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Thread: Need some advice on shooting birds

  1. #1

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    Need some advice on shooting birds

    Shot these guys at a bird feeder in my backyard. I had to set the camera up for remote release and I used a pretty wide open aperture (5.6 @ 1/125 - it was the best I could get even going down to 100 ISO, in the light given). I did have the VR on, AF-A and was at 105mm on the kit 28-105mm lens.

    Would it be better to have someone stand at the feeder with their hand in the general location of the future birds and focus there, or wait until it is lighter so I can get a deeper DOF - though, by my thinking, the DOF of 5.6 should be quite sufficient to render high detail in a fairly wide area -6" to 8" anyway (150mm to 200mm).

    I wanted to keep the background out of focus so as not to confuse the fore and backgrounds. I started with a bird feeder as it seemed easiest to work in a baited arena.

    Need some advice on shooting birds

  2. #2
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Need some advice on shooting birds

    Hi Chris,

    You are on the right track, but why stick to 100 iso? I think you'll soon find that a higher iso (to get a higher shutter speed) will be necessary.

    Personally I'd think nothing of going to 800 - obviously I'd probably have to use Neat Image to deal with noise, but that's better than ditching a shot because of a blurry eye, head or beak.

    The lens might be sharper at f/8 than f/5.6, but otherwise your reasoning on aperture and depth of field seems OK.

    If you can, and I know it often isn't possible, I would aim for an even simpler background than this, although I have seen far worse (i.e. sharper and more distracting) than this.

    Here were my attempts earlier in 2010; http://www.pbase.com/dhumphries/birdtable I shot these handheld from a convenient kitchen door, so I was focusing actively upon the birds. If you observe for a while, you might find a part of the table itself which can be focused upon (then set manual).

    I note my shutter speeds were between 1/500s and 1/1500s, possibly because I was also shooting flapping landings and, take offs and hovering.

    Cheers,

  3. #3

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    Re: Need some advice on shooting birds

    It was really low light and even to get to 1/125 shutter, I had to dump everything to get speed. Now I am wondering if I was thinking backward. I am going to shoot again later this afternoon and see what response I get. I also went to a longer lens. I moved the feeder so as to simplify the background.

  4. #4

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    Re: Need some advice on shooting birds

    From my experience of bird photography I would say that everything is tricky with them.

    Under normal conditions, I find that only manual focus really works; and even then I have to continuously refocus so some form of 'hide' is usually necessary to get sufficiently close. When they are flitting around too fast for me to manually focus, I try auto focus but the success rate drops alarmingly.

    The biggest problem with auto focus is that the camera prefers to focus on a sharp edged part of the background instead of a soft edged bird and with a shallow depth of field that makes for a lot of unsharp results. If possible I like to focus on the bird's eye. I find that just using the centre focusing point does reduce the number of false auto focuses but it sometimes means a bit of focus and recompose is necessary.

    Birds rarely stay still for long so, when possible, I like to have sufficient shutter speed but that can sometimes mean requiring around 1/500 or faster. Poor light does, I find, cause a bit of noise problems once the ISO goes beyond ISO 400 but that is normally a better risk than comprising shutter speed or aperture.

    A tripod is, of course, essential although admittedly I have occasionally taken some good hand held auto focus shots. But these have tended to have rather clean backgrounds and I have been able to use a good shutter speed plus an image stabilised lens.

    If your shutter speed is sufficient, I have found that it isn't necessary to use cable release on a tripod which does help with fast manual focus and camera positioning.

    A bit of exposure compensation is often necessary.

    My best bird lens is a Sigma 150-500 but it is neither cheap nor lightweight; except when compared with some of the equipment that the really serious birdies use.

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