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Author Topic: Birds in flight, advice wanted  (Read 5810 times)

miah

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Birds in flight, advice wanted
« on: November 28, 2012, 12:50:20 PM »
I took my new 5D3 out over Thanksgiving weekend to try my hand at birds in flight with decidedly mixed results.

Having never attempted this before and having done no research, I did my best to find the optimum mix of ISO to shutter speed to aperture to AF traits with my EF 35-350 (no IS) mounted to a purposefully loose tripod head.

I chose AI Servo, Case #3, focus first, center zone. I found that in the early morning/late evening light an ISO of 800-6400 was required, but 3200 and above seemed awfully noisy. My slow lens begged to be shot wide open at f/5.6. And I was surprised that I was unable to stop the action (mostly gliding sandhill cranes, but some excitable geese/ducks, as well) with anything slower than 1/4000 of a second.

I'll attach one of my better shots from early morning. f/5.6, 1/4000, ISO 800, 350mm, tripod

Can anyone offer some general rules of thumb for setting up to shoot birds and birds in flight, especially with the 5D3? 1/4000 seems awfully fast, requiring a high ISO and wide aperture. When comparing my newby results to the many amazing BIF shots on this and similar forums, I realize that I have A LOT to learn. Any advice is appreciated. Thanks.
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Birds in flight, advice wanted
« on: November 28, 2012, 12:50:20 PM »

wickidwombat

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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2012, 03:50:54 AM »
I like that shot

I think you would be fine at 1/2000 though and let it expose by a stop to a stop and a half more to give more detail in the birds,

the sky is easy to pull back in lightroom by pulling the highlights right down and even some white if needed

shoot manual, spot meter and use the meter scale to set your exposure keeping it at that stop to a stop and a half over what it reads you can simulate the BIF exposure when setting it by getting down low and just metering off an object with a primary sky back ground.

if you want to shoot Tv with auto Iso then dial in the +EC to counteract the bright sky but personally i find shooting manual easier
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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2012, 06:04:33 AM »
Shooting Geese and Cranes you will be able to stop motion at anything faster then 1/1000 sec.  Not sure why you are having trouble at faster then that. 

You are probably experiencing a lot of noise because your images are underexposed.  The image that you posted is way underexposed and that will magnify the noise dramatically.

Use your exposure override if you are shooting in AV mode to boost the exposure, or shoot in Manual so that your metering is not effected by when you hit on a goose or the sky behind it.

I shoot BIF all the time and with these large birds they omve so slowly that you really dont need that fast of a shutter speed.  1/4000 would be more for stopping a chickadee or other fast song bird.

Have fun,

miah

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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2012, 09:04:26 AM »
Thanks for the helpful suggestions!

Again, while I've not attempted to shoot birds in flight prior to this camera and this past weekend, I am well aware of what 1/1000 will do to stop action, including things like fast-flowing water and action sports. So, I was quite surprised as I played around with a range of settings to find that below 1/4000 things got blurry. Still, and as I said in my original post, that just didn't seem right to me: 1/4000 is "awfully fast."

Perhaps the blur was less due to the speed with which the birds were moving and more due to my own movement?

wickedwombat: I was using Evaluative Metering and Tv set to 1/4000, after I unscientifically determined that that was the necessary speed. I'll take your advice and switch to Spot Metering and either Tv with EC +1-1.5 or full manual.

canon816: The shot I included was taken right as the sun broke the morning horizon, hence the sunlit highlights on the birds' wings and bellies. I like the look, but you're right--it's underexposed. So, I'll try your and wickedwombat's suggestion to achieve better bird exposure, even if it compromises the sky (which is easier to adjust in post).

Do you guys have a suggested ISO range that is best to stay within? A lot of BIF shots I see appear to be taken in mid-day light, but I found the crane activity much more fascinating at dawn and dusk.

Regarding AF, I used the center zone and Case #3. Would I be better off using the whole 61-point field? Is Case #3 optimum?

And finally, is it better to set up ahead of the assumed trajectory and let the bird(s) fly into your field of view before pulling the trigger on a steady camera, or pan along with the bird(s), firing at will?

