BIF shooters, please help

Started Mar 15, 2014 | Questions thread
OP dzba Senior Member • Posts: 1,337
Re: BIF shooters, please help

R2D2 wrote:

dzba wrote:

Depending how you look at it, I've been blessed, or cursed, with a chance to photograph bald eagles at distances varying from 20 yards to 300 yards.

Hi Mike,

Hi R2,

was hoping you'd find time to offer some of your experience.

You are really really fortunate to live in an area with these kinds of shooting opportunities! Wow. And the advice that's been posted so far has been excellent.

Yes, I feel blessed to live here.  As I get older my interests sometimes change, but there has been no shortage of new things to grab my interest.  The only hunting I do now is with my camera.

The main challenge that I see here is to get your camera set up to give you the best outcome possible... as long as you do yourpart, he he

Yes, this is my biggest among the many.

I'm posting pics to show what my results have been.

You'll be doing better than this in no time! It just takes a bit of practice. The camera is capable. The lens is capable. You are capable.

I've promised myself to keep at this as long as the eagles are so available.  This hasn't happened here before.  We had a 500 year flood in the area last September and the pond the eagles feed at is the lowest it's been in over 20 years.  The flood washed out the outlet and with the water so low the fish are much easier for them to see and catch.

These birds are surprisingly quick for their size

That's for sure. Amazing creatures. You may think that 5 fps is pretty quick, but these guys are on a whole different level! (birds in general are that way). Doesn't it feel sometimes like the camera is just like molasses in your hands!

Today provided an extra challenge to deal with.  With a swirling wind at 20 mph and gusts to 40 the birds were even harder to track.  Strangely enough, in some cases it made it easier as they tended to stall when looking for their sushi dinner.  Water color turned muddy and lots of ripples.

and when the action happens I'm not quick enough to get everything right. I have improved a great deal in the last 6 days of shooting these magnificent birds.

And you'll be getting better and better. Let's get that camera set up for BIFs first though...

I can identify with this.  My first day, day and a half was a humiliating experience for me.  Something that big should not be that hard to locate and follow in the viewfinder, I thought. 

A local pro advised me to shoot to open up my lens to 5.6 and bump the ISO up to attain a minimum of 1/2000 shutter speed. He feels that even though the sweet spot on the lens is between f7 and f10 I'd be better off opening up the lens so I can gain shutter speed. In the past, when I've used ISO over 200 I start to see noise and don't like what I'm seeing above 400.

Smart guy. And you'll do very well to listen to that advice. It's exactly what I was going to start with.

I followed this approach for the most part today.  At times excitement got the better of me.  I'd never seen eagles sparing and hooking their talons together and looking like a pinwheel while falling for several seconds.  I missed most of those situations.  My mouth fell open and I just stared.

In full sunlight like you were in, set your ISO to 400 for starters. Bump it up to ISO 800 if you can't keep your shutter speed at or above 1/2500. Sure BIFs can be shot at much slower shutter speeds, but your keeper rate will increase as your shutter speed does. No need to go higher than 1/3200 though, as you would be better off putting that extra speed toward lowering your ISO at that point (law of diminishing returns).

Today it was mostly overcast, but I did get braver and bumped the ISO up to 800 to experiment and see what happened.  With the wind as strong as it was, it was hard to stand still without moving while trying to track their flights.

Open your aperture to f/5.6 (for now) to maximize shutter speed. At this stage, shutter speed is more important than lens MTF. At some point, you may want to stop down a (little) bit once your tracking gets better.

I like to set exposure manually, which improves consistency. It's up to you. You may feel more comfortable with Aperture Priority at first. Watch for the "blinkies."

As my skills advance I'll try manual.  Maybe best to try this on stationary subjects, at first.

Set your focus to AI Servo and use the center AF point to acquire focus. Some folks like to use all point AF for birds against the sky, but IME your keeper rate will be higher with center point once your tracking improves.

Shooting wildlife I learned that eye focus is what you want.  The birds being so much smaller and moving so much faster only makes it harder to do it.  

And you'll get way fewer misfocused shots when the birds are on the water or against trees.

I'm surprised by this, yet my pics have shown this tendancy.

Turn off image stabilization for moving subjects (unless they're far away). I know it's been debated hotly, but IME it will always be working against you, and it will also slow down AF acquisition. Just try it like this. You can always turn it back on if and whenever you want.

One of the options I intended to try today, but that was quickly forgotten when as I drove up to the area a juvenile bald eagle was 20 yards directly overhead and before I could park two adults circled 3 times and all I could do was watch.  Traffic, trees and people did not help.

Put that AF point on the subject's eye and keep it there. Follow the subject's flight path as closely as possible, and follow through. Prefocusing to an approximate distance first will help in initial subject acquisition.

All good stuff.  I did figure out the pre focus on my own after struggling with this.  Works until a bird suddenly appears close by and I've focused for 50 yards away.  I have improved each day.

With your particular lens, give it at least a second to lock on before pressing the shutter.

Position yourself to put the sun at your back whenever you can.. And like others have mentioned, for BIFs shoot in good light. Keep that shutter speed up!

I have figured out the best time for me is the golden hour before sunset.  Birds are lit up and I can access them with the sun at my back.  Can't go on the south side (the access is still closed there and the east side).  I'm getting more selective with taking shots when the sun is providing better lighting.

Hope that helps for now. Holler if you have more questions. Keep practicing!

One other thing I'm going to try is shooting in both jpeg and raw so I can at least see what the in camera processing can do.  My photo editing is in it's infancy stage.  The birds and camera settings are more than enough to try my patience.  I can always come back to processing the raw files.  I suspect the burst rate will be slowed by this, but feel the trade off will be worth it. Thanks for taking the time to read, view and offer tips for me, Mike


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