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Author Topic: Chikadees in flight  (Read 3417 times)

Don Haines

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Chikadees in flight
« on: February 12, 2013, 08:20:57 AM »

I have been trying (and failing) to get some decent pictures of chikadee's in flight. Do you have any idea how freaking fast those tiny wings flap..... and they don't fly level..... it's flap like crazy and climb, then tuck the wings in and go ballistic.... then flap.. then ballistic. It has to be the hardest thing I have ever tried photographicly.... taking pictures of the ISS was childs play in comparison.

Hah! Indeed! Getting a good shot if a perching chickadee is a chore...those little twits never stop moving, even for an instant. Even my best shots of chickadees have some blur somewhere on the bird (even in long sequences if 16 or more with my 7D). You need very high shutter speeds to capture them in flight, and a proper flight setup is pretty much essential.

I have been shooting with a 60D, shutter speed around a thousandth of a second, 400 f5.6 lens, burst mode (5.9 frames per second) or single shot, and have tried various autofocus modes. I have yet to get an in focus picture of one in flight.... no problems when they stop at the feeder, but none in flight. They really move fast, they don't fly level, and I have problems just tracking them with the camera, let alone get a decent picture. Any advice from those with more experience?
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Chikadees in flight
« on: February 12, 2013, 08:20:57 AM »

jrista

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Re: Chikadees in flight
« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2013, 12:03:10 PM »

I have been trying (and failing) to get some decent pictures of chikadee's in flight. Do you have any idea how freaking fast those tiny wings flap..... and they don't fly level..... it's flap like crazy and climb, then tuck the wings in and go ballistic.... then flap.. then ballistic. It has to be the hardest thing I have ever tried photographicly.... taking pictures of the ISS was childs play in comparison.

Hah! Indeed! Getting a good shot if a perching chickadee is a chore...those little twits never stop moving, even for an instant. Even my best shots of chickadees have some blur somewhere on the bird (even in long sequences if 16 or more with my 7D). You need very high shutter speeds to capture them in flight, and a proper flight setup is pretty much essential.

I have been shooting with a 60D, shutter speed around a thousandth of a second, 400 f5.6 lens, burst mode (5.9 frames per second) or single shot, and have tried various autofocus modes. I have yet to get an in focus picture of one in flight.... no problems when they stop at the feeder, but none in flight. They really move fast, they don't fly level, and I have problems just tracking them with the camera, let alone get a decent picture. Any advice from those with more experience?

The trick, as with most small bird photography (and in many cases bird photography in general) is setup photography. The best photos of small songbirds in flight are usually done with a flight setup. In general, setup photography involves creating a contrived scenario wherein the bird pretty much must do what you want it to do, usually in order to get food.

Your basic setup photography will usually involve a seed tray with limited access, one or more perches set up for the birds to land on just before, just after, or in order to get to feed, a blind, and some patience. In my yard, I have a non-flight setup that I've been using for a while which has worked well. The general idea is bait the bird, set up perches at the right heights such that birds will land on it/them before heading for the seed, and be ready to take the shot when it occurs. The best way to do this is with a limited-access feeder tray. If you have an existing tray, you can simply cover it with a piece of cardboard with a small square hole cut into it, sized such that only one bird at a time can actually get at any seed. This will generally cause other birds to "queue up" on your perches.

I don't have any particularly great variety of bird photos as of yet, as I only started doing this a few months back just before winter started, and the variety of birds has been quite low so far (mostly just Juncos). My perches are also rather drab as they are all the variety of dead from last year's fall...dead branches, dead flora, dead tree stumps, etc. Here are some photos of my perching songbird setup (sorry for the picture quality...rather quick snaps on a very cold and frosty morning this morning!):







I have a number of cheap tripods set up to hold my perches. They are all set up around my feeder box...which is a home made box out of your basic 2x1" wood and some window screen tacked onto the bottom to serve as the tray. I built my box with a swivel lid, with a small-sized hole cut into it, to allow only one bird at a time access to seed. I have my blind, an Ameristep Chair Blind, set up within a few feet to get good frame-filling photos when they occur (which is actually a bit difficult with APS-C...king of the telephoto, but a little lackluster when you actually have the option of getting super close.) With the setup above, I was able to get shots like these with my lowly 7D and 100-400mm lens. I'd most certainly have preferred the 5D III with a 500mm or 600mm lens, as it would have produced sharper results, brighter exposures, with better boke...but alas, I have neither at the moment.

