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Need help on a difficult shot - Falcon

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by bobhoge, Jan 30, 2005.

  1. I am going to post some awful photos in hopes that you might have suggestions on how to do them better.

    Many (most, all) of you take better photos of birds in flight that I do. The 70-300ED lens on the D-100 is a bit of a hardware limitation, but maybe better technique would help.

    We spend the winter in Florida on the 19th floor of a 30 story Condo. For the last 5 years or so there has been a Peregrine Falcon hanging around the building. There was a nest on the roof one year. Sometimes he sits on a high balcony and waits for a meal to fly by. We are down at the hunting altitude. He is silent except when hunting, then he has a very distinct cry. If I am very quick when I hear the cry, sometimes I can see him flying, some of those times I can get the camera on an uncapped before he disapears.

    He often flys close to the building and is very, very fast. (Falcons have been clocked at over 230 MPH, the next fastest bird is around 100.) He is also very manuverable, like shooting a Chickadee in flight except 10x bigger and 10x faster. Acquiring and keeping him in the frame is a challenge. I get a lot of blue sky where he was a second ago, or the edge of a wing.

    My current technique is to use shutter priority at about 1/1000 and try to set the ISO at 400 to 600 to get around f11.0. I use manual focus, usually at or near infinity and hope the f11 DOF will make it in focus. There is no way you could keep the bird in the small auto-focus square in the viewfinder.

    Anyhow here are a couple of the "best" ones:
    These are about 1200x800 crops from the original image.
    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    This is more typical:
    This is an 800x600 pixel crop from the original.
    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Any ideas would be appreciated.
  2. Bob, "I feel your pain". If you saw how many of my flight shots still suck rocks, well, maybe nobody would be surprised :wink: .

    The best advice is "practice", and then "practice" more and more. Try on slower moving birds as well, get used to panning with the subject. If you can try to pre-focus, great.

    The biggest thing is, don't get discouraged. Now, having said that, I still do, it is really annoying when you have everything right but the focus. You seem to have the advantage in that this bird is around.

    If possible, shoot as rapidly as you can as well, get as many shots as possible in a single pass. Eventually you will get it. I didn't think I ever would, and now a year later a much higher percentage are in focus than at the beginning.
  3. Flew


    Jan 25, 2005
    Bob & Nan,

    I echo Bill's advice, and add the suggestion that you look at the Nikon 300mm f4 lens. Harris has gotten outstanding results with his. He used to use the 70-300, and as you say, it's a decent lens, but it really isn't built for this type of application. Get Harris to show you some before and after shots.

    Having said all of that (practice, practice, practice, look at new lens), I'm impressed with the shots that you have gotten. This is one very difficult bird to catch in the air. And as Bill said, just keep at it, and you see the results you are looking for.


  4. Hey Bob, not that I am any expert but most of these shots are underexposed for the bird. Let the sky go where it will but expose for the bird, also early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low in the sky provides better lighting. Personally I use manual focus and open the lens up a little more than you have done to get a higher shutter speed. I also shoot in aperature priority.

    Hope this helps,
  5. Thank you for the thoughts and advice. I will keep trying, but the bird is not very cooperative! I only hear it a couple of times a week and am lucky to see it one in three or four of those times, let alone get a shot in.

    About three years ago, when all I had was a 995, it was almost certainly roosting a lot on our roof that year and I saw a lot more of it. If you want a good laugh try to take a photo of a flying falcon with the shutter lag of a 995 P&S digital! :lol:

    Three or four times that season I saw it attack a Turkey Vulture that was soaring by. Not to eat! I think it was just too close to the roost/nest. It looked like WWII film of a fighter plane going after a bomber! That falcon has manuvers that the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels haven't figured out yet. It was fun to watch.

  6. Bob, just found this post....a couple of suggestions...first of all, use EV +1 or more for a backlit bird against the sky like this. And you want the fastest shutter speed you can get, try using 1/1250 or more at F5.6. Second, I wouldn't use manual focus...use Dynamic AF and Continuous AF together, trust me it works (some of the time). Even with my slow 80-400 it works...some of the time :wink:

    and keep trying!
  7. Hi Janet,

    Thanks for your thoughts, I was fairly sure you had not seen this post from before you were a member, I think. I did not see the need to repeat a lot of the background information.

    Now if just the Falcon would cooperate by showing up and staying around long enough to get in a few shots. I'll try the +1EV suggestion which should help if I can get it in the frame.

    Thanks again,
  8. Give yourself a bit of credit.

    Do you actually realise what you have been trying to photograph?
    Unless I am very much mistaken that is not any old falcon it is a PEREGRINE FALCON!!
    The fast animal in the world with a diving top speed of over 200 MPH.
    We have around a lot in the county of Cornwall England . They are an aerial sensation and I have watched them on many an occasion take a pigeon, seagull etc at full wack! the result is an explosion of feathers and a very dead prey.
    Do you have Photoshop CS. If so go into the image adjustment area and look for levels. go down to shadow/highlights- click on this and have a play around with the underneath of the wings.

    BW. Bob F.
  9. Larry Gleason

    Larry Gleason

    Jan 26, 2005
    Janet is spot-on about bumping up the exposure when shooting against the sun. I've have had to go even higher at times. Besides Continuous AF I'd probably use the Flex program in Program Mode and rotate the rear wheel to the right to increase the shutter speed. That will give the camera a better chance to keep up than I would be able to do. Make sure as you pan, don't stop panning after you release the shutter (follow-through!).
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