Shooting Birds in Flight...What works for you?

Started Dec 2, 2012 | Discussions
yp Senior Member • Posts: 2,200
Shooting Birds in Flight...What works for you?

Hi...Next spring I will be teaching a "class" on shooting birds in flight. I am self-taught so I have found what works best for me...not necessarily the best technique.

I generally shoot in Shutter priority so that I can set speed needed; will then adjust ISO as needed. Aperture is the least "important" setting. I shoot in continuous drive mode, single focus point on center. Generally I will half press for focus ...then track ....and shoot.



Taken during a Bird of Prey show using Nikon D3 70-200mm

In the reading that I've done lately I see that many photographers use Manual mode.

I'm just curious what technique do you use? What has worked/not worked?

Thanks for your input...Yvonne

Nikon D3
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sailaway78
sailaway78 Regular Member • Posts: 233
Re: Shooting Birds in Flight...What works for you?
1

If you have a bunch of newbies I would emphasize two things first. Patience and practice.  And to tell them to not expect instant results, nor a high percentage of keepers.

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kayaker353 Senior Member • Posts: 1,217
Here's what I do

I normally shoot aperature priority, trying for f8 or a little smaller.  I check the shutter speed to see if it is fast enough (1/1000, or so is good) and adjust ISO as needed.  All of these seetings are critical for success, its just a matter of which one you feel most important to control the value of.  I also use single point autofocus.  I leave it at center between shoots and adjust as neccessary/possible when actually following a BIF.  By the way, what area is your class in?

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Kris in CT
Kris in CT Veteran Member • Posts: 3,352
Re: Shooting Birds in Flight...What works for you?

I'm self taught as well and much newer, I shoot a D300.  I use back button focus with AF-C 9 pt group dynamic.  I shoot in Aperture priority with Auto-iso.  I have a Tamron 200-500 so I don't have very much leeway.  Lately I have been shooting wide open with min shutter 1/1600th and Max ISO at 800.  This gives me the fastest shutter speed possible with an acceptable level of noise.  If I don't have enough light to keep my shutter over 1/1000th at iso 800 I find birds that aren't flying.  I also decoupled AE-L from the shutter button.

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Snapshott Senior Member • Posts: 2,309
Re: Shooting Birds in Flight...What works for you?

I've been shooting for many years but just started wildlife and BIF this summer. I've never used back button auto focus but I've found it helps me a lot with BIF. For me it helps me focus first and trigger the shutter after focus is obtained. My Nikon D7000 has a sensitive trigger relies so this is one of the reasons I think it helps me.

I'm still experimenting with other different setting but I try to keep my shutter speeds over 1/1000 and then chooses aperture/ ISO based on lighting conditions. BTW I'm also shooting from a kayak so do take this into consideration when determining my settings.

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Snapshott

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CameraCarl Veteran Member • Posts: 8,375
Re: Shooting Birds in Flight...What works for you?

Although the author is an Canon shooter, most of his suggestions apply to any cameras:

http://www.johnstuartclarke.co.uk/photographing-birds-in-flight

old age adventurers Regular Member • Posts: 164
Re: Shooting Birds in Flight...What works for you?

Let me start of by saying you have already been given advice by much better photographers than i am but for whats its worth here is the method I appy for phtography in Africa.

We are for dasfty reasons & park regulations limited to shooting from the 4x4 we drive in all over Sothern African game parks. So my flight pictures are usually the first flaps of take off, but I suppose that is BIF!

I do try to follow but recently I tried the anticipation (guessing method). I set up my IDIV on its Wimberly gimble on a Kirk window mount after I have chosen a compromise distance from the bird e.g. martial, tawny, or fish eagle for my 500mm lens and my wife's 300mm lens plus 1.4 converter on a Canon 7D.

I the frame the bird in landscape putting bird right at the edge of the frame in the lower corner allowing him to fly into the picture. This diection & picture I hope to accurately predict by considering the direction of sun & wind, size of bird & any prey i.e. first up or down trajectory it may try to take off with to prevent wing cut offs

I also raise ISO to allow more depth of field in case angle of take off more varied than my weak predictions allow for. I then sit back with my remote & wait & wait on high alert. Caught martial eagle taking off leaving mate behind in Kgalagadi in September with this method after 90 minutes of aching & waiting. Just back yesterday from 4 months in Africa and will be long time culling 1000's of pictures before i reach it.