Bird in Flight photography for smaller birds is not really any different than perching setup photography. The same core technique applies: bait the bird, set the bird up such that its baser nature kicks in, and be prepared to get the shot when it occurs. The trick is to set up the perch and the feeder a number of feet off the ground, say 5-6 feet, with a space between. The space really depends on the type of bird, but for smaller birds a few feet will probably do. Set up your blind with the camera pointed at the gap, and just be ready to take the shot when a bird flys from perch to seed. This should work for most small birds, including chickadees...however they are one of the fastest birds. You'll need to make sure your shutter speed, and gear in general, are ready to capture that kind of motion that quickly (I'd say a 5D III with its 61pt AF system would be ideal, and the 1D X would be best.)

There are more specifics and nuances to this approach. I've had minimal time to work the technique myself, and as there is generally a lack of birds that fly a lot (juncos are ground feeders and they hop or trot around a lot, but fly very infrequently)...and thanks to my limited gear (7D with 100-400mm leaves me with an f/5.6 aperture, generally not quite enough to really get shots of chickadees). If you really want to get all the techniques, I highly recommend buying Alan Murphy's Guide to Songbird Setup Photography. You'll learn all the necessary techniques to get great bird in flight photos, even of small, fast birds like Chickadees.

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Re: Chikadees in flight
« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2013, 01:24:28 PM »
All,
I totally agree with your comments on the chickadees. They never sit on the feeder for more than a second and my wife says they look like a piece of music when they fly.

What a wonderful, lyrical thing to say. Give her a big hug for me!!
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Re: Chikadees in flight
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2013, 01:26:22 PM »
Magic Lantern has a "trap focus" feature that I've been meaning to try with birds.  If you find a method that works with some consistency, please share.

http://magiclantern.wikia.com/wiki/Unified/UserGuide#trap-focus

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Re: Chikadees in flight
« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2013, 02:02:38 PM »
I just picked up the Alan Murphy guides myself.  I have not read them yet.

For something like a Chickadee I would be tempted to use a wide to normal lens, maybe even a macro.  It should have low distortion and very close focus abilities.  I would also use a remote so there is no motion near the feeder as the bird is flying in.

Mount a feeder tray to the tripod so it's just out of the field of view.  It seems like Chickadees come into my feeders from below, but I can't say that is normal for all feeding situations.  If you notice this you can either position the the camera below the feeder or have it above the feeder but pointing slightly down.  Each postion would give a different look to the final image.

I think I've even seen some people put a sunflower seed on the inside of the lens hood and let them fly right to the camera.  You'll want to make sure they can't bomb your lens glass though as they fly in.

For me, this will be a summer project.  We'll have several pairs nesting and when the young are feeding the parents are in to the feeder constantly so lots of attempts in a short period.  I can stand by the feeder and they'll come right in so I'm not concerned that they'll be scared away and not able to feed the kids.

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Re: Chikadees in flight
« Reply #5 on: February 12, 2013, 04:19:56 PM »
Chickadees are curious little birds.  All it takes is a little food on the hand and they come.  At least in my area.  When they land on your hand, fire away.  They are either too friendly or just hungry that they don't care the food on my hand.

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Re: Chikadees in flight
« Reply #6 on: February 12, 2013, 04:25:43 PM »

jrista

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Re: Chikadees in flight
« Reply #7 on: February 12, 2013, 04:43:39 PM »
Oops, sorry...forgot to include some of the shots I'd taken with that setup over the pas weekend. Here they are:










All of these above are Juncos...of pretty much every variety including slate colored, oregon morph, pink sided, etc. I have a little clan of maybe 15 Juncos that regularly visit my yard. They have been the staple bird this winter. There were quite a few house finches and sparrows earlier in the winter, however they have dwindled to near nothing recently. They should be returning soon as spring rolls in, but lately it's really just been the Juncos.




