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Bird photography: our questions and answers
Hi all

We have discovered through our Bird Photography: our best resources thread that we have both testing questions and members resource with answers. How fantastic is that?

We reckon there are lots of puzzles to solve in developing our bird photography skills, and not wishing to swamp our best resources thread, this thread invites your bird photography questions and of course invites everyone to pile in with comments and suggestions and of course, answers.

So, what is your bird photography question of the moment?

With regards to all, Jeff

Now we have a specific thread for bird photography questions, I will add my response to JohnyTrout' s question here.

johnytrout Wrote:
Thanks for the prompt reply.
I want to photo birds clearly and in flight without the blurring of wings.
I have a Canon EOS 650D and use a 100 - 400 zoom to get close ups.
Larger birds such as waders and terns are not such a problem as the smaller ones
Here is what I would try - Spot metering mode or partial if bird is just gliding along, AI Servo focus mode, focus mode at 6.5m to Infinity on the lens unless bird is closer than 6.5m, Stabilizer mode 1 for handheld. These are just my thoughts, feel free to experiment and use whatever works best for you.

I try to shoot in Shutter Priority mode (TV) and let the camera choose the aperture. Depending on the lighting conditions I would start with an ISO of 200 or even 400. I have never used a 650D (T4i), so I am not sure how well it will take to having higher ISOs (i.e., above 400 ISO) without giving you very noisy pictures, but I would urge you to try up to ISO 1600 if that is what it takes - you can always run it through noise removing software. Shutter speed can start at 1/500 second if the bird is just gliding along like herons, egrets and gulls sometimes do. If the bird is actively flapping its wings, then you may have to move to speeds as high as 1/2000 of a second. There are no general rules for shutter speed, but I try to keep mine above 1/1000 of a second and have been known to shoot some flying birds at 1/5000 sec if the day was bright and the bird was really moving.

Hummingbirds are different - something I have never had the occasion to try - we do not get many of them in my part of the country.

I am not sure where you live, but if you have a marsh or seashore that you can visit, you can probably find lots of birds to practice on. Try shooting birds that are flying on a left to right/right to left path as they are easier to follow (pan with them in flight) than those that are coming straight at you or flying away from you. This is a form of photography that takes a lot of practice, so don't be disappointed if the first few times you try this you have little success. Experience is the best teacher in this type of photography. Also don't forget about exposure compensation for the mix of bird colour and background if you shoot in Tv mode. If you shoot in manual, then you can compensate by simply changing one of the exposure elements - ISO, shutter speed and aperture.

Hope this helps. Any further questions, please post back and I will try to give you my best answer. I would encourage others to share their experience as well.

I found WesternGuy's response helpful and will be trying those settings.

Another approach I have experimented with recently as advised by a local professional, is to use aperture mode and set ISO to auto ISO with max ISO set at 2000. Then set aperture at 7.1 or so. In good light this results in high shutter speeds as selected by the camera.

I found that in sunshine this gives shutter speeds of up to 1/4000, which is obviously helpful in arresting movement in flight and avoiding blurred wings. If you are in sunny climes, this could be a good way forward. It would have been a good option for instance while I was on the Danube Delta recently, where I used manual settings as always.

But as light fails (as it soon did yesterday afternoon here in Worcestershire) the shutter speed reduces and I found I was operating at down to 1/1000 or so. I shall continue to experiment.

How does this aperture mode option seem to you for birds in flight?

Regards Jeff

I'm not a bird photographer, Jeff, but your last post (#3) got me wondering whether someone with a Pentax DSLR might try experimenting with its TAv Mode for birds in flight - the photographer sets both the desired aperture and shutter speed, and the camera selects the ISO for correct exposure, within the limits set for the Auto ISO range.

...someone with a Pentax DSLR might try experimenting with its TAv Mode for birds in flight - the photographer sets both the desired aperture and shutter speed, and the camera selects the ISO for correct exposure, within the limits set for the Auto ISO range.


Philip - yes, definitely. I used this to some extent with my Pentax K5-11 (I enjoyed your K5-11 nettles photos by the way). I did find with the Pentax using TAV that it drove me very quickly up the ISO scales with attendant increased noise. BUT so much depends on the light. In good light, surely your TAV setting would result in acceptable ISO levels and make a whole lot of sense. Anyone else tried this? Frankly, I am trying a range of options to learn what suits different situations best and which suits me best. Regards Jeff

Here's a couple of attempts using the Aperture mode I posted above so you can assess blur, using auto ISO with max ISO at 2000, and setting aperture at 7.1f, allowing the camera to set shutter speed. Both snaps were at full zoom 400mm and both came out at 1/4000. Both had exposure compensation around +1.0. One is a medium bird which moves quite slowly, the other a small bird, cropped, which flies like a rocket. Interesting option for birds in flight settings. Regards Jeff

Hi guys

Can you find a few moments to read this through? It makes a huge contribution to our discussion about camera settings for birds in flight. You will be amazed and not disappointed.

And if not, flick through anyway for some of the most stunning birds in flight shots you ever wished you had taken.

(Thanks again to WesternGuy for pointing u sin the direction of Secrets of Digital Bird Photography).
Hi all

I plan to update the relevant thread relating my experience with my newly acquired D610 and lens, but on this thread, I would like to share one or two issues relevant to bird photography which I have been scratching my head on to see if you all can provide some input. (You have an idea how I am progressing overall from my uploaded shots - managing the kit reasonably well, early stages of bird photography and little idea really about composition or editing at this stage (these are on my to do list). In that context, here's my current and recent questions for your thoughts please:

* 1. RAW OR JPEG ? In bird photography, it often happens that a bird is set against a bright background or is in shadows. In JPEG there are facilities for increasing dynamic range – D-Lighting and HDR – which will diminish bright areas and lighten shadows. But these do not work with RAW. Conversely, In RAW there is the ability to draw out more detail for shadows and from bright areas. I am leaning towards RAW as it should provide extra detail to allow hard cropping. So RAW or JPEG?

2. Increasing reach: Many of my shots are at full zoom – 400mm on full frame – which still leaves small birds and larger birds in the air out of reach for quality shots. There are facilities for increasing range – Nikon extender and or DX mode. Early impressions are that with both of these, what you gain on reach you lose on clarity and focusing speed so I tend to rely on the 80-400G FX mode and crop. What are your thoughts on using the extender or DX mode?

3. Continuous high speed capture: To my surprise, continuous high speed capture slows a lot when using VR or auto ISO sensitivity (or high f numbers). Single shot is recommended if the bird is traveling quickly towards or away from camera. Also, it seems best to turn off the VR if using high shutter speeds. What's your experience or thoughts on that? What about QC - continuous quiet shooting mode?

4. Processing - which software: I presently use Adobe elements 11 - but to process RAW files from the Nikon (NEF files) they need to go through the Adobe DNG converter. Way to go? Options seem to be Adobe Photoshop elements PSE 7.0 which costs less than £100 and is said to work well with NEF files. Corel Paintshop Pro Photo X2 - also less than £100 and said to work well with NEF files. But Adobe Photoshop and all software other than Nikon are said to use default values other than for white balance. I think I might go for the Photoshop CS version and fork out the £8 per month. Way to go?

5. Settings for birds and birds in flight: I am still experimenting with settings. I mostly use Manual settings, with high shutter speed and low-ish f numbers. But I also try S (shutter speed) which tends to higher f numbers; and also A (aperture mode) based on 7.1f or thereabouts depending on context, which gives shutter speeds which can be very high in good light but rather variable as light fails.

Sorry for raising 5 questions in a single post but your thoughts will be gratefully received. Regards, Jeff

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