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Help required on flight photos of birds

Discussion in 'Birds' started by Dave Rosser, May 6, 2005.

  1. Hi all,
    I just came back from holiday in Spain where I was bird watching and tried to take a few photographs. I found a place where I could watch Griffon Vulture close to and tried to take some in flight photos using a combination of D1H and 80-400mm VR Nikkor. I took dozens of photos of these birds, most of which (the photos :)  ) were rubbish. The closest I could get to a half decent shot was this
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    BTW these birds have a 8ft. wingspan , they are not small!!
    Later I tried storks, only 6.5 ft wingspan.
    They were not to difficult to photograph on the nest but I should have probably used a tripod
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    but again flight shots were hard, I either missed them :eek: 
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    or they were heading into the blue yonder
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    Anyone got any advise on how I can improve on these efforts? I experimented and ended up using single frame mode, Continuous servo autofocus and closest subject option.
  2. Hi Dave,
    Don't feel alone in having trouble with flight shots of birds. They may be the hardest photos of all to take. I am using a D70 and D-100 with the 70-300ED lens which might make it even harder.
    With a lot of help from some of the other members, especially at the Merritt Island shoot, I am getting better. You can view some of the photos (mine and others) in the last forum on the home page). Experience really helps in the ability to keep the flying birds in-frame. These folks here also pointed me to the same Continuous Autofocus and Closest Subject setting that you have found by experimentation.
    Frank (Flew) and Harris (Backdoctor) have shot thousands or maybe tens of thousands of flying bird images. I know they don't post anywhere near all of them. I suspect their keeper percentage is less than 50% even with all the experience (and some really expensive tripods and lenses).
    If you can keep at it you will find you get better!
    I'm sure others will offer better advice.
  3. Flew


    Jan 25, 2005

    Now the truth starts to dawn.... :lol:

    Getting flight shots is, at least for us mere mortals, very, very difficult. I'm probably a middle of the road intermediate shooter, and I am lucky if I get 1 in 10 perfectly framed, exposed, and in focus. This is why flying bird shooters spend a fortune on cameras that can get 8 frames per second and on lenses that can AF in fractions of a second.

    The 80-400VR is a very good lens for shooting static subjects, but is not as good for fast moving targets. To start with, it is not an AF-S lens, so it focuses slower. During the approach of a bird that I pick up at 400 - 500 yards, my 300 2.8 may track then loose lock on the subject 6 or 8 times. Since it is so fast however, re-acquisition is very quick. Secondly, the 80-400 max aperture is only f4.5 at the short end, and f5.6 at 400mm. This puts more strain on the AF system since it doesn't get as much light to the sensors.

    If you really are interested in shooting these guys, I would recommend looking at the Nikon 300 f4 or 2.8, or the 200-400VR, which is a constant f4.0. Another excellent option is the Sigma 120-300 2.8.

    Hope this helps. Your shots BTW, are not that bad. Mine were much worse when I started down this slippery (but extremely enjoyable) slope.
  4. Thanks for reply - I guess I have to keep trying, actually one of my problems was that in a lot of my shots exposure was off, I should probably have been shooting with +0.7 EV exposure compensation as the subjects were back lit in a lot of my shots (shooting up into the sky).
  5. Flew


    Jan 25, 2005
    Yep. Only prob is, as they come in from the sky to land against darker backgrounds, this can change by over a stop. The trick (and I haven't mastered it yet) is to stay locked on, while constantly evaluating the EV requirements, and make the required adjustments 'on the fly' so to speak. :lol:
  6. Thanks for the advice - very helpful indeed.
    Racing cars are so much easier - focus where they will be, take an exposure reading off the road, pan and release when they pass through your pre determined point. I just can't seem to make the birds follow a predictable track :? . I am going to continue trying though, the swans at Slimbridge will make a good subject....
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