Obviously I have been wrong very often but thats par for all my wildlife pictures! Sometimes I do catch a good one: see our bird portfolio at www.africaraw.com for examples caught with this technique and further discussion of it in the photographic tip section.

Hope this method helps the car bound with ABIF (almost bird in flight_

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dock
dock Veteran Member • Posts: 5,380
Re: Shooting Birds in Flight...What works for you?

I too use aperature priority. This was first taught to me by Peter 07. I usually use a large lens opening thus giving me a very high shutter speed. On my Pentax k5 the ISO will change automatically on the Nikon D7000 I set the ISO to give me a minimum of 1/1000.

zackiedawg
zackiedawg Forum Pro • Posts: 34,840
My preferred settings, and what to teach beginners...
1

are actually two separate things, in my opinion.  Beginners above all should probably learn patience, a steady pan, and learning how to acquire a bird in the viewfinder and keep it there while focusing and shooting - as this is clearly the hardest part of BIF shooting for beginners.

My preferred BIF methods, and I've got two depending on the type of bird and the background involved, are:

For larger birds, and birds flying against very cluttered backgrounds - I use AF-C continuous focus most of the time, ISO set to Auto, usually in aperture priority and watching shutter speed to ensure it remains above 1/500, spot-focus point on center location, drive mode on 5fps.

For birds against blue sky or smaller birds, I will use AF-C continuous focus, ISO on Auto, Shutter Priority or Program Auto using shift to adjust, focus area set to wide/multi to activate all points, watching shutter speed stays above 1/1000, drive mode on 5fps or occasionally 7fps.  The multiple focus points are generally better with very small fast birds like sparrows, swallows, swifts, etc which move very erratically and are extremely difficult to keep on a central spot point.

I've been shooting BIF for about 6 years, also self-taught, and the early learning curve was mostly down to getting my panning technique up to snuff - starting with larger, slower, and more predictable birds like gulls and herons, and moving to the smaller, faster, and more erratic stuff as my panning technique and acquiry got better.

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Chris R-UK Forum Pro • Posts: 22,097
I shoot in manual
1

I tend to do a lot of my BIF photography in locations where the background is continuously changing, e.g. from sky to open land to trees.  Since I am normally concentrating on keeping the bird in focus, I don't have time to adjust the EC as the background changes.  I therefore use M mode to fix the exposure for the bird and not the background.

I tend to use either the sky or a patch of grass as a reference point to check against to see if the light is changing.  I find that Sky +1EV or Grass -2/3EV is normally a good starting point.  I take a few practice shots and adjust the offset from Sky/Grass to get the best exposure for the particular bird that I am photographing.  I check the reference exposure at regular intervals especially if the light is changing.

If you think that this is too difficult for beginners I suggest Aperture Priority as described by others, but they may need to shoot only against the sky.

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Chris R

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NancyP Veteran Member • Posts: 6,601
Re: Shooting Birds in Flight...What works for you?
1

Agree. Shoot anything that moves! I am a self-taught beginner and I never pass up a reasonably close (or big) flying bird. I throw out a bunch. Canon 60D, 400mm f/5.6L, handheld. Aperture priority, ASA set by me according to light, shutter variable but always above 1/500. Center focus point, AI servo. Exposure compensation depends on light type and direction and bird color (black Turkey Vulture? white Great Egret?. dark and white adult Bald Eagle?) Shoot over your skill level - you will learn something of the bird's flight pattern. I try for peregrine falcons on the chase, swallows, goldfinches. LOTS of OOF and AIF.

Tip for big birds overhead - sit on your heels, feet flexed so heels are off ground, and pivot to follow near-zenith shots. Center of gravity (my big butt) 6" off ground - pretty stable.

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OP yp Senior Member • Posts: 2,200
Thanks....

Thanks everyone...I really appreciate your input

I taught myself photography shooting sports. I started in Program mode then finally ended up shooting in Shutter priority. I have tried shooting action shots in Aperture mode but found that I got too wrapped up on shooting the action and forgot to check shutter speed. I realize that most newer cameras you can shoot in "ISO" mode...auto ISO, minimum shutter speed and then shoot in Apeture mode.