I appreciate your feedback.
« Last Edit: November 29, 2012, 09:10:22 AM by miah »
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robbymack

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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2012, 11:03:17 AM »
it looks like the sun is rising to the right and slightly rear of the frame?  So you're basically in a back lit situation?  I know you don't control the birds, but you will find they all typically follow a similar flight path (especially in groups).  So set yourself up for those and position yourself for more front lit scenes which should help out the exposure and detail.  Just my $0.02. 

Jeffrey

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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2012, 11:27:36 AM »
For birds in flight, on my 1D-X, on bright days I start at f8, ISO 800, and shutter at 1/3200, sometimes use shady white balance, then adjust up and down to shoot to the right one setting on the exposure meter. I center meter and center focus. On less than full sun days, I switch to Tv of anywhere from 1/3200 down to the 1/2000 range, auto ISO, and shady white balance. I like capturing birds taking off or landing in water and find the fast shutter speed captures the splash of the water that adds so much to the dramatic effect of the capture. About the only time I will shoot a bird in flight with pure sky in the background is when I see an Osprey with a fish in its talons. Otherwise I find the images to not be very interesting. I say that because we rarely have migratory birds flying in a vee formation where I live. Good luck, and shoot as often as you can!

PackLight

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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2012, 11:30:23 AM »
Thanks for the helpful suggestions!

Again, while I've not attempted to shoot birds in flight prior to this camera and this past weekend, I am well aware of what 1/1000 will do to stop action, including things like fast-flowing water and action sports. So, I was quite surprised as I played around with a range of settings to find that below 1/4000 things got blurry. Still, and as I said in my original post, that just didn't seem right to me: 1/4000 is "awfully fast."

Perhaps the blur was less due to the speed with which the birds were moving and more due to my own movement?

wickedwombat: I was using Evaluative Metering and Tv set to 1/4000, after I unscientifically determined that that was the necessary speed. I'll take your advice and switch to Spot Metering and either Tv with EC +1-1.5 or full manual.

canon816: The shot I included was taken right as the sun broke the morning horizon, hence the sunlit highlights on the birds' wings and bellies. I like the look, but you're right--it's underexposed. So, I'll try your and wickedwombat's suggestion to achieve better bird exposure, even if it compromises the sky (which is easier to adjust in post).

Do you guys have a suggested ISO range that is best to stay within? A lot of BIF shots I see appear to be taken in mid-day light, but I found the crane activity much more fascinating at dawn and dusk.

Regarding AF, I used the center zone and Case #3. Would I be better off using the whole 61-point field? Is Case #3 optimum?

And finally, is it better to set up ahead of the assumed trajectory and let the bird(s) fly into your field of view before pulling the trigger on a steady camera, or pan along with the bird(s), firing at will?

I appreciate your feedback.

1/4000 should freeze a goose in flight. I think you had other problems if you were seeing some sort of blur.
1/2000 should be sufficient.

Set your ISO to auto, go in to your settings and set the range (provided the 5D III offers such which I am sure it does). Set your apeture as low as you can, set your speed as high as you can and still keep your ISO in a range your are comfortable with. Let the ISO do the adjusting when you are tracking a bird.

Use AI Servo mode, with single point and choose an option that gives you assist points.

Put the point on the bird in AI Servo mode and just keep on it as best you can. If you want to try the fly in view method you will need a extremly high shutter speed to stop movement. Not the best way for your equipment,

Also toward sunset it gets real tough, it is just the way it is. That is why the 1D X is such a big improvement. Its ability to handle the high ISO's. With the lenses you have now you will have problems overcoming this.

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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2012, 11:30:23 AM »

miah

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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #7 on: November 29, 2012, 01:13:58 PM »
Great tips, thanks!

robbymack: As a biologist, I know this, but thanks for making it top-of-mind. I took my new body out for the weekend and was so overwhelmed by the wealth of migratory birds that I adopted a "shoot first and ask questions later" attitude. But once I realized my abysmal keeper-rate, I knew that I should have asked a lot more questions before I even headed out to the refuge.

