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Ups and Downs of Widespread Photography?


DLecy

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Mod note: Pulling this out of another thread thus the strange starting post.

 

Jokes aside. Often times what you see in the field will be much more conclusive than a static, pixelated, abstract painting image of a bird posted to a forum such as this. As time wears on, you will get better at noting what you see in the field, and in turn using that to draw a conclusion. The digital camera/birding with a camera era has reduced people's ability to actually "see" birds in the field; I am not exempt from this critique. 😉

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I have a superzoom camera. It can see better than I can with my binoculars at greater distances (assuming decent visibility). It can also adjust exposure in ways my eyes cannot, which can be very useful in bad lighting. It's simply a more powerful optic. But, I can't see fine details until later in post. I had no idea these (presumed) grebes were even there until I looked at the photos - I was very surprised!

This probably would have gone much better if I had a scope, but I don't own a scope (yet).

I use my eyes unaided, binoculars, and camera all together to help me both get a complete list (especially helpful for shorebirds that more or less stay put and appear in large, mixed flocks), as well as help me corroborate my field ids and generally help me study the birds in more detail, which helps me gain more experience that I can then bring back to the field. But, yeah, sometimes it's just fun to try to take nice pictures of birds too.

Besides, I'm still looking at the bird through the viewfinder. I certainly do try to id everything I can in the field, and, yeah, I try to look at the totality of the behavior, although I'm still in the process of learning what exactly to look for. Being able to additionally study the photos (and sometimes video!) after the fact is a very helpful adjunct to, not a replacement for field observation (plus I like to think I'm adding to the body of bird documentation that could somehow be useful to others, even when it isn't a rare bird).

Random example. This weekend I recorded a video of a Snowy Egret interacting with a Double-Crested Cormorant. In the field we thought the egret was trying to chase off the cormorant, but upon watching the video, we realized it was probably just trying to get in on the action of whatever the cormorant was hunting. Please correct me if my interpretation is wrong!

 

 

 

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9 hours ago, DLecy said:

The digital camera/birding with a camera era has reduced people's ability to actually "see" birds in the field;

I disagree. I believe that the digital camera/birding with a camera era has improved the ability to see birds in the field, especially mirrorless, and similar superzoom P&S cameras. Digital cameras can magnify a bird for viewing just like binoculars, often from further distances and with more magnification than binoculars when needed. Digital cameras have the advantage of exposure adjustments as well, allowing to see detail in back-lit situations where binoculars would see just a silhouette and/or in dark shadows where details can't be seen by the naked eye.

I won't go into all the advantages of being able to take a photo and verify what you see in the field, or perhaps more importantly, being able to correct an ID because of details noticed when viewing the photos, but the advantages are there.

I can see where cameras might lead some birders to take a different approach to their hobby, such as shoot now and ask questions later, but as far as being a tool for birding goes, I don't see the digital camera reducing anyone's ability to see and watch birds in the field. 

*steps down off my tripod and respectfully nods to the audience acknowledging that I basically said what @Ruslan Balagansky said*

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9 hours ago, DLecy said:

I don't disagree with the boundary pushing notion (generally speaking), but with regards to this ID...

image.thumb.png.829754a606fc72158b3ce73bf81bea56.png

AI might be able to pull something from this, but no "someone" can. This is outside human capabilities. 

Jokes aside. Often times what you see in the field will be much more conclusive than a static, pixelated, abstract painting image of a bird posted to a forum such as this. As time wears on, you will get better at noting what you see in the field, and in turn using that to draw a conclusion. The digital camera/birding with a camera era has reduced people's ability to actually "see" birds in the field; I am not exempt from this critique. 😉

 

16 minutes ago, lonestranger said:

I disagree. I believe that the digital camera/birding with a camera era has improved the ability to see birds in the field, especially mirrorless, and similar superzoom P&S cameras. Digital cameras can magnify a bird for viewing just like binoculars, often from further distances and with more magnification than binoculars when needed. Digital cameras have the advantage of exposure adjustments as well, allowing to see detail in back-lit photos where binoculars would see just a silhouette and/or in dark shadows where details can't be seen by the naked eye.

