Skip to Content

How to photograph flying birds

Discuss and share your wildlife photography, filming and equipment
User avatar
madach
Senior Virtual Ranger
Senior Virtual Ranger
Posts: 615
Joined: Tue Jan 18, 2005 9:55 pm

How to photograph flying birds

Unread post by madach » Mon Apr 11, 2005 9:36 pm

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

User avatar
bucky
Senior Virtual Ranger
Senior Virtual Ranger
Posts: 1225
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:41 pm
Location: Gauties .

Unread post by bucky » Thu Jun 22, 2006 10:33 pm

Heres a pic of a seagull at tsitsikama .
The light is really good in the morning for pics there .

Image

User avatar
Caracal
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Posts: 2631
Joined: Thu Oct 05, 2006 10:44 pm
Location: Cape Town-but dreaming of KTP

Canon 40D's C.Fn IV - 2

Unread post by Caracal » Tue Mar 17, 2009 11:45 pm

This seems to be an interesting little function...anybody out there familiar with it ???
Is it any good...or is it just something to confuse my fingers...nevermind my brain :doh:

Thanks
Michele :D

User avatar
DuQues
Honorary Virtual Ranger
Honorary Virtual Ranger
Posts: 14520
Joined: Fri Jan 14, 2005 5:42 pm
Location: Red sand, why do I keep thinking of red sand?

Re: Canon 40D's C.Fn IV - 1

Unread post by DuQues » Wed Mar 18, 2009 3:08 am

Most custom functions are handy... Now I'll be thinking all night of which one you mean! And if I have it switched on...
Not posting much here anymore, but the photo's you can follow here There is plenty there.

Feel free to use any of these additional letters to correct the spelling of words found in the above post: a-e-t-n-d-i-o-s-m-l-u-y-h-c

User avatar
Caracal
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Posts: 2631
Joined: Thu Oct 05, 2006 10:44 pm
Location: Cape Town-but dreaming of KTP

Re: Canon 40D's C.Fn IV - 1

Unread post by Caracal » Wed Mar 18, 2009 7:56 am

Okay firstly..it was late last night when I posted this and I meant C.Fn IV -2. :roll: My understanding of it is that when it is enabled you would use the * button to focus with and the shutter button to take reading and fire away together with camera on continuous shoot and in servo mode. Apparently it is most suitable for tracking BIF and wildlife action !

User avatar
richardharris
Junior Virtual Ranger
Junior Virtual Ranger
Posts: 456
Joined: Sun Sep 04, 2005 3:04 pm
Location: Nottinghamshire UK

Re: Canon 40D's C.Fn IV - 1

Unread post by richardharris » Wed Mar 18, 2009 7:12 pm

Canon have several functions to control servo focus, whether focus and exposure are done together or separately, etc etc.

You can find several references on websites as to what is the perfect set-up - but they will all be different!

As long as you understand what you are changing (and that is not meant rudely - the manual is not at all clear on what some of the functions do!) just try a few out and see which ones benefit the way that YOU take photos, and also what you take photos of.

Richard

User avatar
Caracal
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Posts: 2631
Joined: Thu Oct 05, 2006 10:44 pm
Location: Cape Town-but dreaming of KTP

Re: Canon 40D's C.Fn IV - 1

Unread post by Caracal » Wed Mar 18, 2009 9:00 pm

As long as you understand what you are changing (and that is not meant rudely


:D That is the problem... I understand perfectly when it is on paper..but then..... :roll: :roll:
But this function does make sense a whole pile of sense on paper so as soon as the sun shines here in Cape Town I am going down to my local duck pond to terrorise the guinea fowl again.....I will let you know how I get on... :roll:

Thanks Richard :thumbs_up:

User avatar
Johann
Senior Virtual Ranger
Senior Virtual Ranger
Posts: 836
Joined: Sat Apr 02, 2005 8:29 am
Location: Stuck in Gauteng

Re: Canon 40D's C.Fn IV - 1

Unread post by Johann » Thu Mar 19, 2009 2:27 pm

Caracal wrote:Okay firstly..it was late last night when I posted this and I meant C.Fn IV -2. :roll: My understanding of it is that when it is enabled you would use the * button to focus with and the shutter button to take reading and fire away together with camera on continuous shoot and in servo mode. Apparently it is most suitable for tracking BIF and wildlife action !


