12 tips for Practicing Your Bird Flight Photography

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Bird portraits are rewarding to photograph, but once you have good portraits it’s time to move onto action. Flight photography is dynamic and exciting, but technically a bit more of challenge. So where do you start?

  1. PRACTICE – In order to get good at anything you need to practice, practice, practice. In order to practice flight photography you need a pool of several birds that will fly. Song birds are not a great choice, they are small and really fast. I highly recommend a trip to the beach to practice on seagulls. There are a lot of them usually, they fly often, are a good size and don’t move terribly fast.
  2. EQUIPMENT –  I assume you have a SLR camera with a long lens, something in the order of 400mm or longer. Fixed lenses with 1.4x or 2x extender can get you a good start. A sturdy tripod with fully maneuverable head that is taller than you supports the weight of the lens and allows free movement to pan with a flying bird.
  3. CONDITIONS – You want to shoot for a blue sky day with lots of light. Morning and evening light are prettier but you need a good amount of light to get fast shutter speeds. I also don’t want to shoot against a bland white sky. Avoid windy days as the vibration in the lens and tripod can lead to lack of sharpness.
  4. SHUTTER SPEED – I prefer a shutter speed of at least 1/1000th of a second. You can never have too fast of a shutter speed to stop action.
  5. ISO – adjust as needed to get faster shutter speeds, but try to keep as low as possible for quality.
  6. APERTURE –  You do not need a high aperture for flying birds, I usually shoot around F4 – F5.6. If you have multiple birds and a lot of light up to F8 sometimes.
  7. EXPOSURE – What to do about exposure? Go to manual, set the exposure for the sky and you should be good to go. Typically plus 1 should do it. Make sure you don’t blow out the highlights on a white bird. Try to shoot the bird in even light or slight side light, avoid shooting into the sun for now. As long as the lighting conditions don’t change, clouds moving across the sun for example, the exposure shouldn’t change regardless if you have a dark bird in a blue sky or a white bird in a blue sky.
  8. FOCUSING – I tend to center focus my flying birds, as I find the center focus point to be faster and more accurate than the side points. Several cameras allow you to cluster a set of focus points, this allows for more accuracy over a wider area.
  9. AUTO FOCUS MODE – Continuous shooting combined with AI Servo or AF-C enable the camera to track a moving subject better.
  10. IS/VR – many long lenses have 2 or more IS or VR modes. Read the instructions that came with your lens to see which mode fits your shooting situation.
  11. WHITE BALANCE – set for existing lighting conditions.
  12. REVIEW – review images as you shoot and make any adjustments to settings.

So head to the beach and enjoy shooting those gulls, they can still make for some great shots!

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Tips for shooting in Cold weather

Snow laden trees - Yellowstone
Snow laden trees – Yellowstone

Well it’s a frosty one out today! I enjoy shooting all times of year and I need to make sure I’m prepared. So here are a few tips for shooting in cold weather.

Cold weather for me is below freezing. Most cameras will work fine in this weather but the colder it gets the harder it is on the gear.

  1. Keep your batteries warm. The colder it is the faster the batteries lose power. I usually use a hand or foot warmer and rubber band or tape it over the battery compartment. The spare battery I keep under my coat close to my body.
  2. Check to see if your equipment has weather sealing. Many cameras & lenses today are weather sealed, but many are not. Weather sealing prevents moisture from getting inside the working area of a camera or lens. Moisture can ruin the electronics or cause residue that compromises image quality.
    • If you do not have weather sealing on your gear, put it in a sealed plastic bag, remove as much air as possible and place desiccant or rice in the bag to absorb moisture as you move it between climates. Letting it warm up or cool down slowly, over 30 minutes, is the best bet.
  3. When moving the camera from warm to cold or cold to warm, leave it in your camera bag and let it cool off or warm up slowly, usually around 30 minutes. Frankly I just leave everything in the backpack and remove the batteries and media cards prior to moving between environments.
  4. Make sure you are comfortable. Frozen hands and toes will impair your creative abilities and enjoyment of shooting in cold weather. Here’s a list of my cold weather gear:
    • hand and foot warmers
    • multiple wicking layers of clothing
    • ski pants for wallowing around in the snow
    • boots rated for cold weather
    • a wool hat
    • mittens or fingerless gloves over a thin layered glove that covers my fingers
    • lots of kleenex or handkerchief, frozen nose discharge is gross gentlemen
    • gators – keeps deep snow out of your boots
    • extra pair of socks in case they get wet
    • yaktrax for gripping on icy/snowy ground
    • insulated thermos for the hot beverage of your choice
    • a towel to wipe moisture off gear
    • plastic baggies to protect gear if it gets really wet out

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Happy New Year and Happy shooting!