I won't go into all the advantages of being able to take a photo and verify what you see in the field, or perhaps more importantly, being able to correct an ID because of details noticed when viewing the photos, but the advantages are there.

I can see where cameras might lead some birders to take a different approach to their hobby, such as shoot now and ask questions later, but as far as being a tool for birding goes, I don't see the digital camera reducing anyone's ability to see and watch birds in the field. 

*steps down off my tripod and respectfully nods to the audience acknowledging that I basically said what @Ruslan Balagansky said*

I agree with both of you. 😉

Cameras certainly give many advantages, allowing you to study species you might only see for a moment, get verification, etc. But on the other hand, while I can't speak for anyone else, it does cause me to know less. For example, I absolutely would learn to identify shorebirds and gulls in the field, just like I did everything else, but because I can take a photo and figure it out or ask later. Not that it is necessarily a bad thing to do, there is a place and time for it, but not always.

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12 hours ago, lonestranger said:

I disagree. I believe that the digital camera/birding with a camera era has improved the ability to see birds in the field, especially mirrorless, and similar superzoom P&S cameras. Digital cameras can magnify a bird for viewing just like binoculars, often from further distances and with more magnification than binoculars when needed. Digital cameras have the advantage of exposure adjustments as well, allowing to see detail in back-lit situations where binoculars would see just a silhouette and/or in dark shadows where details can't be seen by the naked eye.

I won't go into all the advantages of being able to take a photo and verify what you see in the field, or perhaps more importantly, being able to correct an ID because of details noticed when viewing the photos, but the advantages are there.

I can see where cameras might lead some birders to take a different approach to their hobby, such as shoot now and ask questions later, but as far as being a tool for birding goes, I don't see the digital camera reducing anyone's ability to see and watch birds in the field. 

*steps down off my tripod and respectfully nods to the audience acknowledging that I basically said what @Ruslan Balagansky said*

I don’t disagree with many of the points you have made here. I also know that in my role as a regional reviewer, it is unbelievably common that someone puts up a photo in their checklist of the wrong species. I wonder how much of this could be avoided if observers took more time to study a/the bird? The first example that comes to mind is when someone calls a Yellow Warbler a Western Tanager and posts a photo of a YEWA. Could this be avoided if there was more time studying the bird? Possibly. I can’t quantify this, and I’ll never truly know the answer, but I can’t help but wonder about it. There are simply so many misidentified photos on Macaulay, but this could also be due to the explosion in usage of eBird and digital documentation.

Truth is, we will never really know how many birds were misidentified before eBird/photos/video/audio/Merlin. That being said, I do know that my own birding has changed due to digital photography, and I used to spend much more time studying birds in real life, versus in my photos. There is so much about a bird's behavior, movements, and plumage that simply cannot be captured in a single static image. 

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27 minutes ago, DLecy said:

I wonder how much of this could be avoided if observers took more time to study a/the bird?

I would venture - not much. If the poster can't be bothered to scrutinize the photo closely enough to recognize the misid, they are unlikely to be bothered to improve their field id either. Or they simply have their field marks mixed up and it doesn't even occur to them that they could be mistaken. Sure, additional observation *might* clue them in that they've missed something, but it just as easily might not, I would think.

There seems ample evidence that even experienced birders are prone to misidentification. Having photos gives an opportunity to double check. An observation with a photo is intrinsically more reliable.

I rather doubt that misid rate is positively correlated with photography. Experience is probably by far the biggest factor.

Of course, this is just my novice opinion.

Edited by Ruslan Balagansky
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8 hours ago, DLecy said:

I also know that in my role as a regional reviewer, it is unbelievably common that someone puts up a photo in their checklist of the wrong species.

Birders make mistakes. Blaming the digital camera era for those mistakes doesn't make sense to me. If the cameras are responsible for inaccurate photo IDs, do we lay blame for wrong IDs without photos on binoculars? Or do we pretend that all IDs made with binoculars are beyond the possibility of error?  Ridiculous comparison but I think it makes a point.

