Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus)

IMG_4944The Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus) aka the Sulfur-breasted Toucan and the Rainbow-billed Toucan can be found from southern Mexico to Venezuela and Colombia, and is indigenous to Yucatan.  It is an incredibly beautiful bird by any standard you may want to use.  I’ve shot a few Toucans in the wild (with my camera), mostly at Kaxil Kiuic Biocultural Reserve in the Puuc, but this particular example is a captive bird and was photographed at Parque Zoologico here in Merida, Yucatan.

Keel-billed ToucanRamphastos sulfuratus

Keel-billed Toucan with IPI

1/400s @ f/5.6, ISO 3200, FL=280mm (+1.4x TC), TV-Priority, Natural Light, Handheld

(Click on image to enlarge)

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* Note:  This image will print large, maximum 36 x 28 3/4 – inches

Photographer’s note:  There were some significant challenges involved with getting this shot; including very low light, chain link fencing and a bird that didn’t want to sit still.  His cage seems to be located in one of the darkest areas of the zoo, and inside his cage it is even darker due to the abundant rain forest foliage.  I couldn’t use an external flash because the chain link that comprised his cage would throw and reflect the light back at the camera lens.  

Camera equipment—I captured this image in CameraRAW with my Canon EOS 5D Mk2 camera and Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM zoom lens + Tamron SP AF 1.4x Pro TC.  RAW conversion and very modest post-edits were completed in PSE-11, and the final image was matted & framed using Big Huge Labs.

Shooting at high ISO 3200 allowed me to use the limited natural light without having to resort to my external flash (thus eliminating the bright reflections from the chain link which would have completely ruined the shot).  With the bird some distance away from the chain link fencing, I put my lens right up to the fence—using a telephoto lens this way will often blur out the fence to such an extent that it looks like it virtually disappears in the image.  Shooting in TV-Priority mode with Spot Metering, I focused on his eye … recomposed … and snapped the shutter.  

Results – I like how the spot metering, on the brightest part of the bird’s head (his bill and the sulfur-yellow under his eye), threw the background into deep shadow (almost like a studio backdrop).  The bird almost completely filled the frame requiring only a minimal crop to 8 x 10.  Focusing on the eye kept it nice and sharp, along with the sulfur-yellow feather detail below the eye.  The image stays sharp until it reaches the tip of the bill where it starts to get a little soft—but the focus is on the eye (where it should be), and the viewer really doesn’t notice the softening at the edges of the image.  I love the composition and color!  With his back to the viewer, and his huge bill pointing to the right of the frame, the result is an almost classic human over-the-shoulder portrait.  The color speaks for itself—after all this bird also goes by the name:  Rainbow-billed Toucan.  Do-overs would include:  wanting a lower ISO, but that wasn’t really possible without using a flash (a non-starter) or reducing my shutter speed (also problematic).  Also, a nice catch light in the eye would have been perfect.  The 5D Mk2 handled the 3200 ISO pretty well, and I’m fairly pleased with the end result.  As I’ve said so often before:  Photography is about compromise.

IMG_0645 LR

  Stephen F. Dennstedt

Indochine Photography International

* Expat Journal

* My NatGeo Portfolio



7 responses to “Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus)

  1. Birds are often a challenge to shoot, they’re always moving.
    It’s possible to fake a catch light in photoshop. No one needs to know.

    Nice shots!

    • Yeah, I’ve done that on occasion … and it looks fine until you view it at 100% … then it becomes pretty obvious. I will often use my flash during the day just to put a more natural looking catch light in the eye, but I couldn’t do it with the chain link fence between the bird and me. S.

          • I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you. 🙂
            After doing it badly following other peoples tutorials, I figured it out for myself.
            I start by deciding where the catch lights should be. Occaisonally there’s an indication of one but it’s just too dark.
            I zoom right in and lighten pixel by pixel, brightest in the center, leave the outer pixels a little darker and keep the edges slightly jagged. Zooming out and in until it looks right to me and don’t make them identical. Sometimes you have a catchlight in just one eye, so I may just clone it to the other eye and adjust accordingly. If it looks too bright then burn it, too dark then dodge it. The key is getting the position, size and brightness (in that order) just right. How detailed you want to be depends on how large the critters eyes are and how close up the portrait. I’ve done it on birds, mammals, reptiles and people, even myself. Ya just gotta have that catchlight or the eyes don’t have life!
            Try this for starters. Zoom in on the eyes of several of your shots that have good catchlights and notice the structural differences.

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