allen sklar

Shooting birds in flight (BIF) Manual settings.

3,693 posts in this topic


For several years I have been practicing and trying to perfect BIF photography. I'm still way low in the learning curve but if you shoot enough you are bound to get a few keepers. I thought it might be nice to start a thread that would save a beginner from having to go through all the learning curve. I know Jim is very good at this, sure he will have some additional helpful hints. First and probably most important is shooting at a high enough speed to freeze the bird (or at least part of it). Generally I find 1/1000 second the minimum speed, preferably faster if light allows. This shot is at that speed, note though the eagle is "cruising" slowly.



 



Shutter priority 1/1000  F6.3



i-gSTXVXH-XL.jpg



 



 



Exposure is not quite as easy as letting your camera decide what it should be. The reason is, if the bird has white on it, your camera will often decide to expose for the sky blowing out the white feather detail which is critical if you really want to print a shot. Probably the easiest way to correct for this is to shoot the sky, then check your histogram and drop back your EV control a third or half from what it reads. Seagulls are great to experiment using this method since they have a lot of white. As far as metering I use center weighted but you have to experiment with your camera to see what works best.



 



 



This image is at 1/1250 second at F 7.1 Once again I am using shutter priority and letting the camera choose F stop...metering is center weighted and of course I forgot to mention you lens is on "continuous" auto focus. Today's newer lens use ultrasonic motors in the lens to give very fast and accurate auto focus, unfortunately I have old glass (this lens is 23 years old) from my film years.....I get a lot of out of focus shots. The type of auto focus on Nikon DSLR's here is "dynamic" which in theory is used for erratically moving objects.



 



i-nhJktDq-XL.jpg



 



 



The absolutely hardest part of BIF photography is developing a smooth panning motion, speed setting alone will not get the "killer" detail you are seeking, you must smoothly follow a bird moving at 15 to 30 mph. This takes practice and it certainly took me more than a year to start to see results. One helpful hint is to keep both eyes open as you follow the bird this will lessen camera shake but can be a bit hard to get used to. "Stabbing" the shoot button is another thing that you have to avoid, this is best accomplished by shooting at the fastest frames per second that you camera will allow and considering your buffer size while doing this, you don't want to loose "the moment" because your buffer is full. I'll post some more stuff later. 



 



One of my best shots here. Speed 1/1600 F8. Lighting of course is everything, here it's perfect, as is the depth of field and focus, a one in a thousand shot......did I mention luck is important?



 



i-RQsw3NK-XL.jpg


Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great tips Allen, I'm writing them on a note card for the wife to keep in her bag.

She's tried some of these shots but with mixed results

 

Most times for us we are dealing with low light which has made it tough to get the Shutter Speed required even with the Lens wide open.

We let the ISO go up to a point but there is a limit when the pic starts to degrade, and the shallow DOF makes hitting the Focus tough.

 

I don't think she's ever tried the dynamic auto focus ...:o , that will be first on the list.

 

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have found on Eagle's in flight to stop the wing tips 1/1600 is about as slow as I can go on shutter speed. If the bird is gliding slower speeds are possible but at the location I shoot Eagles they are usually under power trying to avoid getting mugged by other eagles while heading to a tree to eat their freshly caught breakfast so I don't get many gliders ;)

 

I generally shoot M mode .... The fact is I have 2 memory settings I use for eagles so I can flip back and forth depending of my needs and the birds location. I use exposure compensation and ISO wheels to fine tune to my histogram.

 

Most of my Eagle shots that i strive for are those where the bird is moving towards me so my focus technique is to set just a bit of front focus on my micro focus adjust for the lens in use and set the camera on spot focus. This way I set up a sort of focusing lead into my shots like applying lead when clay bird shooting. ;)

 

Up at Conowingo you see most shooting M mode then the next most used is shutter speed preferred and the next is A mode. Every photographer seems to have their sound reasonings as to why they use what they do up there and they all seems to be satisfied with their results. Many ways to skin a cat....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

OK, I'm going to ask the obvious question....if a bird is flying towards you, how the hell do you keep it in focus? Do you just keep the shutter button depressed halfway and let the AF do it job until you decide to capture the image? Inquiring minds want to know. Jim, you stated above a minimum shutter speed of 1/1600...what kind of ISO and stop are we talking here??? or do you set the camera to shutter priority and let IT figure out the rest. Too much to learn...waaaaaaay too much to learn...but I'm ready :D Thanks in advance.

