Introducing the first www.PhotoBotos.com ”How-To” Article! On occassion, we will provide the TOP TEN KILLER TIPS for various photography related subjects instead of our daily photo – remember, we are also here to learn!! Have an idea for an article or want to create your own to be published here? Just email it to us…
Top Ten Killer Tips for Shooting Birds in Flight (BIF)
Do you like to take photos of birds? I am sure you do otherwise you would have looked at the post title and said “No thanks. This is not for me.” Here are my 10 most killer tips for getting really dramatic “Bird in Flight” (BIF) photographs.
1) Take Tons of Photos: When photographing birds in flight you are at a great advantage with a DSLR camera that has a burst rate of at least 3 frames/second. Many of today’s cameras have a burst rate of up to 10 frames/second. This allows you to get several shots showing different wing positions. This is important because sometimes the wing will be at an awkward angle or block certain important parts of the bird such as the head and eye.
2) Lens, Go Big or Stay Home: Most birds are skittish when you approach, so in order to fill half of the frame you need at least a 300mm lens, but a 400mm with teleconverter is ideal. I love to shoot with a Canon 100mm-400mm lens for BIF photography. If you have a 500mm or bigger that is great if the birds movements are very predictable, but most of my BIF photos are handheld giving me lots of mobility.
3) Speed is your Friend: Ideally you should Increase your shutter speed to 1/1250 or higher for larger birds with slow wing beats under bright light conditions. Increase it to 1/2000 or higher for medium and smaller birds in ideal light. Make sure your aperture is “wide open” (reduced f-stop) to blur the background and get a sharper image. For the Canon 100mm-4000mm this is an aperture of 5.6. If your light is less than ideal then you can play with the ISO so you don’t need to change the shutter speed. Note: If the light is still too poor, slow down the shutter speed to 1/30 or less and take some blurred motion shots. People will comment on how artistic you are.
4) Don’t be afraid of ISO: Many photographers who have come over from the film generation are used to high ISO producing grainy or noisy photographs. Well in the digital era you have nothing to worry about. The digital noise does increase as the ISO increases, but today’s DSLRs are much better at handling low light situations. My default is 400 ISO for BIF photos, but sometimes you need to go much higher. If the light levels are extremely low then 800 ISO or even 1600 ISO can be your best friend.
5) Hold it up: As I have said before, my 100mm-400mm is my favorite lens for photographing BIF because it is easy to handhold. I use my right hand to hold the body and my left to hold under the lens. If the birds are predictable and flying across the camera frame then I will shoot in manual focusing mode. If not the Canon has an AI Servo mode that will predict the speed and distance of the bird and focus it for you. Pan your camera with the bird’s movement and shoot when it fills one quarter of the frame or more. Try not to center the bird in the image if you can help it. Instead leave some space in front of its travel so he has something to fly into within the photo. If you are lucky enough to get a full frame image, go ahead and center it.
6) Keep it Light: As usual early morning and late afternoon light have the best lighting, but BIF photography doesn’t have to stop there. With a slight overcast to keep shadows at a minimum you could shoot all day. However since many bird species are active early in the morning, you shouldn’t use this as an excuse to sleep in. Get up lazy bones.
7) Keep it Clean: Some of the best BIF photos have really clean backgrounds. Usually it is a blue sky, but it doesn’t have to be. Since most of your shots will have the lens wide open the background comes out blurred. This is known as boken and actually draws the eye to your subject. You can do this with any background as long as it is far enough behind your subject and you keep the aperture wide open.
8) Where to go?: Become a birder. Research the areas you travel for well known birding sites and frequent them during different parts of the day. In many areas birds leave and return like clockwork making it easy to time when to be there. Others may require a stakeout so bring something to snack on just in case.
9) Move!: Don’t just rely on what you read and hear, but what you see as well. If you see a better angle or subject during a shoot go get it. Time and time again I will see photographers with their tripod cemented into the ground when the action is somewhere else. Don’t be that photographer! Sure there may be a reason they have not moved, but it may not pertain to you so give that other angle a try. You can always come back!
10) Practice, Practice, Practice: The most important part of BIF photography is keeping your skills sharp. No matter where you live there are plenty of birds to practice photography. Pigeons, sea gulls, or crows can be found almost anywhere. Use these subjects as training targets. Get that moldy loaf of bread out from the back of your pantry and drive to the park, beach, or wherever and feed the birds while taking a ton of shots. When you get home you will be amazed with how well your “keepers” look. As for the rest, put them in your circular file and don’t tell anyone about those.
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