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Thread: Formation Flying

  1. #1
    ChrisH's Avatar
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    Formation Flying

    With the beautiful sunny weather I have been spending a lot of time on a 2.5 mile stretch of the River Thames between Marlow and Temple Lock. This stretch of river flows through a mixture of meadows and woodland and is a perfect location to film wildlife.

    I have been studying how best to film birds in flight, which is not easy. One of the suggestions for Canon users is to set the AF Mode to AI Servo, however this proved almost impossible to focus on the subjects, especially if there was a totally neutral back ground such as a plain blue sky. When I tried the AI Focus setting (which was not recommended in this tutorial) I had a much better success rate. Does anybody have views on this?

    One common thread throughout bird flight tutorials is to try and capture with a neutral background. I have achieved this with the attached image, however I feel the perfect blue sky leaves the image rather stark. I would welcome your views on this.

    Formation Flying

    Aperture: F/5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/1000 ISO: 100

  2. #2

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    Re: Formation Flying

    Nice catch.

    Which camera?

    Btw if you got this 1/1000 ISO 100, would suggest going to ISO200 which will give you more leeway on the ss.

  3. #3
    ChrisH's Avatar
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    Re: Formation Flying

    Thanks Bobo. I take your point about the increased ISO. I used a Canon 30D with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens.

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    Re: Formation Flying

    Thanks.

    I have a 550D and experience the same kind of problem with AI servo that you have so now I tend to use AI Focus mostly. It could be an issue with any of the xD series cameras. One guy I know had the same issues with a 7D. But then others have had good success so not sure whether the problem is camera or technique related.

  5. #5
    ChrisH's Avatar
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    Re: Formation Flying

    That's very interesting - I thought perhaps it iwas me. I have also been thinking about up grading to a 7D, although I don't think a posible problem with AI Servo will put me of.

  6. #6

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    Re: Formation Flying

    Chris,
    Some things to think about when shooting Birds in Flight using a Canon:
    Lens of 300mm or longer
    Body set to Tv
    AI Servo
    H speed drive
    Centre Spot Focus
    Shutter speed of 1/1000 for big birds with large wings (Eagles & Vultures), 1/1,600 medium birds (Peregrine, Lanner, Saker) and 1/2,000 smaller birds (Kestrels, Merlins)
    Practice panning (lots of practice) Crows, Rooks.
    Press the shutter when panning with a sequence of say three shots and do not stop panning after the third shot keep panning... practice practice practice this technique

    So settings of 1/1000, f/8, and an ISO which will give you these settings

    As you are shooting Tv then if the bird is flying in clear blue sky then compensation of +1.3 to +2 but start with +1.6 compensation.
    If the bird id flitting between foreground and sky be prepared to flick compensation on and off as appropriate or decide you will shoot in either background or sky not both.

    Good Luck

    David

  7. #7

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    Re: Formation Flying

    Chris. I find that AI Servo does take a bit of time to lock on to a suitable target so you have to pan carefully while concentrating on your intended target.

    Personally, I prefer to just use the centre focusing point although this does sometimes mean missing a shot as I struggle to pan correctly. Some people like to use multiple focus points but I find this can accidentally focus on the wrong subject. Or the 'wrong' bird amongst a flock.

    Manually adjusting the lens focus length beforehand, or auto focusing on something at the required approx distance can reduce the focusing time of large lenses.

    When appropriate, I have had success with manually setting the exposure from a suitable area of background etc beforehand. This can help when you have varied or confusing backgrounds. Otherwise spot metering usually works best.

    Deciding on the background usually depends on the actual scene. Sometimes an interesting background can really work but a plain sky is usually better than out of focus trees etc which are a similar colour to your main subject.

  8. #8
    New Member Zarkam's Avatar
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    Re: Formation Flying

    Chris,
    BIF (Birds in Flight) is one of my favorite subject areas. I'm always on the move searching out the birds and shoot either freehand or with a monopod. I started out with a Canon Digital Rebel XT and then moved on to the Rebel Xsi which preceded the Rebel T3i/T2i series.

    I'm now using the 7d with the 100x400L lens set to the following modes.
    AE (f5.6 or f6.1 usually)
    Spot AF (for pinpoint focusing)
    AI SERVO
    There are several Custom Function group 3 settings pertaining to the AI SERVO mode and AF
    Depending on the light situation I use ISO to bump up my shutter speed.

    In my youth I had a lot of experience tracking ducks with a shotgun which helped me develop a keen ability to track a moving target. That is what you need to do, practice, practice and then practice some more. As David gee pointed out above you need to know where to set the exposure compensation depending on the background. In the sky requires at least a +1.3 and many other situation for birds requires a +2/3. As he points out sometimes it requires more than a 1.3 when shooting in flight birds against a clear sky. And, these are not constant values as they vary depending on the lens being used.


    The camera you are using will make a big difference in your success. You must be able to quickly change the exposure compensation and any Canon camera without a thumb wheel makes that difficult to do. On the Xsi it was a real pain. The other aid in success is how many frames per second can you squeeze off? The 7d does 8 per second and that really makes a big difference.

    I've shot many thousands of pictures with the above combinations and I've experienced no problems with the AI SERVO mode.
    I'm sure settings could be different if you use a tripod and wait for the birds to come to you as your lighting is more constant. But, I really enjoy being on the move.

    Ken

  9. #9
    ChrisH's Avatar
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    Christopher Hotton

    Re: Formation Flying

    Thanks guys for. Your valuable comments. I will certainly try them out.

  10. #10
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    Re: Formation Flying

    Thanks gentlemen for the great advice and I echo Chris and try them out.

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