we can get away with wider apertures.

    6. It’s the lens. I need to get a 500mm :D

    Seriously, you should just go and shoot to understand the issues and decisions to make while in the field while shooting a subject that may just fly off and never come back. By this, I presume you already have some camera setup?

    As you found out, there is no ‘best’ lens around, you work with what you got, and in my case, I try to squeeze out every ounce of performance to the best of my ability before going for the next ‘better’ thing based on what I want to achieve, bank-account permitting, of course. I used to use my 100-400mm for birding, but with the 1.4x it is atrocious , but I’ve managed to get some pretty decent shots with it, and I am happy with it, it’s good as a travel lens for wildlife & such.

    Cheers,
    PTLee

    #282665
    Profile photo of hanYeo, Wee Han
    Spectator

    Peacefuldove,

    To add to PT’s superb post. A longer lens at the same distance as the shorter lens will not only enlarge the subject but also provides a narrower field of view thus you see less of the background. PT’s 50mm example is a classic one, a wider angle lens at the same mag rate will give you the same DOF. What differs is the background (how much of it is seen). The well-known misconception that wider angle lenses give more DOF is based on an illusion….if one were to zoom in to the pixel level, the same amount of blur is achieved at the same mag rate and aperture.

    Thus, if you can achieve a headshot with a 500mm at say 10m away and use a 50mm lens to move in to 2m and get the same headshot, the DOF is the same (given that the aperture is the same). The background of the 500mm will however look really nice and soft.

    If the 200-400 is too costly and you want a zoom…then get either the Sigma 120-300 or the Sigma 300-800. 2 different prices ranges but they are entirely different beasts to start with. The 300-800 is tough to handle but the flexibility of the zoom is really handy. The later can be had for about 10k.

    Cheers

    Han

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