Whitetail Bucks and High ISOs

Today I have more whitetail photographs, this time two bucks. Again, I was looking for the Pennsylvania elk and while searching for them came across these two nice, healthy bucks. One was a spike and the other a 6-point. The conditions for photography were far less than ideal: hazy, overcast, and downright lousy light in the mid-morning. This required a very ISO, 1600 to be exact.

I currently shoot with a Nikon D300. Previously, I used a Nikon D70. The differences in the two are amazing. One of the features that was greatly improved is the quality of photographs with higher ISO settings. I hear the D3 is even exponentially much better yet! In the meantime, I have to settle for the D300 and how it works in the higher ISO settings. I still prefer to stay at ISO 200, but sometimes this just isn’t possible. I get decent results even up to ISO 800 but get worried after that. My daughter acts in some school and local community musicals where the stage light sometimes requires an ISO as high as 2500! I do not like going that high, but with the D300 I still can get some useable photographs.

The results in wildlife photography are far different, however. Tack-sharp focus and no noise are required for quality wildlife photographs. We can never be too picky in trying to get the absolute best quality photographs. I will do much of anything with these photographs I am posting today but am showing them for the purposes of supporting my thoughts on this discussion of higher ISO settings.

These photographs were taken with an ISO setting of 1600. I did some minor post-processing in Adobe Lightroom 3.0. However, I did not use any noise reduction in Lightroom. I tried using it, but I personally think it sacrifices some sharpness, which is critical to me. Perhaps I am doing something wrong, but I just didn’t like the results using the noise reduction on these images. So what you see, as far as handling the higher ISO is right from the camera.

Here they are. Let me know what you think. Do you use higher ISOs with any success? Do you use noise reduction in post-processing? Are you satisfied with the results? What are the standards you use in your photography?

A Bull Fight & a Fight with Noise

Tuesday evening produced an invigorating scene for over a hundred spectators who happened to be at the Elk County Visitor Center. It was getting close to dusk and a herd of cows and at least 7 bulls were in the field to the left of the Visitor Center. The rut was in the air and the tension was thick with the anticipation of two elk battling it out for the cows. The tension turned to realization as two bulls met head-to-head. Cows quickly ran in the opposite direction as these two big boys fought it out. And fight they did! It was absolutely amazing to witness these large bulls push each other as they locked antlers. It was a fight that rivaled any other fight I ever witnessed between two comparable bulls.

The fight lasted over six minutes. Many witnesses to these elk battles often exaggerate the actual time because it does appear that time stands still during these bullish fights. But we checked the metadata in our cameras after the conflict and verified the length of this battle to be over six minutes! There was not a lot of clashing of antlers in this fight–it was more of a brutal pushing match. Other bulls were close by to witness the end result and all of us bystanders were amazed at the sheer strength of these amazing animals. It was a fight worthy of two royal bulls. In the end, one was the victor and the other walked the other way.

Photographers who shoot digitally face fights with noise especially as we increase the ISO settings in our cameras. This was necessary the night these two bulls fought because it was very close to dusk and light was fading fast. I actually shot this image at an ISO setting of 1,600 in my Nikon D300. I knew noise was going to be an issue with these images. Fortunately, the newer cameras handle noise better than the old ones ever did. I would never have thought about shooting at this ISO setting with my old Nikon D70. But the D300 handles noise much better. In addition, Lightroom 3.0 does a great job of noise reduction.

Here is one of the images I captured of the bull-fight that Tuesday night. It was shot at ISO 1,600 and edited in Lightroom 3.0. What do you think of this image? Did the newer equipment and software win the battle against noise?