 

8 hours ago, DLecy said:

There is so much about a bird's behavior, movements, and plumage that simply cannot be captured in a single static image. 

Not only can you watch bird behaviour through a camera's lens, like any other optics, but you can also switch a digital camera to video mode and watch/share the behaviour later, which is another advantage for the digital camera era.

 

I understand your frustration with mis-IDs, but that's not the fault of the digital camera era. The only connection I can make is the probability that more digital cameras on the market has opened the door to more new birders, which are prone to make more mistakes. 

 

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13 hours ago, Ruslan Balagansky said:
13 hours ago, DLecy said:

I wonder how much of this could be avoided if observers took more time to study a/the bird?

I would venture - not much. If the poster can't be bothered to scrutinize the photo closely enough to recognize the misid, they are unlikely to be bothered to improve their field id either.

That was my first thought.  If they can't get it right with a static image in front of them, they're not inclined to do much research anyway. 

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  • Kevin changed the title to Ups and Downs of Widespread Photography?

For me, the biggest benefit is the ability to snap a picture of a bird that may otherwise only present itself for less than two seconds, which is often not enough time to look at every field mark. Small passerines can be very difficult to identify by sound, and seeing a yellowish blur in a bush doesn't give me any confidence in identification. Of course, there are also times where I take a useless photo but I'm still able to identify the bird; I just have to remember to delete that photo later or I'll spend too much time trying to re-identify it.

The other case is the distance. I can zoom way further in on a photo than I can with binoculars. (If I had binoculars with ridiculous zoom, the challenge would become holding them steadily.)

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15 hours ago, Ruslan Balagansky said:

I would venture - not much. If the poster can't be bothered to scrutinize the photo closely enough to recognize the misid, they are unlikely to be bothered to improve their field id either. Or they simply have their field marks mixed up and it doesn't even occur to them that they could be mistaken. Sure, additional observation *might* clue them in that they've missed something, but it just as easily might not, I would think.

There seems ample evidence that even experienced birders are prone to misidentification. Having photos gives an opportunity to double check. An observation with a photo is intrinsically more reliable.

I rather doubt that misid rate is positively correlated with photography. Experience is probably by far the biggest factor.

Of course, this is just my novice opinion.

This 

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16 hours ago, DLecy said:

That being said, I do know that my own birding has changed due to digital photography, and I used to spend much more time studying birds in real life, versus in my photos

I wonder if it's the desire to make sure our IDs are accurate that makes us spend more time looking at our photos than looking at the birds. I know the extra time I spend viewing my photos is more for IDing purposes than enjoyment or post processing purposes. Which isn't a bad thing because it's often a detail noticed after the fact that helps me work through an ID, and learn as I go. 

 

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1 hour ago, Zoroark said:

I can zoom way further in on a photo than I can with binoculars.

I'm trying to improve my shorebird skills.  It's much easier to see the differences in a mixed flock with a zoomed-in photo than with my binos.  I don't always have my scope handy, but the camera rarely leaves the car (binos either).

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27 minutes ago, Charlie Spencer said:

I'm trying to improve my shorebird skills.  It's much easier to see the differences in a mixed flock with a zoomed-in photo than with my binos.  I don't always have my scope handy, but the camera rarely leaves the car (binos either).

I'm not sure what other cameras it works on, but the same button(the magnifying icon) that magnifies my photos when viewing them, also magnifies my view through the lens. This is a feature that I use to scan birds that are usually little specks in the frame. Basically it's a feature that let's me zoom in on my photo before it actually becomes a photo and let's me observe birds from a much closer perspective. Great for observing birds at a distance, and for fine tuning focus in tricky situations. If you, or anyone else, has such a magnification button and have only used it when viewing photos, see if it works on magnifying your view through the lens, you may be surprised.

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2 hours ago, lonestranger said:

I'm not sure what other cameras it works on, but the same button(the magnifying icon) that magnifies my photos when viewing them, also magnifies my view through the lens. This is a feature that I use to scan birds that are usually little specks in the frame. Basically it's a feature that let's me zoom in on my photo before it actually becomes a photo and let's me observe birds from a much closer perspective. Great for observing birds at a distance, and for fine tuning focus in tricky situations. If you, or anyone else, has such a magnification button and have only used it when viewing photos, see if it works on magnifying your view through the lens, you may be surprised.

