When photographing birds it is helpful to know what to look for in advance in order to get the shots you want. Images like the one above are not difficult to get, if you know what to look for and are prepared ahead of time.
Here are the recommended steps to follow:
1. First, choose the lens you want. In this situation, where the birds are captive and are in nearby ponds, super long lenses are not always necessary. You can be successful with lenses in the 200mm to 300mm range. Of course, there are many times when longer lenses will get you in closer, especially when photographing in the wild where generally your subject will be much farther away. [A blog later this week will discuss the use of telextenders, also called teleconverters, to increase the focal length of the lenses you own. Watch for it.]
2. Next, set your camera on Burst Mode. Most cameras have a setting where if you press and hold the shutter button down, the shutter will fire in rapid succession. Many cameras have two speeds for Burst Mode, one is slower and the other is faster. Always use the faster setting because the shutter will fire off each shot more quickly. BUT it is not necessary to hold the shutter button down until all shots in the burst have been fired. Only press the shutter button long enough to fire off 3 or 4 shots. Then stop, wait a moment and do the same thing again if the action continues. There are two main advantages to this approach - first, your camera will work faster and more efficiently if you do not fire off too many shots in a row; and second, you will not end up with too many identical shots which will make editing longer and more difficult.
3. Set your camera on AI Servo (Canon) or AF-C (Continuous for Nikon and others). This allows your camera to track-focus when the bird is in flight, taking off, or landing. With your camera in this mode, as long as the shutter button is pressed half-way (or the rear focus button is pressed – again, a topic for another blog this week) your camera will continuously focus on the subject as it moves.
4. Set your camera to Shutter Priority (Tv for Canon, S for Nikon or others). Wing movements are very fast, and a fast shutter speed will be required. By using Shutter Priority you can set the shutter speed to the minimum needed (usually 1/500 sec. or faster) in order to freeze most, but not all, of the movement. My personal preference is to have a little bit of blurred motion on the wings. This conveys the feeling of life and movement.
So, now your camera is all set for whatever action presents itself. The final step is to be very observant of behavior and predict as best as possible what action might occur. To capture the type of action shown in today’s blog, look for the most active birds in the water. Watch for the ones who are cleaning themselves by dipping their heads or their entire bodies under the water repeatedly. Often after completing their washing ritual they will stretch and lift their bodies above the water and flap their wings.
This all happens very quickly. Sometimes you will be trained on the right bird and other times not. One of the requirements of bird and wildlife photography is extreme patience. You will wait and wait, and even when the action you seek presents itself, you may miss the shot. But keep watching and keep trying because eventually you will be in the right place at the right time, and the bird you are watching will reward you with a great shot.
Shutter Speed 1/640 sec. Aperture f/7.1. ISO 400. Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with built-in 1.4x telextender for an effective focal length of 560mm. Camera: Canon 5D Mark III. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.
TODAY’S QUOTE: “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” --Alexander Graham Bell