Bird photography 101: Capturing flight (Part two)
This is the second part of our two part series on capturing birds in flight. You can see part one from last week, here.
OK, now we’ve got our camera all set up, what next? It’s time to practice. Birds in flight is one area where practice can make a huge difference.
Why? Because one of the biggest skills is being able to locate (quickly) and track the bird in the viewfinder, and you can only improve this by practicing. I know a couple of people who regularly practice on seagulls. They are the perfect test birds as they are easy to find and always move erratically, especially when chips are involved.
Make sure you have a sturdy stance. Stand with your legs slightly apart and one in front of the other. Handholding is preferable, even for big lenses as it offers maximum freedom of movement. Remember you are only holding the lens up for short periods of time and can rest your arms in between shots.
Try to pre-focus on something that is roughly at the distance where you hope to catch the bird in flight. This will make it quicker for your camera to lock focus when the time comes. Some larger lenses have a focus limiter which allows you to limit the focus area within which to focus (for instance, between 4m and 16m).
Some new mirrorless cameras, such as the Olympus E-M1 Mark III, allow this to be done in-camera as well. The advantage of limiting the focus range is that it stops the lens hunting for focus throughout its entire focal length, resulting in faster focus acquisition.
When you see a bird, first get it in focus. If the bird is coming towards you, keep lightly touching the shutter, without taking a photo, to ensure the focus stays accurate.
If the birds you are photographing are flying from left to right (or vice versa) you should try to “pan” with the bird. When panning, adopt the stance above, turn from the waist and keep tracking the bird even after you have taken the shot in one continuous fluid motion.
If the light is getting low, try panning at a slow shutter speed such as 1/50 to 1/15 sec to get a blurred horizontal background while keeping the bird in focus. This technique can be difficult at first, but when you get it right it does offer the chance to get a unique bird-in-flight shot.
Press the shutter
When the bird fills most of your selected focal points, press the shutter all the way and fire! And remember, always make sure to check your shots afterwards for sharpness by zooming in to 100 per cent on the LCD screen.
If necessary, adjust settings and try again. Lastly, don’t forget to experiment. Learn the rules like a pro, but break them like an artist. ❂
About the author: Georgina Steytler is an award winning nature photographer with a passion for ethics and bird conservation. You can see more of her work at georginasteytler.com.au.