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 Post subject: How to photograph flying birds
Unread postPosted: Mon Apr 11, 2005 9:36 pm 
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Senior Virtual Ranger
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I was browsing through some old messages on the forum and I found a post by Arks requesting technical details to be posted with pictures. I've recently posted a number of pictures of flying bird and I thought it might be interesting to post the details of how I take these shots:

Focusing
When photographing flying birds, or any moving animal, it's extremely difficult to keep a sharp focus. My camera has a nifty feature called AI Servo focusing. Most modern prosumer SLR cameras will offer this mode. When you select this mode on the camera it will constantly try to focus on the subject covered by the focus points. This means that all you have to do is keep the subject in the viewfinder, the camera will make sure the subject is in focus (this is all theory though, in the real world it requires some practice :wink: )

High-speed continuous shooting
In combination with AI Servo mode I always select High-speed continuous shooting mode. When I set my camera to this mode it will take pictures as long as I press the release button on the camera. This means that it will take 5 pictures per second. When using high-speed mode some pictures will be out of focus because AI Servo didn't track correctly, some will be out of focus because of you shaking the camera while taking pictures and some pictures will be okay. After some practice I now get around 80% sharp pictures in high-speed mode.
Most prosumer SLRs will offer a high-speed mode, consumer SLRs probably don't have this mode.

Freezing movement
To get pictures where the bird seems to frozen in flight you'll need shutter speeds of 1/750 sec or faster. I usually try to get shutter speeds of 1/1250 sec or faster. To get shutter speeds this fast you either need a lot of light or fast film (high ISO number). If you use a digital camera then you probably have the option of setting the ISO number on the camera. In that case select a high ISO number to obtain fast shutter speeds.

Exposure
When you take a picture your camera will calculate the exposure. Your camera assumes that the scene you are taking a picture of on average reflects 18% gray. In most cases this is true, but there are situations where you have to manually correct the exposure. When a scene reflects more light than 18% gray then you have to overexpose (add exposure stops) and when a scene reflects less light then you have to underexpose. I can try to explain all this but other people have already done that, see for instance http://www.photozone.de/4Technique/ec.htm

Direction of sunlight
You get the best pictures when the sun shines on the subject (see example 1). When the sun is behind the subject (backlit) or from the side you lose detail in the subject (see example 2). Early morning or late afternoon sun gives the most pleasing results.

Shooting digital
Using a digital camera is very handy when taking pics of flying birds. You can check the exposure on the LCD and you can throw away any shots you don't like. I used to use Velvia slide film before I switched to a DSLR and taking pics of flying birds used to be an expensive hobby...my EOS3 took 10 shots a second (3.5 seconds per roll :shock:)

Example 1
Image
Shutter speed: 1/1250 sec
Aperture: f/4
ISO: 400
Exposure compensation: +1.0 stops
Focal length: 420mm

I added 1 stop exposure (so I overexposed 1 stop) because I wanted to see some detail in the black breast of this bateleur. If I hadn't done this then the detail would have been lost and the picture would have been less appealing.

Example 2
Image
Shutter speed: 1/4000 sec
Aperture: f/4
ISO: 200
Exposure compensation: none
Focal length: 420mm

I should have added at least 1 stop to the exposure in this shot. Now the black breast doesn't show any detail and the shot is a throw-away.

Example 3
Image
Shutter speed: 1/2500 sec
Aperture: f/4
ISO: 200
Exposure compensation: +1.0 stop
Focal length: 420mm

I added 1 stop exposure because the sky was overcast. This meant that the background was an unappealing white, but worse than that it confuses your camera. A camera assumes that when you take a picture the overall average colour is 18% gray. When you shoot a shot like this that assumption is wrong, the background is much lighter than 18% gray. If you don't overexpose this shot then it will be much darker. I've simulated the exposure which the camera had calculated below:

Image


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Unread postPosted: Mon Apr 11, 2005 9:42 pm 
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Senior Virtual Ranger
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Excellent tutorage Madach. I have elevated your post to the top of the forum where it will stay for reference. One thing I must comment on is how ungrainy your pictures look at ISO400. Brilliant stuff, particularly against a blue background where you would normally be able to pick up the grain.

thanks again.
bwana

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Unread postPosted: Mon Apr 11, 2005 10:29 pm 
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The Canon 20D is unbelievable even at higher ISO speeds like 400 ISO. Here's a crop of the full size pic:

Image

You can see the grain in the picture but it's still very reasonable. I think it's even better than the grain of the Provia 400F slide film I used to use.

