My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Can some one help me out here?

I am getting caught up on some personal business I have to take care of, I won’t bore you with the details. I have quite a few photos to post here when I get the chance, but for right now, I am going to post two I took this morning, and if any one can explain why this happens, I sure would appreciate it.

Turkey 1

Turkey 2

These two shots were taken less than a minute apart, and I only moved a few feet between the two. Neither has had any post processing done to it at all, nothing! Both looked the same in the viewfinder when I pressed the shutter release, as far as how sharp and vivid they appeared, and yet you can see how cloudy (for lack of a better term) the first photo looks.

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky to cause the difference, I did move a few feet, but not enough to change the angle that the sun was hitting the turkey or my camera all that much, it wasn’t as if I had circled the turkey to get better light, all that really changed was that I was closer to the turkey for the second shot.

This goes along with my experiences the day before. I took 132 photos, and thought that at least 100 of them would be very good at the least. Turns out, a good deal of them were crap. Some were bad because of what I did, some were because the auto-focus locked on the wrong thing, with moving targets, I sort of expect that, but a good many of the crappy ones were bad because my Nikon simply did not expose them correctly.

For example, I had a chickadee land so close to me that I had to take half a step backward in order to get it in focus. I took a series of 10 to 12 shots, starting with the 70-300mm lens I have zoomed all the way to 300mm, then started to zoom out as I was shooting, hoping to catch the bird as it took flight. In that series, the photos taken with the lens at 300 mm came out poorly because of the exposure, where as the ones taken as I zoomed out got progressively better, exactly the opposite of what happened today with the shots of the turkey. For the turkey, I started at 300 mm and left it there as I shot.

I really can not figure this out. I have never used a camera where there was so much difference in the quality of the photos for no apparent reason. Looking at the exposure data from the two turkey photos makes this even harder to understand.

Exposure data for shot one…

Lens: 70-300mm F/4-5.6 D
Focal Length: 300mm
Exposure Mode: Programmed Auto
Metering Mode: Spot
1/80 sec – F/5.6
Exposure Comp.: 0 EV
Sensitivity: ISO 400
Optimize Image: Normal
White Balance: Auto
AF Mode: AF-A

Exposure data shot two…

Lens: 70-300mm F/4-5.6 D
Focal Length: 300mm
Exposure Mode: Programmed Auto
Metering Mode: Spot
1/1250 sec – F/5.6
Exposure Comp.: 0 EV
Sensitivity: ISO 400
Optimize Image: Normal
White Balance: Auto
AF Mode: AF-A

I have NO idea why the huge difference in shutter speeds between the two! I first saw the turkey laying out in the open, basking in the sun, and the first shot was just as it turned to move into the brush, the second shot was taken after it was moving into the brush, if anything, the second shot should have required a longer exposure. They were taken just before noon on a bright sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky except for a few wispy cirrus clouds, and they never came into play today, yesterday, there were no clouds in the sky at all, zero zip, nada! In fact, I took a shot of the sky yesterday just because there were no clouds, something that rarely happens in west Michigan.

It’s as though every once in a while a neutral density filter comes out of nowhere to screw up the exposure, and I still haven’t figured out why this happens. Actually, it isn’t like a neutral density filter, it is a milky filter that also affects the sharpness of the photos as well.

I have had a run of three or four weeks where I have gotten one great photo after another, due in a large way because the Nikon was taking great shots, now all of a sudden, the last two days, it is back to never knowing for sure what the camera is going to do.

Also for the record, the lens never comes off the body, as I only have one lens. I was thinking that the sensor could be dusty, but then, wouldn’t that effect all the photos? I also use the factory lens hood all the time, and in neither of the photos of the turkeys was I shooting any where approaching shooting into the sun. The turkey was to the north of me in both photos, with the sun over my left shoulder for the first one, and almost directly behind me for the second.

I would truly appreciate any ideas that you may have as to why this happens.

Thanks for stopping by!

An Update!

First of all, thanks to Bob, Cee, Emily, and Kerry for all of you taking the time to reply. I do appreciate it, believe me. However, I am going to chalk the problem up to a glitch in the camera, at least for right now. The D 50 I have has two other glitches that pop up from time to time, one is that the camera just quits working. I press the shutter release halfway down, and nothing happens, other than the exposure and other info in the viewfinder disappears, and the auto-focus will not work at all. I have to turn the camera off, then back on, and it is fine again. This has happened to me a few times, probably about a dozen times during the course of 8,000 photos, not very often.

The second glitch is that I press the shutter release all the way to take a photo, the mirror locks up, then the camera hangs, for lack of a better explanation. The first time that it happened, I was worried. Turning the camera off then on didn’t reset it, neither did removing the battery. In desperation more than anything, I jammed the shutter release button all the way down, quite forcefully, then the camera reset itself.

