Sunday, March 4, 2012

Photo Talk: Birds In Flight (BIF)

I really do wish I wrote more blogs. I find while I am in the field taking photos there are many people that have questions regarding techniques and specifics related to their camera.

It is not that I know everything about everything...I just like to help people and if there is anything I can share that will help someone, then that is what I would like to do. So with this issue of Photo Talk I would like to share a little bit about taking bird in flight photos.

I did not start taking BIF photos too serious until about three years ago. In fact, I did not even think much about taking photos of birds. After committing to expanding the kinds of subjects I photographed, I have found birds to be fun to photograph and very challenging.

So...what are the key things I find necessary for BIF shots?

- Higher ISO for Faster Shutter Speeds
- Set focus method to AI Servo or Continuous Servo
- Select the center focus point
- Select the highest burst mode your camera has

I like to have shutter speeds over 1000th of a sec whenever I can. I tend to shoot in aperture priority mode. On you camera it will likely have a Av on the mode dial. I aperture priority I select the f/stop and let the camera select the shutter speed.

Everything is going to depend on the lighting situation. In most cases I like to shoot at ISO 320 and my f/stop is set to 5.6. I often am taking BIF shots with an Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM or a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L USM with an attached EF 1.4x Teleconverter (with results in a maximum f/stop of 5.6).

If need be I will select a higher ISO to get a faster shutter speed. Since both of my lens combinations can only go to f/5.6 then I need to adjust the ISO to achieve a faster shutter speed.

ISO, aperture, and shutter speed...I talk about these BIG THREE in a different blog.

Once you have the big three ready to go, now you need to make a few more adjustments. In AI Servo focus mode your camera will be able to continually focus as your subject flies through the air and you track it with your cat like speed. Without setting your camera to AI Servo, you camera will lock in a focus as the bird moves and before you know it, the bird is out of focus again and again, and again.

Selecting the center focus point allows you to use your camera light a sight on a gun. If you are like me, you will be surprise just how hard it is to follow a moving bird by looking through your lens. Practice, practice, practice.

Here is what a Nikon or Canon focus screen might look like:

With you camera in AI Servo and the center focus point selected, the next thing to do is select your cameras fastest drive/burst mode. Hopefully you camera can at least shoot 4-5 frames per second., otherwise you may miss some nice wing action.

Technically you should be set. Now the key is try, try again.

Dont become too discouraged. Keep low expectations. Realize that to get that one "keeper shot" you will likely take dozens and dozens of shots.

Here are a few samples from my archives. I have included the camera model and shooting details so you can evaluate how you might want to set your camera and such.

This is one of my first BIF shots. It was taken in 2009 with a Canon 30D.

- ISO 640
- f/8
- 1/2500th sec shutter speed

This next shot was taken in 2010 with a Canon 40D.

- ISO 250
- f/7.1
- 1/3200th sec shutter speed

This next shot was spur of the moment as I realized the hawk was overhead. Taken with a Canon 30D in 2011.

- ISO 320
- f/5.6
- 1/2000th sec shutter speed

The eagle in the shot below was located in Le Claire, Iowa. The image was taken in 2012 with a Canon 40D.

- ISO 400
- f/5.6
- 1/2000th sec shutter speed

And the final shot here was recently taken in 2012 with my most current camera body, the Canon 7D.

- ISO 320
- f/5.6
- 1/2000th sec shutter speed

BIF shots can be challenging, require the correct settings on your camera, and need you to invest time into practice. When it is all said and done you will be very happy to share with others your BIF shots.

I hope something of what I have shared proves to be helpful.

Happy Shooting!!