Bird photography 101: Capturing flight (Part one)

1) Good gear

Crimson-footed boobies nest on Christmas Island and they’re in all places. This morning I used to be lucky to discover a roosting tree by the ocean cliff full of birds coming and going. I sat down on close by rocks and adjusted my settings for birds in flight, ensuring I had a quick sufficient shutter velocity (1/2000sec) to seize motion and a great depth of subject resulting from my proximity to the birds (F7.1). I additionally activated all my focus factors and utilized optimistic publicity compensation of 1 to 2 stops because the sky behind the birds was brighter than the birds. Because the birds flew in, I tracked them and fired the shutter as they had been about to land. Canon 1D X Mark II, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens @ 400mm. 1/2000s @ f7.1, ISO 1600.

I gained’t lie. The higher the digicam and lens, the higher your probabilities. Meaning the percentages of getting an ideal flight shot with a compact digicam (or cell phone) are about as small because the digicam itself.

However that doesn’t imply it’s important to promote your husband to purchase a pro-grade digicam. Any digicam that has the next, at the least, will work: the power to regulate for publicity compensation; a shutter velocity as much as, at the least, 1/4000s, and the power to shoot at 5 or extra frames per second (fps).

Ideally, your digicam would even have a superfast autofocus system (that works properly even in low mild) and many focus factors, particularly cross-type, extending throughout the body (older fashions are likely to have fewer, much less correct, focus factors and slower
autofocus techniques).

This image was taken in the harsh light of midday. It was
hot and we came across a leaking pipe that was attracting pigeons in the area. They would fly down from the nearby tree to the lawn and run across to the water. I positioned myself so that behind the birds was the shadow of the trees, but as they landed they caught the bright daylight. I then applied negative exposure compensation (exposing for the bird, not the background) of between three to four stops. This gave me the black background, or “blackground”. Canon 1D X Mark II, EF600mm f/4L IS II USM lens. 1/2000s @ f6.3, ISO 1600.
This picture was taken within the harsh mild of noon. It was scorching and we got here throughout a leaking pipe that was attracting pigeons within the space. They’d fly down from the close by tree to the garden and run throughout to the water. I positioned myself in order that behind the birds was the shadow of the timber, however as they landed they caught the brilliant daylight. I then utilized unfavorable publicity compensation (exposing for the hen, not the background) of between three to 4 stops. This gave me the black background, or “blackground”. Canon 1D X Mark II, EF600mm f/4L IS II USM lens. 1/2000s @ f6.3, ISO 1600.

A great lens would have, at the least, 300mm focal size and work properly with the digicam’s autofocus system. It’s not as vital to have picture stabilisation (vibration discount) as you’ll be capturing at quick shutter speeds anyway.

You must also guarantee you’ve got the quickest digicam card in your digicam’s capabilities. This may enhance the variety of photographs you may take earlier than the “buffer” kicks in. There may be nothing worse than seeing superb motion and your digicam stops as a result of it’s run out of reminiscence! Be certain it’s additionally an honest measurement card – 32GB to 64GB is right.

Several pairs of great crested grebes nest on
a lake in Perth. I spent a week observing their behaviour around breeding time as this is when you get the most action. I only photographed in the first two hours after sunrise and before sunset. This image was taken in the morning when the light was still relatively soft. I lay on the grass at the edge of the lake, with a fast shutter speed ready for action. Because I had all focus points activated (the background being sufficiently far away) when the action happened I was able to quickly acquire focus and get the shot. Canon 1D X, EF600mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4x III lens (840mm). 1/6400s @ f6.3, ISO 400.
A number of pairs of nice crested grebes nest on a lake in Perth. I spent per week observing their behaviour round breeding time as that is while you get probably the most motion. I solely photographed within the first two hours after dawn and earlier than sundown. This picture was taken within the morning when the sunshine was nonetheless comparatively tender. I lay on the grass on the fringe of the lake, with a quick shutter velocity prepared for motion. As a result of I had all focus factors activated (the background being sufficiently far-off) when the motion occurred I used to be capable of rapidly purchase focus and get the shot. Canon 1D X, EF600mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4x III lens (840mm). 1/6400s @ f6.3, ISO 400.