These are a couple of the Chickadee shots. They periodically visit my yard, maybe once a week but on different days. Fast little birds...they never perch for more than a moment, so you gotta keep an eye out and be quick about capturing the moments they give you. A high frame rate and stellar AF system are pretty much required, even to get shots of them perching. As for Chickadees in flight, I need to try out a flight setup...not really any ideal way to set one up in my yard, at least not this time of year. May try a flight setup once spring is here.

All of these were taken with the Canon 7D w/ 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS lens. Thanks to the setups and the blind, I was about 3-4 feet from the birds. Every shot is a 100% crop. For the most part, these are right out of the camera...no cropping or aligning, minimal processing just to boost contrast and saturation a bit. Outside of that, they were simply scaled down and exported.

Most of my perches are rather contrived. Not much in the way of nice perches this time of year...everything is dry and dead.  My back yard does not have much in the way of ideal backgrounds either, so I purchased a bunch of cheap camo blankets and a couple of camo burlap wraps from WalMart. The blankets were $2.88 each and have a nice gray and green pattern, and I bought four of them. The camo was $11 a package with Mossy Oak or RealTree camo patterns, and I bought two of them. The burlap gives the nice, deep, richer colored backgrounds, but it only really works some of the time. The camo blankets work pretty well most of the time. I've also draped some green, tan, or brown sheets back there as well to create smoother backgrounds. None of them is particularly ideal for a great background, although when the burlap works, it tends to be the best...I hope to try some setup photography at one of the local state parks sometime, see if I can get some better shots.

jrista

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Re: Chikadees in flight
« Reply #8 on: February 12, 2013, 04:47:14 PM »

http://www.flickr.com/photos/paddler60/7096189227/#in/faves-77724886@N06/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/paddler60/8082591200/#in/faves-77724886@N06/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/paddler60/6797920540/#in/faves-77724886@N06/

He also had an article on how he does it...

http://www.birdwatchingdaily.com/en/Online%20Extras/Fieldcraft/2010/10/Soft%20landing.aspx

"Six Canon Speedlite 430EX II flashes"

Great shots. The use of flash really helps, I'd wager. I will say, though, that waiting six hours to get a shot sounds a bit extreme considering what I've read about flight setups. With a proper flight setup, which can use sound playback to attract the kind of birds you are interested in, you shouldn't have to wait too long at all to start getting some good shots. With the bird set up exactly right, you can sit in the hide yourself and get actually enjoy the time photographing and capturing just the right moments.

Don Haines

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Re: Chikadees in flight
« Reply #9 on: February 12, 2013, 06:22:18 PM »
What great advice! I'm going to order the Alan Murphy books tonight. I will pick up a hunting blind as well, it will come in usefull for waterfowl in the back yard this spring. I am particularly impressed with the use of the camo tarps for creating the background and the use of natural looking perches.

I picked up a 35 foot active USB extension cable so I can try remote shooting and tried to set it up after work today.... but I got distracted by three visitors, some turkeys, a flock of snow buntings, and a wolf.... and forgot about the chikadees. A nice day to be holding a camera.
« Last Edit: February 12, 2013, 07:01:37 PM by Don Haines »
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bwfishing

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Re: Chikadees in flight
« Reply #10 on: February 12, 2013, 08:23:41 PM »
Yes, waiting six hours sounds little long. Depending on the time of day and season birds are very active in my backyard. Great shots BTW! I love the second of the Chickadee shots and the 3rd one of the Juncos the best.
I found another example setup using 5 flashes. This time the subject is a hummingbird.
They using the canon 300mm f2.8 IS with a Kenko 20mm ext macro tube to focus from closer distance.
I'm thinking one could rent the Speedlite flashes perhaps even the 300mm f2.8 IS. I have some thoughts that perhaps I should have got a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III 21.1MP Digital SLR Camera instead of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II 21.1MP as it's 45-point AF is got to be better. I understand they are about 2K used. Anyway they explain the setup and provide pictures under the shot of the hummer.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michelroy/2627962852/#

The 300mm f2.8 is one amazing lens and I've rented it before as a treat.
I'm thinking about getting the Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM Super Telephoto Lens or at least renting it. I understand it is excellent for BIF (BIF) captures.



« Last Edit: February 12, 2013, 10:32:11 PM by bwfishing »

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Re: Chikadees in flight
« Reply #10 on: February 12, 2013, 08:23:41 PM »