Substituting Foliage for Birds

This article discusses the practical aspects of substituting foliage for birds when we are out with our cameras. In late October I was doing some field testing with our newly acquired M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II zoom lens at Hendrie Valley. For much of my hike my feathered friends were simply not cooperating and nowhere to be found. So, substituting foliage for birds made sense.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/7.1, 1/640, ISO-800, subject distance 2.5 metres

At first blush this subject substitution may seem a bit odd. When doing bird photography many of us would be out with a camera and one lens. Most commonly a long telephoto zoom.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-320, subject distance 2.8 metres

It is easy to forget that this type of lens has an important characteristic that makes it a very good choice for photographing flowers and foliage.  Let’s consider depth-of-field. We know that using a longer, telephoto focal length will have shallower depth-of-field when compared to a shorter, wide angle focal length when shot at the same aperture.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 240 mm, efov 480 mm, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-320, subject distance 3.6 metres

If we use our zoom lens at the longer end of its telephoto range we can achieve shallow depth-of-field. Even when using a smaller sensor camera. When we choose subjects where the background is very distant, as seen in the image above, we can achieve very good subject separation. And, a smooth, out-of-focus background. One of the keys to this technique is to move in close to our subject as you can see with the EXIF data.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-400, subject distance 2.3 metres

As you compare the image above to the next three that follow, you will be able to clearly see the importance of the distance between subject and background.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-2000, subject distance 3.1 metres
OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-400, subject distance 5.3 metres
OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 228 mm, efov 456 mm, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-320, subject distance 2.6 metres

It can be a bit challenging to find the right combination of lighting, focal length, focusing distance to subject, and distance from subject to background. Once we make the mental switch from photographing birds to foliage, our eyes see opportunities we may have missed before.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-320, subject distance 2.1 metres

We may place our auto-focus point on one edge of a single leaf in a cluster.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-200, subject distance 2.5 metres

Purposely underexposing a leaf in bright sunlight, then further darkening the background in post can create a high contrast image.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-400, subject distance 2.9 metres

Finding a solitary leaf and incorporating a corner exit and equidistant composition in our photograph can give it a good sense of balance and can help eye flow.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 240 mm, efov 480 mm, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-400, subject distance 2.1 metres

We can use classic rule of thirds composition technique, and adjust the zoom on our lens to create the exact composition we desire.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 281 mm, efov 562 mm, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-400, subject distance 3.6 metres

Looking for monochromatic backgrounds can help create good subject separation.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 228 mm, efov 456 mm, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-320, subject distance 2.5 metres

It can also be helpful to change our shooting angle when photographing foliage. In the case of the image above, I tilted my camera about 45-degrees to give the berries a horizontal perspective.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/7.1, 1/640, ISO-250, subject distance 2.5 metres

Substituting foliage for birds can be an enjoyable exercise. One that helps encourage us to be more flexible and adaptable when out with our camera gear.

Another potential benefit of substituting foliage for birds is that we may create some images that could be fun to work with in terms of photo art treatments.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

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