Regarding the light in the shot I posted, the birds were flying N-NW with the sun rising in the E-SE. I rolled out of my tent at dawn and set up my tripod in a large clearing not far from my camp, back in the forest. This allowed me an unobstructed view of the birds as they flew towards me. But this plan backfired when they spotted me, as they'd simply climb to higher altitude or veer off to avoid passing too close to a bleary-eyed photog with a shiny, aluminum tripod and long white lens.

I had much better luck (including the originally posted photo) once I retreated into the forest and shot up through a hole in the canopy. My proximity to the birds improved dramatically (shooting full-frame, 350mm), although it came at the cost of light-source-angle and fair warning.

Jeffrey: Thanks for the rules of thumb. They help a lot in establishing a baseline from which to start.

Packlight: To be clear, 1/4000 stopped things dead, but less than that resulted in blurry shots. Some of that blur was coming from inadequate focus, my movement, etc. Intuitively, I agree with what everyone has said: 1/1000-2000 should be adequate unless I'm chasing water splash, as Jeffrey pointed out. I'm not sure why my shots were begging for such a fast shutter. The shot I'm attaching to this post, for instance, is in midday sun, f/8, ISO 800, 1/3200, 150mm. But even at 1/3200 there is motion in some of the birds.

Regarding AF, Packlight, are you putting the center point on the bird, tracking the bird from center, and firing away? If so, that sounds like a good way to find and keep focus, but a potentially boring way to frame what may be a scenic background.
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PackLight

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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #8 on: November 29, 2012, 01:55:25 PM »

Regarding AF, Packlight, are you putting the center point on the bird, tracking the bird from center, and firing away? If so, that sounds like a good way to find and keep focus, but a potentially boring way to frame what may be a scenic background.

Im sorry I thought you were talking about tracking a "bird in flight" not a flock randomly taking off. Nor did I realize you were taking landscape shots and needed it sharp in the background as well. I am sorry I bored you with my advice and my poor framing, proceed on with your superior techniques.

East Wind Photography

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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #9 on: November 29, 2012, 03:06:23 PM »
Some cases I use zone AF but mostly center point or spot AF.  Center or spot AF is your best chance at getting the bird in focus against a random background such as trees or a cliff...unless the bird fills the frame.  When I do use zone or All point AF, I set the AF case to #5 to track accurately and ignore other things coming into the frame.

Another note is that when you use All AF points, the focus "should" be maintained with what was targeted initially when you locked your AF on target.  Zone AF will try to focus on the closest thing it can.  For birds that might not be what you are looking for depending on whether they fly across or toward you.  This is why I almost exclusively use center or spot AF and target the head or if possible the eye if it's close enough.

You should also try to use the center AF point in low light.  It is the most sensitive and most accurate when everything else starts to fail.  If you move your spot off to the side for better composition, you might not get a good AF depending on conditions.  Therefore you may have to crop in post to get the desired framing.  Unfortunately not all of the AF points are as sensitive.

If you consistently enjoy shooting in early morning or late evening then I would consider the use of a flash and if you are using a telephoto you can add a BetterBeamer accessory to the flash to extend it's range.  It's a Fresnel lens that goes in front of the flash head to concentrate the beam.  It can really aid in stopping motion even as a fill flash.  Meter for your scene background and use high speed sync on the flash and maybe some fractional power setting.  I've used some warming gels too on the flash so I don't lose the color from the early morning sun.

Getting good results is a matter of a LOT of trial and error and the use of fast lenses of F2.8 or F4 to help keep the shutter speed up.


Great tips, thanks!

robbymack: As a biologist, I know this, but thanks for making it top-of-mind. I took my new body out for the weekend and was so overwhelmed by the wealth of migratory birds that I adopted a "shoot first and ask questions later" attitude. But once I realized my abysmal keeper-rate, I knew that I should have asked a lot more questions before I even headed out to the refuge.

Regarding the light in the shot I posted, the birds were flying N-NW with the sun rising in the E-SE. I rolled out of my tent at dawn and set up my tripod in a large clearing not far from my camp, back in the forest. This allowed me an unobstructed view of the birds as they flew towards me. But this plan backfired when they spotted me, as they'd simply climb to higher altitude or veer off to avoid passing too close to a bleary-eyed photog with a shiny, aluminum tripod and long white lens.