..or in live view on your back screen magnified, assuming it can stay fairly steady.  

I wouldn't be a birder still if it wasn't for snapping pics to ID when I started out.  Being a visual learner that is how i learned to identify birds.  If it weren't for being able to take shots of mixed species flocks and spend multiple minutes sorting through them, I wouldn't be able to pic out "Waldo" as easy in a scope or binoculars.  The behavior observations come along with the birding experience.  

Bad eggs are going to ruin things, camera or not.  I remember trying to find my unicorn, Red-throated Loon, and having a birder show me a pic of a bird that I was looking at in my scope.  They said "See it has its bill turned up, it's the loon".  I said "That is a really thick bill".  It was a clear Common Loon.  Didn't dissuade them from getting the tick.  

On 11/14/2023 at 5:38 PM, Charlie Spencer said:

Photos help me see differences in species, improving my ability to identify in the field.

This^^^x1000

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On 11/14/2023 at 7:17 PM, Ruslan Balagansky said:

Experience is probably by far the biggest factor.

How do you quantify "experience" as it relates to bird ID? I know many "experienced" birders that make egregious mistakes, and often. I also know people relatively new to the game that are very, very skilled. 

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I will say that, from my brief experience so far (5 months, 231 species and counting), even if I look at photos and illustrations of a species many times, it's actually seeing the bird irl that wires up my brain more fully to be able to recognize it - or at least recognize it more quickly.

For example, I saw Brants for the first time recently. Before that, when I'd see them on the eBird quiz, I would eventually realize that it was a Brant, but now that I've seen a large group of them in person, I now recognize them in photos much more quickly too. This held true even though I spent a good portion of time looking at them from a distance through an EVF (I used binocs too, though, for part of that time).

Brants, of course, are relatively difficult to confuse with someone else. But Dowitchers... I'm sure that if I had been taking fewer photos, I would have misidentified some at a distance as Yellowlegs.

Part of that is angles and motion, as has been mentioned before. Submitted photos tend to feature certain angles and postures, but birds in the field aren't always going to be facing in a photogenic direction or posing the way you want them to for a photo. Seeing them in the field at every angle does help (even if through a viewfinder). And, as was already stated, their behavior is part of their identity. Observing behavior in the field is also valuable experience that helps improve id accuracy and speed.

And that's just the visual component. The audio and habitat component is a big one too - and field experience is invaluable there. Listening to a recording isn't quite like listening to the real thing.

Edited by Ruslan Balagansky
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On 11/16/2023 at 10:10 PM, Ruslan Balagansky said:

I will say that, from my brief experience so far (5 months, 231 species and counting), even if I look at photos and illustrations of a species many times, it's actually seeing the bird irl that wires up my brain more fully to be able to recognize it - or at least recognize it more quickly.

For example, I saw Brants for the first time recently. Before that, when I'd see them on the eBird quiz, I would eventually realize that it was a Brant, but now that I've seen a large group of them in person, I now recognize them in photos much more quickly too. This held true even though I spent a good portion of time looking at them from a distance through an EVF (I used binocs too, though, for part of that time).

Brants, of course, are relatively difficult to confuse with someone else. But Dowitchers... I'm sure that if I had been taking fewer photos, I would have misidentified some at a distance as Yellowlegs.

Part of that is angles and motion, as has been mentioned before. Submitted photos tend to feature certain angles and postures, but birds in the field aren't always going to be facing in a photogenic direction or posing the way you want them to for a photo. Seeing them in the field at every angle does help (even if through a viewfinder). And, as was already stated, their behavior is part of their identity. Observing behavior in the field is also valuable experience that helps improve id accuracy and speed.

And that's just the visual component. The audio and habitat component is a big one too - and field experience is invaluable there. Listening to a recording isn't quite like listening to the real thing.

It's nice to see that you finally agree with me. 😆

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