BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Virginia Kickle
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/19/2004
 

Action Bird Photography


I have a growing interest in backyard bird photography. I have had success with still bird photography, but would like to take it to the next level to photograph birds in action. Specifically, I would like to photograph birds landing or taking off from a perch or other set up. I have a Canon 60D and Canon 70-200 lens with 1.4 extender. I also sometimes use a Canon 430 EXII flash. I often use a blind to get close. I am struggling with knowing best settings to use - shutter speed, pre-focus manually vs autofocus, focus mode, single or multiple focus points, flash vs no flash. I have tried varius settings but haven't hit upon the right combination yet. I know this is a lot of questions. Maybe there is a course that would help me with this type of photography. Thanks!


To love this question, log in above
6/20/2012 6:32:59 AM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  You could by a wireless remote and set up your camera next to a feeder or food source. You'd need to prefocus and frame based on how good your timing is and how you want the shot to look. Birds wouldn't come in on a defined path like auto racing or horse racing.
If the light is bright enough for fast shutter speed and small aperture, then prefocusing on the estimated landing area would be the easiest to do. If it calls for a bigger aperture, you would need to prefocus on a distance just ahead of where they would actually land for your best results.
Using the flash can help freeze movement. If they sync speed is 250th, that will give you more leeway in balancing the flash with daylight.
With just daylight, try for anything above 1000th to freeze the wings. The body will be easier to freeze because it won't be moving that fast, but the braking that birds do just before landing, they flap their wings rapidly so they will be harder to freeze their motion.
With a remote you could stay inside and watch out the window. A wider view of birds coming in will make it easier to time it. But if a remote it too much, you can use your blind and have one port for the lens, and another for you to look out of so you're not looking thru the viewfinder trying to time your pictures. Just keep you finger ready on the button. Tripod is needed of course.
It will take lots of trial and error. And many frames. Like shooting lighting does. Just keep going until you get one that's good.


To love this comment, log in above
6/20/2012 3:58:04 PM

 
Virginia Kickle
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/19/2004
  Thanks for your insights. I will concentrate on the prefocusing and being quicker with shutter release - and thanks for the reminder about watching aperture. I have good views from my blind (camo netting over the openings) and also use a cable shutter release. I haven't always been using a high enough shutter speed, so will bump it up to at least 1000th, but high ISO and noise is a problem. I am just learning how to use my flash, so I will try that also. I'm assuming I will have to use settings that let the flash provide more of the light than the ambient light?


To love this comment, log in above
6/20/2012 4:53:13 PM

 
Kerry Drager
BetterPhoto Member
KerryDrager.com
Kerry's Photo Courses:
4-Week Short Course: Creative Close-ups
  Hi Virginia,
Thanks for posting your thoughts and questions.

Excellent advice from Gregory.

Regarding flash, Jim Zuckerman is a top pro who teaches a terrific course here at BetterPhoto: Taking the Mystery Out of Flash Photography

The course is open to all models of flash, but Jim does shoot with Canon. Plus, he shoots a lot of wildlife, including birds.

Thanks again, Virginia!

Kerry


To love this comment, log in above
6/21/2012 12:55:02 AM

 
Virginia Kickle
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/19/2004
  Thanks for the information, Kerry! I will definitely look at that course.
Virginia


To love this comment, log in above
6/21/2012 7:23:19 AM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  Whether you need the flash to overpower ambient light will depend on other things like the camera'a sync speed, the relation of ambient light on the subject and background, how you want the picture to look.
If the flash is way over ambient light, then you do a better job of freezing motion. Because then the duration of the flash, which is extremely quick, becomes the moment that is recorded. However, the drawback is that what isn't close to the subject goes dark. And it can go completely dark depending on the circumstances.
Or you can use flash and have it blend in with ambient light, but the drawback there is with moving things you might end up with ghosting. And that's when you get a clear image from the flash combined with some blur from the ambient light. That's why a high sync speed is desirable. It helps minimize or eliminate ghosting.


To love this comment, log in above
6/21/2012 3:42:57 PM

 
Virginia Kickle
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/19/2004
  The sync speed on my camera is 1/250. I have a lot to learn about using flash. I may take Jim Zuckerman's course on using flash in the future. I am having trouble understanding how flash figures into the exposure dymanic along with ISO, F-stops, and shutter speed. But I have been experimenting, using both ETTL and Manual flash. I prefer the look of ambient light in the background rather than a completely black background. I have found that I can get by with a high ISO when the subject is large in the frame. This is all challenging, but I love challenges!


To love this comment, log in above
6/21/2012 4:16:26 PM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  That's a good sync speed to have if you need flash for moving objects. But keep in mind, as far as the original topic of birds, you actually may not need it.
The beginnings of getting how flash works is understanding how light is influenced by the distanced it has to travel. Which is that light dissipates relative to the distance it travels. And you'll probably later on hear about it as inversely squared.
Think about photos you've taken or seen with flash where something way in the background wasn't as bright as what the subject is. And for demonstration let's say it was shot at the sync speed 250th and f/8. Now compare it to a daylight photo where the light is just right to make it come out the same 250th and f/8. Iso is the same for both situations.
Both exposures are the same, which means both lights levels are the same, yet in the daylight shot, you go miles into the background you have the same amount of light.
That's because of the relative distance the light travels. The flash shot, the light travels 10ft to the subject, but 10ft after the subject, the light that reaches there had to double the distance it had to go. So you see a noticeable change in it's brightness. Compare that to daylight, which travels a gazillion miles from the sun, an extra 10 miles is an insignificant increase. So you see no fall off of the light.
How flash figures into iso is the same as with daylight. Higher sensitivity of the film/sensor, the less light you need. You have sensitive eyes, you don't need that much light to see.
Shutter speeds and aperture are different. With flash, you're thinking more about influencing it with aperture than you are with shutter speed. Daylight you're thinking in both shutter speed and aperture.
Just think about shooting in a pitch black room. With no ambient light at all, you can open a shutter for 250th or a full second, but shoot off a flash and get a correct exposure if the aperture is set to the same f/8 example. But if you change the aperture, make it too wide, you get an over exposed photo.
If you introduce ambient light, then you're dealing with whether the ambient light is enough to influence the photo along with the light. Say there's ambient light in the room now, but with a sync speed of 250th at f/8, turning the flash off and taking a photo results in almost nothing, way underexposed. Of course, turning the flash on results in good exposure. However, if you decided to change the shutter speed way down, now having ambient light in the room, what happens is the shutter opens, the flash pops, the shutter stays open allowing extra ambient light to come in. Now you're getting exposure from ambient light adding on to the flash exposure. Maybe going off into overexposure. And that's where you get into balancing flash with ambient and ghosting that I was talking about earlier.


To love this comment, log in above
6/22/2012 4:29:58 PM

 
Virginia Kickle
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/19/2004
  Thanks, Gregory. I am starting to understand some of how flash works, but actual practice of how to use it is going to take longer. My strategy - until I can take a course - is to keep the flash on my camera a good part of the time (not that I always want to use flash) and take shots with and without flash and at different combinations of settings and compare results. Not very scientific, I know, but I am getting more comfortable with using my flash!


To love this comment, log in above
6/22/2012 6:34:55 PM

 
Log in to respond or ask your own question.