2) The settings

The three principal settings to regulate earlier than you shoot are aperture, shutter velocity and ISO. Completely different mixtures of those can be required relying on whether or not you might be working in Handbook or one of many Semi Automated modes (Aperture Precedence, Shutter Precedence). Let’s begin with Handbook mode. 

Handbook Mode

The primary motive folks get blurry flight photographs is as a result of they don’t have a quick sufficient shutter velocity. Typically that’s as a result of they’ve an aperture that’s too slender, and an ISO that’s too low. I’m going to maintain it easy for you. Mild allowing, set your aperture between F5.6 and F7.1 and your shutter velocity between 1/2500s and 1/4000s.

As to ISO, that is probably the most versatile of all of your settings. If it’s a sunny day, begin with between ISO 200-320 and if it’s a cloudy day, ISO 640-800. Take a take a look at shot. Is it too darkish or too mild? Then alter your ISO vary up or down accordingly. Don’t skimp or be obsessive about protecting it as little as potential.

Your precedence is getting a pointy shot. Do not forget that by setting a variety of ISOs that the digicam can shoot between will enhance your probabilities in comparison with simply setting one ISO.

As with most terns, these move very quickly and getting them in flight is
a challenge. I set an extra high shutter speed to ensure I captured the action, as well as a larger depth of field (F8) to get more of the tern and its fish in focus. Because they are white birds in bright light, I also had to apply negative exposure compensation to ensure I did not “overexpose” the white feathers. It requires a lot of practice to be able to track these birds in flight so don’t be dismayed if you don’t succeed at first. Keep trying! Canon 1D X Mark II, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM +1.4x III (567mm). 1/4000s @ f8, ISO 400.
As with most terns, these transfer in a short time and getting them in flight is a problem. I set an additional excessive shutter velocity to make sure I captured the motion, in addition to a bigger depth of subject (F8) to get extra of the tern and its fish in focus. As a result of they’re white birds in vibrant mild, I additionally needed to apply unfavorable publicity compensation to make sure I didn’t “overexpose” the white feathers. It requires a number of follow to have the ability to observe these birds in flight so don’t be dismayed should you don’t succeed at first. Hold attempting! Canon 1D X Mark II, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM +1.4x III (567mm). 1/4000s @ f8, ISO 400.

As you get skilled, you may decrease your shutter velocity however at all times attempt to hold it within the “4 digits”, that’s 1/1000s or sooner, until you’ve got extraordinarily low mild and you’ve got already adjusted your ISO as excessive as you may, given your digicam’s digital noise limitations.

On this final state of affairs, that is the time when it’s best to begin to experiment with slower shutter speeds. Generally these can produce pleasing creative results in their very own proper.

Semi-automatic modes

If you’re capturing in a semi-automatic mode, then it’s best to use shutter precedence mode and set the shutter velocity as outlined above.

Nevertheless, bear in mind that in shutter precedence mode, if the digicam’s widest aperture (eg, F5.6) will not be sufficient for the set shutter velocity within the out there mild, it would nonetheless take the photograph. For those who see the aperture quantity “blink”, that is the digicam telling you that you’re going to underexpose at that shutter velocity.

