Mrshutterbug Wildlife Photography

Mrshutterbug Wildlife Photography

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Birds in Flight- The MrShutterbug Wildlife Photography Guide

Capturing images of birds in flight evoke far more emotions than photographing them in a stationary position perched in a tree. A continual failure to capture an image of a bird in flight can easily wear down the most persistent and experienced photographer. Success lifts the sprit and gives one what can only be described as a photographic high for capturing that one single momment of motion on film (or memmory as it is now!)

The purpose of this Blog is to help you succeed and not preach about the dos and don'ts, after all each photographer develops his or her own style and this article is meant as a mere pointer.

Most important camera feature when trying to shoot a bird in motion (thats shoot as in take a picture) is speed
Aside from having a positive attitude, there are a few items and activities necessary to increase the chances of capturing successful in flight photos.
First on the list is having an appropriate camera. A bird in flight is progressive continous motion so the most important camera feature needed is simply speed.
Any digital camera that has a high shutter speed than (1/500th a second or upwards) is suitable even if it doesn’t have image stabilization even though most cameras now a days do.A long zoom capability is preferred to crop in on your subject, but a standard 3 times zoom can be used on a more limited scale.

If a camera has a manual mode, use it. If not, shutter priority should be used with a minimum shutter speed of 1/500th of a second. Fast shutter speeds will easily freeze body movement of birds in flight, but can still show a desirable blur of the wings and capture the flapping motion to give your image an artistic edge.

I tend to shoot in Shutter priority mode to control the speed and stick the apeture wide open for smaller brids whilst one stop down for bigger birds.

Depending on the kind and tones of the bird, my usual settings are 1/500th to 1/1300th second for shutter speed and f4.0 to f7.1 for aperture. For focusing setup, I use spot or single area focusing. These are usually faster than multiple point focusing.
The best condition to photograph birds in flight is when there is lots of light. You can use the lowest possible ISO available from your camera for the least amount of noise. You can also use the Sunny white balance setting for optimum in-camera color rendition.

When tracking flying birds, I find it easier to follow them with my eyes by using the viewfinder rather than the LCD. Using the LCD is tough as eyes tend to follow the display rather than the actual flight path and this hinders synchronization of the flight and usually results in failed photos!

Once the in-camera settings are sorted, it’s time to practice. Pick a place and the type of bird you want to photos. Its easier to start big on Geese or swans, bigger birds are easier to track but they are not as abundant as gulls or some of the smaller birds. Gulls are acyually a great bird to practice on they are not too small, not too fast and have predictable flying patterns.... (and you don't need to go to the seaside to find them!

Track your chosen subject with your lens making sure you keep the subject in focus as you track... this is often the hardest thing. Tracking medium-sized bird like a Gull in low zoom is a brilliant tracking exercise. You can crop and still have an acceptable image. Once you are used to tracking your subject start to increase your zoom to capture a bigger bird size in photo. Once you have got the Gulls sorted its easier to photograph much larger sized birds. Large birds are actually slower and therefore easier targets.

I nearly forgot...dont forget to press the shutter button when you have perfected your tracking. Remember even the best photograpers don't get it right all the time, its the one area i really need to practice myself and continually try to test myself.

So here is the bullet guide in case these paragraphs are to hard to understand...

-Shoot shutter priority. A fast shutter speed is essential to capturing birds in flight. Unless you want to blur the subject for creative reasons, a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second should be your preferred shutter speed.
-Use the lowest ISO you can and still get a fast shutter speed.
- Make your aperture wide open for small birds and stop down by one stop for larger birds.
-Shoot hand held. It’s too hard to make a tripod work.
-Spread your feet shoulder width apart to get a firm stance.
-Aim slightly ahead of the bird and estimate its trajectory.
-Use high speed continuous shooting mode.
-Select a lens in the 300-400mm range. These are hand-holdable and will get you close enough to fill the frame in most cases.
-Try to make sure the subject is front lit. Keep the sun behind you.
-for a really professional look try and have the bird flying into space.
-Practice, practice and practice some more. Don’t get frustrated and don’t give up. If I can do it you can do it.

Happy Shutterbugging