AI Servo for Eagle Pictures

Started Mar 4, 2010 | Discussions
BigHorn69
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AI Servo for Eagle Pictures
Mar 4, 2010

This is a question that might better be posted on another forum, but it's also lens related, so here goes. There are a couple of bald eagles nesting near where I live and I've taken many pictures of them over the last 2 months. The only pictures I don't have are of them in flight. I took some yesterday and they were blurred. I have a 40d with the 100-400 lens and am taking pictures of the birds from a distance of 200 yds max.

Could someone please offer advice on how to set up for in flight pictures of these birds. The frequently land on a tree top then fly over to a golf course. I have watched them enough to be able to anticipate when they are about to fly off, and frequently they fly right over my head. I know to use AI Servo, but please be specific in offering advice on how or when to begin focus, etc.

Thanks,

BH69

dgovoni
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Lot's of reasons. check
In reply to BigHorn69, Mar 4, 2010

Shutter speed . Biggest factor in that you will need to be as high as possible. 1/800 or above may be needed. Longer lens, faster the shutter speed.

AI Servo. Does help in predictive way (when it works), especially when heading to/from you. I keep it on all the time.

IS Hand-Held? For panning, set to #2. Doesn't help at all for blur due to bird flying speed, but for the "shake" variance in your holding camera/lens.

Really, it's about getting your technique down and that takes practice.

HTH,

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dennis

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samWebster123
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Re: AI Servo for Eagle Pictures
In reply to BigHorn69, Mar 4, 2010

Center point AF
AI servo

Manual exposure if background is changing from sky to trees which could throw off meter
Shutter speed 1/1000-1/2000

Attempt to get focus lock as soon as possible with bird in flight. Keep the AF point on the bird to avoid.

Practice!

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Ikeepem
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Set your ISO
In reply to BigHorn69, Mar 4, 2010

to 400 minimum even in good light..shoot AI Servo.. With that 100-400mm lens, in manual mode shoot f7.1-8 and try to get at least 640-2000 SS depending on the light and background ex: Bright blue sky or even bright overcast..f/8, start at 1250SS keep your finger on the dial for SS..practice practice practice but get used to shooting manual..that lens sharpens up nicely at F7.1-F8...
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Montana500
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Yes it works (pic)
In reply to BigHorn69, Mar 4, 2010

This was taken with the 50D and all points AI servo:

I find AI servo to be the best for BIF. Make sure they are front lit, position yourself in such a fashion if you can. Keep your ISO up high, say 400-800.

Also, use burst mode! Keep that sucker hammered when the action presents itself.

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BigHorn69
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Re: AI Servo for Eagle Pictures
In reply to BigHorn69, Mar 4, 2010

That is the picture I am trying to take! I have several great opportunities and have only a couple of acceptable pictures. Due to large number of tree limbs, shrubs, etc. I have not been using all points for focus. I have opted for only the center point focus, which might explain why some are blurred. I usually have the ISO in Auto. I have not been switching to setting II on the lens, which is better for panning. The trouble is, the birds sit there on a limb for a long time, then suddenly decide to fly away. I really don't have time to make a lot of quick setting changes, expecially on the lens.

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Joe Photo Lover
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Re: AI Servo for Eagle Pictures
In reply to BigHorn69, Mar 4, 2010

By all means AI Servo is highly desirable. I would also set the aperture, shutter speed and ISO manually to deal with the rapid changes in the background as they fly and take special care to make sure that the birds are in sighted with the center focus point with the shutter release half way depressed before they start to move. Shooting in bursts is also a good idea.

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R2D2
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These are my settings.
In reply to BigHorn69, Mar 5, 2010

BigHorn69 wrote:

There are a couple of bald eagles nesting near where I live and I've taken many pictures of them over the last 2 months.

Hi BH69. Very cool! You are lucky indeed.

The only pictures I don't have are of them in flight. I took some yesterday and they were blurred.

Could be several factors at work here. Without knowing your specific camera/lens settings, I can only offer my own recommendations.

I have a 40d with the 100-400 lens and am taking pictures of the birds from a distance of 200 yds max.

That combo is very capable. I shoot with the 50D (very similar), and 400 f5.6L, but I have also shot eagles with the 100-400. And before that, the (less capable) 30D. With the right technique, excellent shots like Montana's are completely possible, so don't fret. They'll come.

Could someone please offer advice on how to set up for in flight pictures of these birds.

OK, this is how I like to set things up for EIF...

AI Servo AF (even for perched).

Center Point AF.

Back Button AF.

AF Search (Custom Function) set to OFF. This is a biggie often overlooked for BIF.

Manually adjust the focus to around 100' (while waiting). This speeds up target acquisition and focus.

Give the AF a little bit extra time to "Settle" before depressing shutter (I know this is kinda hard when that big bird comes zooming at you, but it pays off in the long run).

Hold AF throughout the Burst. Track as perfectly as you can.

AF on the Eye the entire time. Once everything else is ironed out, good tracking becomes the single most important element leading to high keeper percentages.

Image Stabilization OFF. IS will work against you when your subject is in motion. And I've never had an eagle fly by me that didn't have a vertical component in its flight (so no Mode 2).

Aperture set wide open. You'll need that extra shutter speed. If your lens is soft at f5.6, then maybe stop down a bit in full sunlight if your shutter speed doesn't drop below 1/2000. But in general, the higher the shutter speed, the better. You'll likely gain more sharpness from the higher shutter speed than from a stopped-down lens (but you know your lens best).

Keep ISO at 400 even in direct sunlight for max shutter speed (as has already been suggested). When the shutter speed gets too low, then you'll have to decide if you can trade more noise for higher shutter speeds (upping the ISO).

I shoot in Manual Exposure Mode for predictability and consistency. Keep the finger on the shutter speed dial for any sudden changes in lighting (sunlit to shadow, etc). Spin the dial by feel to adjust shutter speed (exposure). Keeping count of the "clicks' quickly becomes second nature.

I love it when my shutter speeds exceed 1/2000. Keeper ratio drops like a rock when shutter speeds drop below 1/1000. Shoot when the sun is up a bit for best light (and IMO color).

White Balance to a Preset or Custom (for consistency and to speed up Post Processing).

Position yourself for a good takeoff angle whenever possible. Take into account perch location, wind direction, and angle to the sun. Maintain a good stance for an ideal shooting arc (so you can swing smoothly).

I save my settings to C2 (custom settings) on my 50D so that I can quickly spin the dial to the last stop in a hurry without looking (when a BIF presents itself, and I've been shooting in another mode (or just goofing off!)).

Watch the Histogram closely, and especially the Highlight alert. Don't want to blow out that head!

And practice practice practice. Gulls, ducks, cars, jets, kids all make good practice subjects.

Good luck on your next shoot. Hope you've got a winner to post.

Regards,
R2

ps. A recent shot of an eagle just after takeoff (one of my favorite times to capture them)...

More photos in my gallery...

http://www.pbase.com/jekyll_and_hyde/loaded_with_talon

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PhillipA
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One thing I would add ...
In reply to BigHorn69, Mar 5, 2010

.. to all the good advice already given. Make sure the focus limiter is set to 6.5 mtr to infinity ( unless the birds might come closer than that). It will speed up A/F aquisition considerably.
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R2D2
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Good one PhillipA
In reply to PhillipA, Mar 5, 2010

PhillipA wrote:

Make sure the focus limiter is set to 6.5 mtr to infinity

Forgot about that one (I always have that set for raptors). They don't like to come closer than that, but I wish they would!

Cheers,
R2

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