This has happened more frequently than the other glitch, maybe once every two weeks or so, it seems to come and go. When the camera hangs, I get either a shot of noise from the sensor, or a weird duplicate of the previous photo, but  with a slice missing out of the center of the shot, but otherwise exposed correctly. The slice missing in the middle isn’t blank, both sides of the frame are stretched and joined together like a bad panorama. I discovered that there was part of the frame missing when the camera created a new sub-species of great blue heron, the stubby beaked heron, and I wish I would have saved that one, just for laughs.

I think that problem comes from me being very gentle on the shutter release, just as I learned when shooting a rifle. That’s my best guess as to why it happens, I could be wrong. It doesn’t seem to happen as often if I remember to be a little more firm on the shutter release, but when it does happen, I have to firmly press the shutter release all the way down and hold it for a second, then the camera is fine again.

But to get back to the two photos of turkeys, there is no way anything would have required an exposure of 1/80 of a second on that day, other than a black hole that can actually suck light in. A day or two later, I got about the same set up as in those two photos, but it was a cloudy, rainy, foggy day, and the shutter speeds were still less than 1/100 of a second, even when I put the spot for the spot meter on the darkest parts of the turkeys. The exposure times ranged from 1/125 to 1/200 of a second.

I had the same thing happen earlier this week, again, bright sunlight around noon, and I was shooting a series of photos of mallards in one of the creeks here. I have several good ones, nothing special, but well exposed, then, out of nowhere, another milky shot and the exposure info tells me it was shot at 1/200 of a second, and all the others in the series were taken at 1/1000 to 1/2000 of a second.

Maybe I should lay out all the details. There was a small flock of mallards swimming upstream in a very small creek, so small that they had to go single file because of the brush in the creek. I got ahead of them, found an opening through the brush and weeds that was about twice the length of a duck’s body to shoot through, as seen through my viewfinder. As the ducks entered the opening, I was shooting each one in turn. Shot one, great exposure at 1/1000, shot two, great at 1/2000, shot three, the milky one at 1/200, shot four, slightly milky at 1/400, shot five, great at 1/800, then all the rest were great at between 1/1000 and 1/2000 again. The difference in the shots as far as shutter speeds between 1/1000 and 1/2000 was due to the sex of the duck in the shot, with the females shot at the higher speeds due to their lighter heads than the males, which were all exposed at around 1/1000.

I probably should post the entire series for you to see with your own eyes, but I don’t want to waste my space allotment up with more bad photos. There wasn’t room in the frame for light meter to have picked up on something that dramatically different as to cause the exposure setting to vary as they did.

That’s the way the glitch always “behaves”, when I am taking a series of shots, usually not shooting fast, I get a few good ones, then a milky one with a much longer shutter speed, then a slightly milky one at an in between shutter speed, then all the rest are OK again.

I don’t know if it is just the particular camera I have, or if these things happen with other Nikon D 50s as well. I do know this, I never had any of these types of problems with the old Pentax Spotmatic I had. My ex-girlfriend and I shared the Nikon F 80 I bought for her for several years, never had a problem, and we took hundreds of great photos with it.

She and I shared the D 50 for several years as well, and the two of us spent several long evenings sitting on the couch with the camera and the manual trying to figure out what we were doing wrong, and why we couldn’t get the same types of results from the D 50 as we had gotten with her F 80. We never discussed it being the camera, I think we should have. We’re both experienced photographers. Her F 80 and the D 50 were close enough alike as far as the controls and everything else, it shouldn’t have been that difficult for us to make the transition from one to the other, but it was.

As a matter of fact, I sort of forgot about the evenings on the couch until I started to update this with a reply to you guys. We should have realized that there is something about the D 50 that just isn’t right. In our defense, it was the first digital camera either of us had used, we thought that the fact that the camera was digital was the reason we were having so much trouble with it.

The fact that the two of us had difficulty with the camera, plus the fact that I have now been about to see a pattern in the bad shots is what has brought me to the conclusion that the problem is a glitch in the camera. I should also throw in that the milky photos have occurred when I/we were using the center weighted metering mode as well. This is something the camera has done since I first bought it, or shortly there after. I remember Larri taking several series of multiple shots of the same subject, using various settings trying to find out what works with this camera, something I had also forgotten about until I began this update.

As to why I have it set to the spot metering mode, that’s the only setting that gives good results when taking wildlife photos. I have several thousand bad shots taken with the camera set to the center weighted metering mode to back this up. I also set the camera back to center weighted this last Sunday when I did my long hike for the weekend, and it was back to the same crappy results when taking wildlife photos, with the critters so under-exposed as to lose all detail. It doesn’t seem to matter what the lighting is, or the angle I’m shooting at, every bird or small animal ends up as a silhouette unless I use spot metering and put the spot on the critter.

As to why I use the program mode, that’s because I never sit still until I see something to photograph. Maybe I’m not as good around wildlife as I would like to think, but it doesn’t sit still long enough for me to make many adjustments to the camera. I have tried other modes, and I miss more opportunities than I am able to capture. Part of that is due to the places I do my hiking, I am constantly going from deep woods to open fields, to marshes, to brush lined creeks, then back into the deep woods again. It is impossible for me to stay on top of the settings and be prepared when an opportunity does arise. Heck, some of my shots are taken with me moving while I’m shooting in order to get the ones I do. My style of photography is much like upland wing shooting more than photography. I know that makes the photography more difficult, but it’s the way I do it.