I had much better luck (including the originally posted photo) once I retreated into the forest and shot up through a hole in the canopy. My proximity to the birds improved dramatically (shooting full-frame, 350mm), although it came at the cost of light-source-angle and fair warning.

Jeffrey: Thanks for the rules of thumb. They help a lot in establishing a baseline from which to start.

Packlight: To be clear, 1/4000 stopped things dead, but less than that resulted in blurry shots. Some of that blur was coming from inadequate focus, my movement, etc. Intuitively, I agree with what everyone has said: 1/1000-2000 should be adequate unless I'm chasing water splash, as Jeffrey pointed out. I'm not sure why my shots were begging for such a fast shutter. The shot I'm attaching to this post, for instance, is in midday sun, f/8, ISO 800, 1/3200, 150mm. But even at 1/3200 there is motion in some of the birds.

Regarding AF, Packlight, are you putting the center point on the bird, tracking the bird from center, and firing away? If so, that sounds like a good way to find and keep focus, but a potentially boring way to frame what may be a scenic background.

miah

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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #10 on: November 29, 2012, 04:45:26 PM »
Man, Packlight, lighten up! I wasn't dissing your advice; not in the least. I was asking a serious question. Perhaps my inclusion of another flock photo was too confusing (in more ways than one), and was added only to show that 1/3200 was not fast enough to completely stop the action.

I'm new to this whole rapid-movement thing and everyone's advice is welcome. So, back to my question: I think what you described is how best to lock and maintain focus on a single moving bird, is that right? If so, I get it: single point AF, maybe with assisting points, and stay with 'em.

Now, in addition to that, I'm really asking you a second question: what about framing? Do you capture the bird mid-frame (assuming you're using the center AF point), then maybe make it a little more interesting by cropping it out of center in post? If not, it seems like all BIF shots would put the subject in the center of the frame with little regard for background. I'm sure you have an opinion/technique to apply to this, and realize that this is very much secondary to just getting the darn bird IN THE FRAME and in focus.

No offense was intended. I obviously should have posed it as a two-part question.
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miah

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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #11 on: November 29, 2012, 04:57:33 PM »
Excellent advice, East Wind Photography, thank you.

That was probably the first thing that crossed my mind this weekend, that this thing is complicated and would surly require lots of trial and error. That's why it's great to reduce the learning curve a bit by listening to all of your comments.

My very limited experience was mostly with flocks, some small, some large (see two example photos), though I'm interested in learning more about shooting individuals, as well. What you're advising about center point or spot AF makes perfect sense for single birds, but would you modify that advice for flocks? I understand flock size varies, backgrounds vary, bird size and color varies, but are there some general rules about shooting flocks that differ from shooting individuals?
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East Wind Photography

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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #12 on: November 29, 2012, 06:04:22 PM »
For flocks my suggestion would be go for dept of field but in low light that's going to be an issue.  The 5DIII and 1DX both can handle pretty high ISO  3200 to 6400.  The trick to the noise is to shoot in RAW mode and post process in Lightroom or Photoshop to reduce noise.  In-camera JPG noise reduction is also good but once it's done it's done and you can't tweak or maximize the noise filtering afterwards.  The data is lost due to compression.  You can still shoot RAW and create a filtered JPG in camera using the playback menus though.  I shoot almost exclusively raw and the only time I use JPG is when I'm posting live to my webpage with an eye-fi card.  Takes more time but the results are much better.

As far as focus on flocks are concerned it would really depend on what you are trying to accomplish.  You might not want everything in focus.  Maybe some foreground and background soft.  It really depends on what you envision.  Controlling your DOF requires patience.  A depth of field chart for your lens focal length can be useful as well if you don't know where to start.  If you need 16ft in focus then look it up on the chart and set your aperture.  You can put your shutter speed and ISO on auto mode.

Excellent advice, East Wind Photography, thank you.

