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Birds in flight


TPF Noob!
Jan 4, 2008
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Good afternoon all,

I am a complete beginner but this Question would be best suited in this board I feel.

I have just been on a photo sharing website and seen some amazing images of birds in flight with no blur at all on the feather or bird itself. I am guessing that the shutter speed would have to be very quick on this but how would a photographer go about getting a shot like this? Again I am a beginner and am guessing at the shutter speed and the depth of field would have to be shallow. Is there any advice on how to get perfect images like this and how to get the bird in the center of the shot (without cropping) I have a Nikon D40x with a 15-55mm lens and 55-200mm lens. again, assuming these will be no good in taking these types of pictures but still, any advice appreciated!

Thanks (Hope it all makes sense)

Hi Craig. A large aperture AF-S lens and good panning technique is what is needed for these shots. A 300mm f/4 AF-S would be a basic lens for repeated, good quality shots IMO. The biggest thing to learn and practice will be panning. Another thing to consider is exposure. Use manual exposure so the cameras meter is not fooled by the bright sky. I meter off of a gray card and preset the camera. If you don't have a card, use the grass in the area. Set for maximum aperture, and shutter speeds over 1/500 (with the 300mm) and adjust ISO to get these values. This is just a starting baseline. Work and experiment from there. Good luck!
Can you expand the AF area on the D40? I know I can with my D80. Also you will need the AF set to continuos or, AF-C. Id start out at ISO800 myself.
I would shut off AF, and learn to manual focus.... or focus using AF and then deactivate it. If you have a good camera with high ISO abilities you should be able to shoot at 1/500th and still use f/5.6 or higher... giving you enough DOF to compensate for imperfect focusing. That way the camera's not constantly hunting for a focal point, and you get more shots.
To add to the previous post...

Some prefocus at a certain distance and wait for the subject (the bird) to fly into focus. You'll need a fast enough shutter AND a small enough aperture to provide to stop motion and DOF for focusing errors. (btw.. I'm still practicing this technique.. it isn't as easy as it sounds)

Some AF cameras have a more intelligent form of autofocus that attempts to compensate for fast moving objects... I believe Canon cameras call this IA Servo mode or something like that. Check you manual for details.
You'll most definitely want something longer than 200mm, and unfortunately the stuff you'd want for this isn't cheap. Most "BIF" shooters use 300mm or 400mm primes (f/4 versions are very expensive, and f/2.8 versions are insanely expensive and heavy) along with some sort of teleconverter (1.4, 1.7, or 2.0x). If you want autofocusing, you'll need AF-S converters and lenses, but yeah you might get better results focusing manually for this which would open up some more lens and converter options. Even at 200mm, most birds are going to be tiny little specs in your viewfinder. I know this because I've tried. :lmao: I used to have a 55-200 and sold it and now have a 70-300VR. Even that really isn't enough, but I'm not really into BIF. I'll be using my 70-300 for the beach, zoo, park, and occasionally birds in trees, but not flying, lol.

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