“I fell in love with kingfishers back in 2013,” says wildlife and nature expert Petar Sabol, “first just watching their behaviour at a pond near the village of Mala Subotica in Croatia, then learning how to capture them on camera.”
Petar’s dedication and technical skills shine through his work. While, just like any great wildlife photographer, fieldcraft is at the core of what he does, he also needs tools he can rely on and now shoots with an α7R IV, having used Alpha cameras and lenses since their outset.
Shooting the kingfishers as they gather in the winter to feed in small ponds, lakes and canals, Petar is particularly captivated by the birds’ colours and movement. “They’re a really incredible subject to shoot,” he explains, “because their colours can change as you look at them, from dark blue, to aquamarine, to cyan, depending on the angles and the light. And they’re so interesting because of their hunting style… their stillness, then the precision dive. It’s an amazing thing to watch alone, but shooting them is a whole different challenge.”
The kingfishers’ shimmering plumage is brought to life by the α7R IV’s high-resolution sensor, with every shaft and barb recorded in sharp detail. But, of course, all those pixels are for nothing if the bird is blurred or so small in the frame that it can’t be properly enjoyed. Petar tackles this with the right choice of AF mode and lenses, filling the frame with his subjects, making sure he shoots them from eye-level, and perfectly balancing them against silky smooth defocused backgrounds.
Composition is important to me,” he explains, “and though the α7R IV has a sensor that lets you crop in a huge about, I like to use all of it if I can!
Many bird shots take advantage of very long telephoto lenses, but Petar often prefers to shoot on medium telephotos like the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS and FE 135mm f/1.8 GM, relying on his fieldcraft to get him close enough. “Particularly for the diving shots, it means getting very close to the waterline,” he explains, “and when I was trying this with super telephoto lenses, I found it more difficult to follow the birds as they moved so quickly through their dive. Also, the longer the lenses you use, the more pronounced each movement is, so it’s more difficult to keep the kingfisher in sharp focus. But if your approach is good enough, and you have patience, you can even shoot with short telephoto portrait lenses like an 85mm.”
“Patience is the main ingredient,” Petar continues, “and not just at the time of shooting – you need to keep going back day after day, and really invest time in the subject. You need a good hide and good camouflage, so it’s easier to get close and not disturb them, and when you’re in the hide, you might wait several hours for them to appear, or you might see nothing at all. But sometimes it’s the opposite – and as soon as you’re in the hide they’re almost on top of you.”
When opportunity comes, the α7R IV has several vital modes to make sure Petar gets the shots he’s waited for. “The silent shutter is a must,” he says “because you don’t want anything to alarm the subject, or scare him off. Shooting in AF-C, I lock a small focus point onto the subject and follow it with the real time tracking mode. It’s so fast and accurate that I can rely on perfect focus all the time, even when I’m shooting with the lens wide open. And to make sure I don’t miss the perfect shape of the bird when he’s diving or the best splash, I always shoot at 10fps, too. I know the quality is there to keep the ISO high and freeze the subject, too, so I’m often shooting at 1600, 3200 or above. The only time I shoot slower is when the bird is relaxing on his perch – then I can relax as well!”
So, with all these benefits, how does the α7R IV compare to the Sony kit he previously used?
“With every new camera there’s an improvement that opens new avenues of shooting for me,” he says, “and it’s not just picture quality, ISO performance and dynamic range, but things that really help me respond to the subjects, like huge numbers of AF points, advanced focus tracking modes, silent shooting, and SteadyShot image stabilisation.
Petar’s overall verdict?: “It’s a real joy to use a camera like this.”
"I always try to make my photos look better, no matter how long it takes and how much effort it requires"