Compounding that is the fact that I don’t limit myself to any one area of photography. I may be shooting pictures of flowers, hear a bird chip, and turn to shoot it, then go back to the flowers again. I do switch the camera to aperture priority and center weighted metering for landscape shots, but that’s about the time a hawk soars past, or a deer jumps up, and I lose those photos because of the camera settings. Even the wildlife makes it tough at times. I was shooting photos of a deer one evening, when a family of squirrels started playing in the trees directly over the deer, and as I am switching between the deer and the squirrels, a sharp shinned hawk came screaming through the trees, less than 10 feet above the deer’s head. I missed the hawk, mostly because I was too stunned to react, darn! Anyway, the program mode is the only one that I have found that allows me to switch from one type of  subject to another quickly enough.

As far as post processing, I crop and maybe tweak the exposure of photos taken with the Nikon, that’s it. I have never done any post processing to a photo I have taken with my Canon, never, as I have never needed to. It takes great photos that don’t need to be tweaked.

It may sound like I’m blowing you off, but I’m not. I do appreciate that you took the time to comment and to try to help me out. In a way, you did help me out immensely, for in working on this update in response to your comments, I have remembered that the problems I have with my Nikon stretch all the way back to when two of us were using it, and that neither of us were thrilled with its performance. I guess that’s one of the reasons it sat in its case for several years, both Larri and I purchased compact digitals that we used almost all of the time from then on. It was only after I killed my Canon that I dug the Nikon back out and have fought with it for the last 6 months. I have finally gotten to the point where I can get good pictures with it, but it hasn’t been easy, and it takes using the “wrong” settings to do so, but after 8,000 photos, I think I have a handle on it. I don’t know how to stop any of the three glitches it has, but I have learned to work around them, so thank you all for your comments!


6 responses

  1. It appears to me that it was the say you spot meter picked up the large, dark back of the turkey in the first photo, and figured it needed more light so it opened up a bit and got a bit over-exposed.
    In the second photo, perhaps the meter missed the body of the turkey altogether and caught just the head or some of the lit up background.
    Spot metering can be tricky, because if the spot is just a bit off, it can make a big difference, as you can see how it changed the shutter speeds. I used center-weighted average myself, but I use only one focus point, the center one, and that is where I get my best results. You get a little better leeway.
    Your first photo is zoomed out more and it was easier for the spot meter to miss the precise point you wanted. It probably picked that dark spot of the turkey’s back, the only really dark spot in the picture. I am almost sure that was what happened. In the second, your spot probably hit the turkey’s head which is quite a bit lighter.

    Hope I helped.

    January 11, 2012 at 3:56 pm

  2. That’s what I would have suggested as well. Auto programming is wonderful, but it will switch shutter/ISO etc per each photo. Look where the focus is. For closer ups I usually will use the flower focus vs auto…..even with my 300mm. Tends to work out better. For longer ranges I tend to use the landscape mode vs Auto.

    January 11, 2012 at 5:27 pm

  3. I’m with Bob and Cee. When you are on Auto Mode, the sensor will focus on what it thinks you want so if your spot metering is just a little off, you will not get the exposure you want. I have a Nikon D90. It comes with 12 focus points which I find very annoying when it’s on Auto. I use a single center-focus point and on manual or aperture/shutter priority. I don’t like using Auto Mode because of the problems you are experiencing. By shooting manual, it also allows me to be more flexible and also have more control in exposure quality. There are times, I purposely shoot over or underexposed, depending on the look I want. Another thing that will affect, the exposure is the White Balance setting.

    I don’t know what your camera looks like but the dials on the D90 are very user friendly, it allows me to change the aperture/shutter speed and I can see from the exposure indicator inside the camera to see if I am over or underexposed as I focused on the subject. I think with your subjects, for the most part you have to be quick about taking the shot. Perhaps, you should try using aperture or shutter priority.

    Also, do you shoot in RAW or JPEG? I know you don’t process your photos, however if you shoot in RAW, it would be easier to correct the image exposure and other corrections without sacrificing the quality.

    By the way, thanks again for sending me three days of sun instead of another award. 😉

    January 12, 2012 at 2:12 am

  4. Yeah, the above comments have it nailed…you’re in spot metering mode AND program…so if the spot is placed on significantly different tones, you’re going to get very different metering results–even, potentially, if you’re photographing a scene in even light.

    I use spot metering exclusively, but in full manual metering mode, and I adjust the exposure based on the specific tone (relative to neutral) that I’m spot metering.

    January 14, 2012 at 7:38 pm

  5. We’ve all likely encountered this problem many times: blurry photos due to camera shake with hand-held shots. It’s especially prevalent for those of us who are unfortunate enough to have unsteady hands. While it cannot be eliminated entirely, fortunately there’s a number of steps you can take to greatly reduce its impact — and hopefully prevent it from becoming visible in the first place.

    January 18, 2012 at 6:05 am

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