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tony3dd Feb 6, 2010 9:38 PM

First bird in flight
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Ok. This is very hard. Can you give me some pointers on capturing these kinds of shots.

mtnman Feb 6, 2010 10:00 PM

There are many others on this forum who know much more about capturing birds in flight, so I'm definitely not the best person to reply. But, for whatever it's worth, I usually shoot BIFs with my telephoto zoom (a Sigma 70-300 APO DG, not rated very highly, but it was relatively inexpensive, and it works for me). I start zoomed out wide, so it's easy to find my subject, then once the bird is in the viewfinder, I zoom in to get my desired framing. Since the bird is already in flight, there's usually not a moment to spare, so I start firing. (The camera is in burst mode, of course.) You need a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion, 1/500 sec or even faster. Because my lens is f/5.6 at the long end, I ususally have to kick the ISO up to 800 or thereabout. If possible, I try to guess where the bird might fly, and if time allows (and it's practical) I'll try to locate myself somewhere that will offer a nice background as the bird passes by. Shooting photos of BIFs is a very difficult endeavor. I shoot a very low percentrage of keepers. Even those who are much better than I end up with a lot of rejects (though not as many as I do).

I'm sure others will chime in with better advice.

mtngal Feb 6, 2010 11:08 PM

I'm a horrible birder, so I'm not the best one to answer. And shooting birds in flight IS difficult. The main problem with your picture is that it's underexposed, focus looks pretty good.

But some things I watch - I tend to use either matrix or center weighted metering - never spot - for bif. I take a couple of pictures and check to see if the background is causing too much problem with the metering, and adjust accordingly (by using +/- Ev if needed). I had some reasonable success using continuous focus (though this can work against you in some cases, it gave me the highest number of keepers) and burst shooting. I don't remember if I let the camera select the focus point or if I left the camera on center weighted - I've only shot bif with an AF lens once. When using burst mode, feather the shutter, trying for only a few of frames at a time, trying to time your shots (don't try holding down your shutter and firing a long burst, it doesn't work well). I worry about my shutter speed, so I'll set the program line to prefer a faster shutter speed and leave the camera on P mode, or you can use Tv and set it for at least 1/400 sec. (which I'm more likely to do).

Also watch your lighting and where the sun is - if directly overhead you'll have big shadows, if in front of you, you'll have backlighting.

Here's a couple from the day I tried worked at it. On this day I had plenty of light and was more worried about dof (I was using the DA*300 f4 and the dof at f4 is tiny - not as big a concern with the DA 55-300) so I was using Av and f6.3, letting the camera set the shutter speed.

Notice the light is behind me and by this time it was getting pretty high in the sky.

Another shot, showing the effects/shadows from the more overhead lighting:

Don't expect every picture to look good, they never do.

I'm sure one or two of our really good birders will be around eventually, and will give you better advice, showing far better examples than I have ever taken.

tony3dd Feb 7, 2010 12:37 AM

Beautiful shots. Thanks for the input. I guess it's probably all worth it for that one great shot.

mtngal Feb 7, 2010 8:47 AM

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I don't know how you feel about others editing your picture. If you don't like this, let me know and I'll remove it, but here's a quick edit of your picture - you could do better using the full sized file.

All I did was copy the background on a new layer, added an adjustment layer to lighten the picture quite a bit, paying attention to only your gull. Then I selected the gull, clicked on the layer mask icon to create a layer mask, which blocks out the background from the lightened layer, letting the background show through. I refined the selection with the paint brush, either blocking or exposing the finer edges of the bird - you could do much better with the original file (this is just a quick thing and this file has some jpg and edge sharpening artifacts that show up when you start editing it - they wouldn't be present with the full sized file). As you can see - once you corrected for the underexposure, the picture is not that bad.

tony3dd Feb 7, 2010 11:00 AM

I don't mind at all. Looks much better. I'm going to try some more of these shots using the advice you gave me. I'm sure it will be a lot of hit, and miss. Thanks for allvthe insight into this. You really went above, and beyond.

penolta Feb 7, 2010 12:29 PM

To give a meaningful critique of your methodology, more information about the picture is needed - the EXIF has been stripped. Which camera and lens? Which mode, focal length, metering pattern, aperture and shutter speed were you using? All of these factors contribute to the success or failure of a picture. Did you do any post processing? When saving a processed a picture, use "save as" rather than "save for the net", and the EXIF information will remain attached to the image.

Your pelican portraits with the DA 55-300 were excellent - was this the same lens? I and others have used it successfully on BIF's.

snostorm Feb 7, 2010 1:47 PM

Hi Tony,

I shoot mainly birds, but don't shoot a lot of BIF, since I get few chances to shoot interesting ones.

Here's what I've found works with the K7 especially.

Shoot a reasonably light (f4-5.6) 250-300 mm lens -- a zoom can help as mtnman suggested, as zooming out can make acquiring a bird in the viewfinder easier. Use a fast memory card (at least 20Mb/sec continuous write speed) so you won't run into a performance bottleneck from the card. Super fast telephoto primes like the 300/2.8s are not better for this purpose, IMO, as the size and weight detract from handle-ability more than anything you might gain in lens performance.

Set the shutter to Continuous High, and use jpeg ***, AF C, lens correction off, Auto AF select point, matrix or center weighted metering. I usually start with Av priority, and stop the lens down a bit from max aperture to get more than minimal DOF. Take a few test shots to make sure that your shutter speeds are at least 1/125 second or faster, and adjust your ISO upwards if needed to get the shutter speeds that you need. Remember that any "auto" settings will take away a little AF speed, so eliminate any auto modes that you can (if you're shooting in reasonably even light, for example, you might be able to pick a shutter speed/aperture combination that works and shoot manual exposure). You can possibly get even better burst performance by choosing lower resolution, so 6-10 MP might give some good results once you get used to shooting these, and if you find you don't need the extra resolution for cropping.

One of the important points is to allow the camera to gain an initial focus lock on the bird, then go continuous, following the bird's flight. If you find that you can keep the bird in viewfinder pretty easily, then you might want to change to center point or single select point AF. This will increase your frame rate during a continuous burst. AF C with Auto select focus points will limit frame rate to about 3fps. In either of the non auto select modes, you should get the full 5+fps.

The K7 might not be the BIF machine that the upper crust Canon or Nikon models are with their sophisticated AF systems, but it's noticeably better than previous Pentax models, and certainly at least competent when set up to maximize performance.

None of the settings I mentioned are set in stone -- again, I'm not much of a BIF shooter, but this should give you at least a starting point.


Gumnut Feb 8, 2010 10:16 PM

good luck
i find birds in flight really frustrating
the best luck i had was with an old manual lens and using focus trap
but the quality of the lens wasnt good enough
it would be good if i could switch my auto focus lens to manual and it do the focus trap thing :)
keep on trying and shoot lots
my thinking is i may accidentally get a good one sometime lol
looking at other bird in flight images and seeing what setting they use could be helpful

tony3dd Feb 8, 2010 11:36 PM

Thanks to everyone for all the fine input. You can really count on the great people of this site for answers. Thanks again.

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