Seeing & Looking
On Birds: Light path, flight path
A few ideas for taking pictures of birds.
Put in the Time
Become a feathered friend. Invest some time getting to know how the bird flies. Is it a migrating species or local? How close can you slowly approach before you set off its proximity alarm and it takes to the air? Get to know how it thinks. A key part of portraying a bird is how you perceive it, and anticipate what it will do in the next moment.
Where to Go to Photograph
Join a photo club, Audubon, or birding group. Get wild in the wild, and also check out bird rescue and recovery nature centers and zoos. They are productive settings for practicing close-ups that would be impossible in the wild.
Walk around. Move your tripod and camera to get closer to where birds are flying, nesting, hunting, bathing, mating or feeding. Think about the light, the form and line and move to vary these elements of your bird composition. For example, with color photography, front lighting may work for bird pictures, but in black and white photography, try to take advantage of side lighting and back-lighting. Be in the light path, and the flight path.
Focus Automatically, Manually, And Be Flexible
I like to set the camera to continuous auto-focus (AF-C) and support the camera with elbows braced or on a tripod. If tripod mounted, I set the camera low and sit on the ground. I set shooting Mode to Manual, and dial in a fast shutter speed of 1/2000th or 1/4000th, then let my ISO/ASA go to Auto so it changes with the lighting. Others may prefer to set the Mode to S for shutter priority or A for Aperture Priority. I set the lens focus limit switch to limit the focusing range, since birds do not usually come close.
Instead of jabbing the shutter button, I let my finger roll off the shutter button at the peak behavior moment. Its vital to get to know which auto-focus mode works best for your camera, depending on the sophistication of its AF modes. For instance, bird photographers who want to put the bird in the corner of the frame may set up Back Button AF, as servo auto-focus can have difficulty locking on to birds in that frame position.
All major camera brands include auto-focus tracking mode, which helps lock focus on a bird in flight. Getting sharp pictures of moving objects means that large glass elements must move quickly at the touch of a button, and longer telephoto lenses tend to be large and heavy because they must contain bright, fast optics.
At times we want a fast, wide aperture for bird photography, such at F/2.8, F/3.5, F/4 or F/5.6. Then, in brighter light, an aperture of F/8 does a better job of getting the entire bird in focus, especially when it is flying directly towards the camera. As mentioned, your practice with tracking and panning will help you get sharper images of birds in flight.
For birds in flight, there are numerous lens options are available. I only recommend those I’ve used extensively, and two lenses that have proven themselves in heavy weather conditions and continual use are the Canon 400 5.6 L, and the Nikon 200-500 AF-s ED.
Thanks for your visit.
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages
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