One of the best parts of Christmas Island is being able to photograph these spectacular birds as they wheel around the cliffs below you. It is actually an easy shot to take. The only things you need to remember for this shot is that because the bird is so white and the background so blue, you need to apply negative exposure compensation to avoid losing detail in those beautiful feathers. Also, as Christmas Island is in the tropics, you should watch the humidity levels as these will not only affect sharpness, but the ability of the camera to quickly acquire focus. You should try to photograph in the early morning or evening when humidity is lower, or when there is a cool breeze. I took this image from the Territory Day Park lookout overlooking Flying Fish Cove. Canon 1D X Mark II, EF600mm f/4L IS II USM +2x III (1200mm). 1/8000s @ f8, ISO 1250.
Probably the greatest elements of Christmas Island is having the ability to {photograph} these spectacular birds as they wheel across the cliffs under you. It’s truly a straightforward shot to take. The one issues you should keep in mind for this shot is that as a result of the hen is so white and the background so blue, you should apply unfavorable publicity compensation to keep away from dropping element in these lovely feathers. Additionally, as Christmas Island is within the tropics, it’s best to watch the humidity ranges as these is not going to solely have an effect on sharpness, however the means of the digicam to rapidly purchase focus. It is best to attempt to {photograph} within the early morning or night when humidity is decrease, or when there’s a cool breeze. I took this picture from the Territory Day Park lookout overlooking Flying Fish Cove. Canon 1D X Mark II, EF600mm f/4L IS II USM +2x III (1200mm). 1/8000s @ f8, ISO 1250.

The way in which to get round that is to set the ISO to Auto ISO so the digicam will robotically enhance ISO when it will probably’t get the aperture to match your nominated shutter velocity. You too can select an higher restrict for this setting.

Publicity compensation

Whatever the mode you employ, you might be nonetheless going to have to use publicity compensation. That’s, override your digicam’s meter and enhance or lower publicity, in response to the circumstances.

For a hen flying in opposition to a vibrant sky, until the hen itself is within the direct mild, you’ll invariably want to extend publicity by two to 3 stops.

In semi-automatic modes you do that by turning the + or – dial. In Handbook, you do that by adjusting your ISO up or down.

Conversely, the place you’ve got a white feathered hen flying in opposition to a darkish riverbank, for example, you’ll need to lower publicity by as much as three to 4 stops to make sure you don’t lose element within the hen.

Alternatively, you may change to identify metering mode. Nevertheless, bear in mind that even on this mode, a point of publicity compensation could also be wanted and it additionally requires accuracy along with your chosen focus factors, which could be a drawback with fast-paced birds.

AF choice factors

Final however not least, set your auto focus (AF) factors. Go on – I do know you’ve seen them and the probabilities are, a lot of you’ve got by no means modified them.

Nicely, now’s the time to do it. Attending to know change your focus factors (each place and amount) is among the easiest, however best steps ahead you may soak up your hen images.

Bridled terns are one of the most beautiful birds in flight but they are also one of the hardest to capture – they move like Spitfire fighters! For this image, I positioned myself above the terns so the background would be the blue ocean. I then activated all my focus points. As the terns came into view, the camera quickly acquired focus (there being good contrast between the whites of the bird and the blue background) and I pressed the shutter. I had to apply negative exposure compensation of one to two stops to ensure I did not overexpose the white feathers.
Canon EOS-1D X, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens @ 400mm.
1/5000s @ f7.1, ISO 800.
Bridled terns are one of the lovely birds in flight however they’re additionally one of many hardest to seize – they transfer like Spitfire fighters! For this picture, I positioned myself above the terns so the background can be the blue ocean. I then activated all my focus factors. Because the terns got here into view, the digicam rapidly acquired focus (there being good distinction between the whites of the hen and the blue background) and I pressed the shutter. I needed to apply unfavorable publicity compensation of 1 to 2 stops to make sure I didn’t overexpose the white feathers. Canon EOS-1D X, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens @ 400mm. 1/5000s @ f7.1, ISO 800.

The rule of thumb for birds in flight is that the busier the background, the much less focus factors you employ.

If you’re a newbie or informal hen photographer, it’s best to choose the configuration which has a central focus with about eight surrounding AF factors (roughly square-shaped) for birds in flight with busy backgrounds. As you get higher, you could wish to in the reduction of on the variety of surrounding factors. 

Conversely, if in case you have a plain background behind the motion, ensure you have all AF factors chosen. This maximises your likelihood of buying focus and is very nice with erratic shifting birds.

With the setup out of the best way, hold an eye fixed out for half two subsequent week the place we’ll take a look at some subject techiques. 

In regards to the creator: Georgina Steytler is an award profitable nature photographer with a ardour for ethics and hen conservation. You may see extra of her work at georginasteytler.com.au. 

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