That was probably the first thing that crossed my mind this weekend, that this thing is complicated and would surly require lots of trial and error. That's why it's great to reduce the learning curve a bit by listening to all of your comments.

My very limited experience was mostly with flocks, some small, some large (see two example photos), though I'm interested in learning more about shooting individuals, as well. What you're advising about center point or spot AF makes perfect sense for single birds, but would you modify that advice for flocks? I understand flock size varies, backgrounds vary, bird size and color varies, but are there some general rules about shooting flocks that differ from shooting individuals?

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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #12 on: November 29, 2012, 06:04:22 PM »

PackLight

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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #13 on: November 29, 2012, 06:21:03 PM »
Man, Packlight, lighten up! I wasn't dissing your advice; not in the least. I was asking a serious question. Perhaps my inclusion of another flock photo was too confusing (in more ways than one), and was added only to show that 1/3200 was not fast enough to completely stop the action.

I'm new to this whole rapid-movement thing and everyone's advice is welcome. So, back to my question: I think what you described is how best to lock and maintain focus on a single moving bird, is that right? If so, I get it: single point AF, maybe with assisting points, and stay with 'em.

Now, in addition to that, I'm really asking you a second question: what about framing? Do you capture the bird mid-frame (assuming you're using the center AF point), then maybe make it a little more interesting by cropping it out of center in post? If not, it seems like all BIF shots would put the subject in the center of the frame with little regard for background. I'm sure you have an opinion/technique to apply to this, and realize that this is very much secondary to just getting the darn bird IN THE FRAME and in focus.

No offense was intended. I obviously should have posed it as a two-part question.

Looks like I took the comment to literal, sorry about that.

To answer your question about the rising flock taking off, I don't think it matters what type of AF set up you use as long as it does not jump around. You could take that picture in single shot mode or manual, focused on the area you wanted your DOF centered and then taken the shots. A faster shutter speed is the best way in that scenario. 1/4000 is very plausible, but the problem you will have is maintaining the DOF you want and fighting noise at high ISO's.

Framing a single BIF is hard to hold in center. Cropping the picture is the norm. You have to think blurred bokeh background or partially identifiable background and know which you want. Background and framing of the background has quit a few variables and they vary by what type of bird you are going after. Wild birds are exactly that wild, if you want a particular background you have to set your self up for just that in advance and then hope the bird cooperates. Any wildlife photography if you want to be really good you have to know your subject. Once you position yourself and the bird comes in to your blind you are going to have the background composition that the bird gives you from your vantage point.

If you have a long enough lens, and the bird has gotten close enough you of course will have to try and hold mid frame otherwise your bird goes out of frame. But there are exceptions to every comment like this.

If your a bird feeder shooter then you have much more ability to control where the bird will come in at. You will set up roosts and control your background.

For the first photo you posted of the geese, a few suggestions. For the most part everyone has flock of geese photos. They are very common and because of that they do have to be special to stand out. Some of the best I have taken have been a bit before sunset. They are usually low to the ground and coming in for the nights roost or flying at tree top level. If you know there patterns and can find a field with a decent background try and position yourself where your most probable shot will be with the sunlight coming in from your side not behind or back. In the evening an open body of water or field will have more light and your backdrop will have bit less. This situation can give you that 3D effect you hear everyone talking about. I have a few places in town that are fairly decent for this.

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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #14 on: November 29, 2012, 06:42:00 PM »

Perhaps the blur was less due to the speed with which the birds were moving and more due to my own movement?


I suspect that the loose tripod head was part of your problem. I rarely get to speeds as fast as 1/4000 with my 7D. And, because its a 7D, I try to keep the iso as low as I can - the never-ending battle of speed vs. ISO.

I use evaluative metering almost exclusively and it generally works well. As others have probably mentioned already, AI servo with AF point expansion gives you the best chance of keeping the bird in focus.

This photo isn't the best BIF but I thought it was interesting - and yes, the eagle IS upside down.
It was taken in snowing conditions with my 7D and 500mm f/4 + 1.4x at 1/1000 and iso 200.

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Re: Birds in flight, advice wanted
« Reply #14 on: November 29, 2012, 06:42:00 PM »