Here are some more pics.

Image
Image

Earlier this week I promised to post some pics which I took two weeks ago in the KNP of flying birds....here's a selection of them:

Image
Image
Image
Image
Image
Image
(Edited by DQ)


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Unread postPosted: Mon Apr 11, 2005 10:32 pm 
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Incredible how well it renders at 400. Thanks again.
bwana

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Unread postPosted: Wed Apr 13, 2005 4:41 pm 
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Really nice Madach, handy with the EXIF references on your examples as well!

You are quite right, there's little as rewarding as capturing a sharp shot of a bird in flight. Practice, practice, practice... :D

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Unread postPosted: Thu Apr 14, 2005 6:49 am 
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I always wondered how to get that shot ... thanks Madach.. :clap:

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 Post subject: Re: How to photograph flying birds
Unread postPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2005 1:50 am 
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madach wrote:
I was browsing through some old messages on the forum and I found a post by Arks requesting technical details to be posted with pictures.


Belated thanks, Madach, for this most illuminating posting, which I've only just discovered when Simonb6 directed me here from another thread.

A lot of the technical information is still a bit overwhelming, but I'm glad of the opportunity to learn, before taking the plunge and switching to digital.

cheers, arks


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Unread postPosted: Thu May 26, 2005 11:12 am 
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Excellent madach. Wish I read this before going to Kruger earlier this month :(

Still like the effect of this photo though.
Image
Taken down at Cape Point.

Clever Dog


Last edited by clever dog on Wed Jun 22, 2005 11:50 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Unread postPosted: Thu May 26, 2005 12:12 pm 
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Thanks fot this.


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Unread postPosted: Thu May 26, 2005 10:11 pm 
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Thanx madach!

Here I got some examples of my attempts to take photos of flying birds:


The first one I took during our holiday to Namibia in November last year.I was so excited to see the vultures so close that it is slightly out of focus :oops:
Image

I took the second one in May this year, on the Garden Route in Wilderness.
Image

The third one again this May in the Winelands close to Robertson.
Image

Not perfect but I think I am improving :?

But I agree with Meg the main thing is practice, practice, practice ....it is just not easy to capture a flying bird with your camera. :roll:

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Unread postPosted: Thu May 26, 2005 11:00 pm 
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Location: Probably not coming back to Africa soon :-)
The only time I had a satisfactory session of photographing birds in flight was in Florida three years ago - photographing the Pelicans in Tampa bay. This is my favourite because of the nice comparison between the cruising bird (aerodynamically clean) and the landing bird, with landing gear down, wing trailing-edge flaps extended and a high angle of attack.

Image

I wonder where aircraft designers got their ideas :D

Lots more practice required in my case :roll:

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 Post subject: Re: How to photograph flying birds
Unread postPosted: Tue Jun 13, 2006 5:30 pm 
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madach wrote:
I've recently posted a number of pictures of flying bird and I thought it might be interesting to post the details of how I take these shots:

Madach, I can't tell you how helpful I've found this tutorial. I actually carried a printout with me on my recent SA trip, so that I could refer to it when I got to KNP. Consequently, I've got LOTS of pix of flying birds (and a well-twisted neck from trying to follow the birds in flight without violating the "protruding" restrictions :lol: ) and also found this a most useful way to get pix of raptors for later ID. I'll post a few shots eventually (and plenty for which I'll request help to ID :D). I actually got a few quite good flying bird shots thanks to your easy to follow tutorial. :thumbs_up:


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 Post subject: Re: How to photograph flying birds
Unread postPosted: Tue Jun 13, 2006 10:40 pm 
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arks wrote:
Madach, I can't tell you how helpful I've found this tutorial. I actually carried a printout with me on my recent SA trip, so that I could refer to it when I got to KNP. Consequently, I've got LOTS of pix of flying birds

Thanks for the :thumbs_up: It's always nice to hear that something I which wrote actually helped somebody to get good pics :D

I'm looking forward to seeing some of your pictures.


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Unread postPosted: Thu Jun 22, 2006 10:33 pm 
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Location: Gauties .
Heres a pic of a seagull at tsitsikama .
The light is really good in the morning for pics there .

Image


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Unread postPosted: Mon Jun 26, 2006 11:12 pm 
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Hi madach :D
Thanks for all the good tips, it really helped me alot!
I got up nice and early, for the good light and started experimenting with the focusing, ISO as well as the shuttter-speed.

Thanks for the advice :thumbs_up:

Here's a pic:
Image

Leopardspotter :)


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