Photographing Pied Billed Grebes and Face Recognition Software

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Photographing Pied-Billed Grebes

Pied Billed Grebes are water birds easily identifiable by their black chin and white, chicken-like, thick black ringed bills. Commonly referred to as little submarines, their quick and nimble diving behaviors allow them to rapidly disappear when threatened.

Photo of Pied-billed Grebe
Pied billed Grebe
ISO400; f/6.3; 1/800 Second

Elusive Diving Birds

I have never seen this bird flying, tending a nest, or venturing up on land. Last Spring, I found two promising locations near a local pond, visited both every day, and readied my camera whenever I spotted a Grebe. My goals were challenging: 1) Avoid the brown gunky look of dead vegetation floating in the pond water; 2) Capture a take off or landing shot of this water bird; and 3) Photograph one or two baby Grebe chicks with their parent(s).

Not much luck. When I did see a Grebe swimming toward the camera in open water, I was barely able to press the shutter (set for high speed continuous shooting mode) before he suddenly plunged under water, only to surface again clear across the pond.

Photo of Pied-billed Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
ISO100; f/5.6; 1/500 Second

Intelligent Tracking and Recognition

Look at that face! I was surprised to see little square boxes in the camera’s viewfinder indicating that the camera had found and classified a round shape with 2 eyes as a face and was trying to prioritize focus and exposure by tracking that face. (NOTE: I had turned on facial detection for a family event I was photographing the week before.)

Face detection in DSLR cameras is mostly designed to recognize human faces, but many mammals and birds have faces that contain the same basic attributes as humans. This technology searches for facial key points like facial outlines, eyebrows, eyes, nose, ears, chin, and mouth.

Facial Detection Auto Mode

With facial detection engaged, Canon’s “intelligent focusing system” will search for face(s) and, once found, will track and prioritize certain focusing and metering functions on those face(s).

  • Some of the more advanced camera systems allow you to “confirm” the face rectangle(s) upon which focusing and metering will occur.
  • The need to use AE focus lock and AEC will probably be reduced since the camera will automatically meter and focus on the faces it finds.
  • Since the face detection system algorithms are programmed to follow the faces around, it is logical that the focus points previously set on the camera will not engage while facial recognition is operational.

Bird Recognition Built into Cameras

Face detection included in most modern smart phone and DSLR cameras is not face recognition. Face recognition goes beyond detecting by registering human face information and matching that info to a database of faces to specifically ID individuals.

The Merlin Bird ID app, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, incorporates a bird ID process and a database of bird photos and characteristics to help the user identify birds. You simply upload a photo of the bird you want to ID and answer a few questions.

Bird recognition systems built right into the camera or lens can not be far away. 😎

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