My partner and I teach photography workshops in the field. We have done 3 in the Smoky Mountains and are scheduled to do 2 workshops this spring in St. Augustine, Florida. A big part of the skills being taught will be shooting birds in flight. The participants all use DSLRs and are intermediate to advanced photographers.

Being self-taught I wanted to find out what techniques work for other photographers....basically wanted to pick your brains and find out what works for you and what doesn't.

Again...thanks for your suggestions and input. I will definitely have to try using Manual mode and Aperture mode again...I'll post pics...Yvonne

larrywilson
larrywilson Veteran Member • Posts: 7,112
Re: Thanks....

I shoot bif using auto iso with a minumum shutter speed of 1/1,000 and sometimes 1/1,500 depending on what bird I am shooting.  I use aperture priority using center weighted exposure with the smallest circle of influence setting on my camera (think it is 8% of frame).  I use back focus and in contiuous mode with 21 point tracking.  I do add or substract time of exposure via the back control wheel if the subject has a bright background or some other lighting influence.  I shoot with a Nikon d4 and Nikon 500mm lens with a tripod and a gimbal head.  I'm attaching a gull in flight that I captured the other day.

Larry

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OP yp Senior Member • Posts: 2,200
Re: Thanks....

Larrywilson,

Great capture, great exposure...really well done. Image is sharp, whites nicely exposed. Thanks for sharing...Yvonne

Jim Neiger Regular Member • Posts: 137
Re: Shooting Birds in Flight...What works for you?
1

I make my living teaching other photographers how to photograph birds in flight.  Based on what you have said in this thread, I don't think you are ready to teach others how to photograph BIF.  Below is an excerpt from another thread I started here a long time ago.  It may help you.  Good luck!

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Mike H Contributing Member • Posts: 970
Re: I shoot in manual

Chris R-UK wrote:

I tend to do a lot of my BIF photography in locations where the background is continuously changing, e.g. from sky to open land to trees. Since I am normally concentrating on keeping the bird in focus, I don't have time to adjust the EC as the background changes. I therefore use M mode to fix the exposure for the bird and not the background.

I tend to use either the sky or a patch of grass as a reference point to check against to see if the light is changing.[b] I find that Sky +1EV or Grass -2/3EV is normally a good starting point.[/b] I take a few practice shots and adjust the offset from Sky/Grass to get the best exposure for the particular bird that I am photographing. I check the reference exposure at regular intervals especially if the light is changing.

If you think that this is too difficult for beginners I suggest Aperture Priority as described by others, but they may need to shoot only against the sky.

The sky/grass starting point was told to me 50 years ago when I shooting KR64 film with a Nikkormat FT Tamron 300mm f 5.6 lens. I went with the dead grass most often with Canada Geese Eagles etc etc. Sky with lighter colored birds. The equipment is far beyond that now but sky/grass is always my starting point.

Take that advice to the bank.

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Im having too much fun with my D 300 to worry about what camera comes next

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OP yp Senior Member • Posts: 2,200
Re: Shooting Birds in Flight...What works for you?
2

Jim,

Thank you for you in-depth explanation of how you shoot BIF. Obviously, you know what you are doing...your images are true works of art.

For this workshop shooting BIF will be an introduction to the basic techniques...panning, acquiring and holding focus, etc. The longest lenses used will be 300mm with the possible addition of teleconverter. What our goal is is to inspire and encourage...give them the opportunities to gain experience.

Again...thank you for your input. I'm sure others have gained from your posts....Yvonne

prufrock New Member • Posts: 3
Re: Shooting Birds in Flight...What works for you?

Dear Jim Neiger:

Thank you so much for your informative post. I have not been shooting much since I lost my Nikon D5100 in Sep. I bought the Sony A77 as an upgrade recently and have been disappointed with the results with fast moving targets. With your post I feel i might yet be able to shoot well. And, I need to practice more:)

kayaker353 Senior Member • Posts: 1,217
Jim Neiger Seminars

I would like to know more about Jim Neiger's seminars.  Any insight?

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Jim Neiger Regular Member • Posts: 137
Re: Jim Neiger Seminars

kayaker353 wrote:

I would like to know more about Jim Neiger's seminars. Any insight?

What would you like to know?

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Jim Neiger
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