I have my 350D and 400D setup in this way since, well almost forever. I find it the easiest way to photograph birds, especially in flight. When tracking birds using the shutter button I tend to get over excited :roll:, push down too hard and take shots at the wrong time, not when I actually intend to shoot.
This way I've got my thumb always on the focus button (*) and I seem to be getting more keepers. You have to change your grip a little but I'm so used to it now. If I had to change back I won't know what I'm suppose to do with my thumb :lol:
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
Albert Einstein

Latest lifers from Kruger NP:
Black Coucal Centropus grillii Swartvleiloerie
Flappet Lark Mirafra rufocinnamomea Laeveldklappertjie

User avatar
Caracal
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Posts: 2631
Joined: Thu Oct 05, 2006 10:44 pm
Location: Cape Town-but dreaming of KTP

Re: Canon 40D's C.Fn IV - 2

Unread post by Caracal » Fri Mar 20, 2009 7:56 am

Thanks Johan :D .. I am definitely going to get some practise in this weekend.

User avatar
Caracal
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Posts: 2631
Joined: Thu Oct 05, 2006 10:44 pm
Location: Cape Town-but dreaming of KTP

Re: Canon 40D's C.Fn IV - 2

Unread post by Caracal » Sat Mar 21, 2009 2:06 pm

Right I have practised a bit with this function and I quite like the results. I played down at our local duck pond and ended up with a lot more keepers than on previous practise runs. I have now saved these settings as C1 on my camera...another nifty function .
Some fun photos that I managed to get..

Image Yellow billed duck - show off! :D

Image Yellow billed duck coming in to land

Image Guinea fowl gobbling bread.

Image There were two of these little guinea fowl chicks frantically running around trying to find some bread crumbs.

User avatar
Viv
Posts: 13
Joined: Tue Mar 25, 2008 1:56 pm
Location: Brussels

Re: How to photograph flying birds

Unread post by Viv » Sat Jul 31, 2010 4:19 pm

Image

Hi Madach

followed your instructions and advice....

Now we need some more pratice in KNP very soon....

Thanks
Viv

sinewave
Posts: 10
Joined: Fri Sep 10, 2010 9:58 am

Re: How to photograph flying birds

Unread post by sinewave » Fri Sep 10, 2010 4:24 pm

Thank you for a really useful, clearly explained tutorial.
You did not mention anything about panning or tripod (monopod?).
Although "handheld" is most times the best because you are pointing the camera around the sky, so a tripod is little use. But because of my excessive handshake I use my tripod as a monopod. That is, I extend only one leg so that I can pan horizontally quite easily. The other 2 legs and the other parts of the tripod are held together with a strip of Velcro wrapped around.
Here's a sample:

Image
Last edited by sinewave on Sun Jan 16, 2011 5:41 am, edited 1 time in total.

sinewave
Posts: 10
Joined: Fri Sep 10, 2010 9:58 am

Re: How to photograph flying birds

Unread post by sinewave » Sat Sep 11, 2010 4:55 pm

More tips to shoot "birds in flight":

Get ready to pan a "multishoot" with camera on monopod.
Image
Image
Image

Have camera on tripod viewing a "static" scene, but "multishoot" turned on.
Image
Image
Image

User avatar
Robbie A
Posts: 134
Joined: Sun Mar 07, 2010 5:05 pm

Re: How to photograph flying birds

Unread post by Robbie A » Sat Sep 11, 2010 5:17 pm

Remember to use continueous focus.. track your subject and fire away.. SS high enough to freeze the motion..

Image

Image

Image
Capture the light and expose it to the world..

klipwagter
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed Apr 28, 2010 7:28 pm

Re: How to photograph flying birds

Unread post by klipwagter » Tue Sep 28, 2010 3:28 pm

I'm fairly new to this forum and only now noticed this post, which is really helpfull. Thanx Madach for the tutorial, it is really helpfull, considering I'm new to photography.

I just wondered what type of metering mode is best for BIF?

PS. Robbie, those shots are awesome!


Return to “Wildlife Photography Enthusiasts”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests


Webcam Highlights

Addo
Submitted by chantier at 22:33:48
orpen
Submitted by Tazrules229 at 22:31:17
satara
Submitted by Tazrules229 at 22:47:34
nossob
Submitted by kyknetta at 21:48:47