Category Archives: Photography

Shooting Birds in flight with Manual Focus.

Shooting birds in flight with manual focus.

Everyone loves a great shot of a bird in flight. Getting one is another matter. The recent improvement on auto focus and bust speeds of many of the high end cameras has made this a lot easier. Many of the new models have dual contrast and phase detection with hundreds of cross points for fast and accurate focus.

 

Aerodamas Swiftlet

Flying swiftlets are a challenge because of their small size and their erratic flight. I had to preset my focus and shoot when they come into focus, which is a touch and go affair.  Shots like this are one in a hundred or more. 300 mm, 1/2000s at F 5.6.

But like me if you have cameras whose AF does not lock on to a small flying bird, what is the best solution? Well start practicing on larger birds like the low flying raptors, herons and the more common species. Because of their sizes, most cameras with a decent AF will be able to detect and lock on to it. Just made sure you used a high shutter speed ( 1/3000 and above) and compensate for the strong back light ( +2 and above). Sunny days and blue skies will give better images.

 

 

Surphur=crested Cockatoo @ Sentosa.

No harm starting with bigger common species like this Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. They are not fast flyers and are more predictable in their flight path. I like this shot because of the eye contact.

But for the smaller birds like swifts and swallows, the only way of getting a decent photo of them flying is to use manual focus or rather preset focus. It is more of a  hit and miss game with more misses ( like 95%) than hits. But if you have a camera that shoots at 10 frames per second, your hit rates will improve.

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Sometimes your subject helps you to get the shot. I had my lens focus on the parent Little Tern at the end of the breakwater when this juvenile flew in to try to snatch the fish from the parent. Shot it as it got into the frame. 1/2000s, f 6.7 at 280 mm.

Before shooting study the pattern and flight of the birds. Determine a comfortable distance for your shot and then lock your focus to that distance by focusing on a tree or object. Set your camera to “Speed Priority” and the speed at 1/3000s or more.  You can use the largest aperture or set it at F 8 for extra sharpness. Adjust your compensation ( +2 to +3) depending on the brightness of the backlight. You may have to turn your ISO to auto with a set limit depending on your camera’s sensitivity. 

Great Crested Tern

The preset focus will be on this Swift Tern that was perched on a Kelong pole. If you are lucky it will take off to the left of right without changing the distance too much. Cropped shot at 1/4000s at f 5.6 with 300 mm and +1. 

To be able to track the flying bird you may need to shoot at 300-400mm especially if they are close. This will give you a bigger field of view. You can crop the shot for posting later. Start with birds that were flying across as their distance will not vary much. I tracked it from the left and start shooting just before it crossed in front of you. For birds that are flying towards you, you may have to start shooting just before it comes into focus. With luck one of the frames will be in focus. Make sure the sun is behind you to get the best light.

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This Pacific Swallow was looping around the open lawn at Singapore Botanic Gardens.  It flight path was almost the same which makes it easier to track. Cropped shot at 1/2,500s, f 6.7, +1 with 400 mm at about 25 meters. 

This can be a frustrating and tiresome method of shooting but with practice and the optimum settings, the chance of getting the shot is much higher than trying to shoot with a on off auto focus. Hope these simple pointers will help you getting these action shots.

Cameras used: Olympus OMD EM 1 and EM5 with 75-300 mm f 4.8-6.7 II zoom lens.

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Birding Israel with Leica V-Lux

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One of the perks of a Leica sponsored trip to Israel for the “Champions of the Flyway” Bird Race is the use of Leica cameras and binoculars. I was given the Leica V-lux, a bridge camera to try out. A handy travel camera with a generous 20.1 megapixels and a large 1″ CMOS sensor, a combination of comparable high end cameras.  A fast F2.8 to f4, 25-400 mm zoom lens ( 16X zoom) that performs just as well shooting desert beetles to flying swifts and eagles. What impressed me was the surprising fast auto focus especially for flying birds. The best part is that once the camera locks on the subject, the image stays in view. The 12 frames per second made sure every action is captured. It is packed with all the must have features like manual focus assist, stabilizer and DIY function buttons for quick adjustments while shooting. The coolest feature for me is the wireless remote control with my smart phone, a feature that will be very useful for shooting nesting birds. It allows the photographer to be away from the nest and yet able to see the action and adjust zoom and other setting before clicking. 4K video is standard.

Sharing some of the photos taken by the V-Lux in Eilat. Still getting use to the camera.

Over looking to Jordan

The different hues of the desert landscape from buffy brown to dark grey are captured in this shot. Taken from the north south highway in southern Israel, Jordan is in the background.

Flying V Formation

Slender-billed Gulls flying in formation under a beautiful blue sky. 1/1800 F4 ISO 200

Alpine Swift

Swifts are small and fast flying. Capturing them in flight usually needs a high end DSRL camera. This elegant Alpine Swift was flying against strong head winds, just slow enough for me to get a respectable image. 1/4000 F5 ISO 640

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Beetle mania in the desert. These are tough survivors in the barren desert landscape. Fights over food is common. The V-lux can focus up to 3 cm for marco shots.

Goat herd

I like the depth of field of this shot. Precious herd of goats will provide the required sustenance for the local people staying in the Kibbutz. 

Slender-billed Gulls

Slender-billed Gulls returning to their roost shot against a setting sun. 1/1800, F4 ISO 320.

Bluethroat

This Bluethroat is shot under the shade so the colors are a little muted but still rich.

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Steepe (Common) Buzzards are the most common raptor migrating through the Eilat Mountains during Spring. 45,000 were counted in one day alone on 25th March. Most were of intermediate and rufous morph. I was able to freeze this flying buzzard shooting at a slow 1/500 sec hand held. 

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Blue skies contrasting with a grey hillside. A balance exposure is needed to show off both shades. This is one of the counting points for the migrating raptors at Eilat Mountains.

Hooded Whaetear

Getting the details of a black and white bird like this Hooded Wheatear needs almost prefect exposure. The blurred background helps to define the subject.