 

Ken

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ken the way I do it (which others may do differently depending on their variables) I set my focus on spot continuous focus and have a bit of forward focus set with my micro focus adjust. This establishes a sort of lead to my shot as I want the eyes in focus so that means the bird is usually coming at me. I use a high MP camera and can crop to whatever I want without penalty so if I have the eyes dead center and focused in the viewfinder and the rest of the bird is in the frame I am good to go... I can compose the shot later in post processing.

 

My camera is set on M and my shutter speed is set to 1/1600 for birds under power to stop the wing tips. My aperture is usually from 5.6-8 depending on the light and my iso is set for the conditions (the lower the better and I will never go over 1600 with my equipment) then I fine tune during my shot to the histogram with my exposure comp wheel.

 

I have shot in A and S and both will work but I am just too old time and like having the control of the parameters when ever possible. It's the end results that matter's not how you got them IMO. If the method you are using has too many issues then I always recommend trying another method.

 

 

As I said in the earlier post there are many ways to skin a cat mine is just one of them.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


As Jim noted the variables are many, and I am only familiar with Nikon bodies. In my case spot focus is usable but I get better, more predictable results with Dynamic AF. In this case the camera uses spot focus to get the initial focus and then uses either 9, 21, or 51 points of reference to anticipate the movement(your choice), the fewer points the faster the camera will react. The problem here is the initial acquisition must be accurate, if I start shooting a bird as it flies towards me and miss the bird all the shots(bursts) will follow the initial missed spot and all the shots (as long as the shutter button is held down) will be out of focus. I don't have to micro adjust my lens as Nikon   bodies will do this automatically. While this method works well most of the time I have lost some fantastic shots because something in the background grabbed the initial focus......driver error you could call it. Here is an example of missed focus on initial acquisition. 



 



i-wgjfZRH-L.jpg



 



Fortunately, with practice, you will nail the focus to start with and everything will go smoothly. As you shoot a bird flying towards you your camera and lens must work together to keep everything in focus.....when it all works as it should you can expect some very cool perspective that really makes the viewer ask himself "how the heck did he get that shot".



 



i-wkPk8mP-XL.jpg



 



 



Another thing that is quite helpful in poor lighting is to set manual speed and aperture, and let the ISO "float" to whatever will give proper exposure. Today's cameras have almost unbelievable (to us film guys) usable ISO's. My camera bodies are quite usable to 800 for prints and 1600 for Internet. This gives the shooter the speed and depth of field necessary and lets the camera do the rest, today's noise reduction programs are really good too, so some shots at 1600 can be salvaged for print. The five grand bodies do even better, but out of my price range at the moment.



 



i-ZfDQThT-XL.jpg


Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My best in flight shots come from walking up on my subject, taking shots till it flys.

 

450

 

That would be how I got this shot, I chased him off the dock.

 

Peace

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Eagles have special regulations against any harassment ..... doing that technique could earn a citation from a game warden if he chose to. I would not recommend that technique with Eagles. There usually is always some eyes on you when photographing them in popular locations plus many die in the wool wildlife photographers have the local authorities on speed dial like fisherman do for poachers.

 

There is so much grey area involved concerned with human interaction with bald eagles that one is best to stand still in a know flight path and get shots as they naturally fly by.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Allen I still say that last eagle shot (or your avatar) is the best eagle shot I have ever seen............. one I will never get because where I shoot eagles there is no surf :(

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Allen I still say that last eagle shot (or your avatar) is the best eagle shot I have ever seen............. one I will never get because where I shoot eagles there is no surf :(

 

What did that eagle grab after the pic was taken????? Great shot

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can confidently state that Sony's "focus tracking system" technology is useless for eagle's at Conowingo Dam. Just too much background clutter and contrast that confuses the system. I tried for about 20 minutes one day to get it to be useful and in the end it just was not worth the effort. IMO Sony went to considerable expense to create and include a system that I have yet to find a situation where it makes anything easier or better. Continuous Focus mode was far and away much more reliable.

 

But, that was not an answer to your question but I figured I would ad that in as a note for Sony users. I hear that Nikon's focusing system is much better.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Rip-Line I am sure Allen is fishing or at his shop but the metadata for his pic says 200mm to answer your question.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to register here in order to participate.

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.