Hitting the target

One temptation coming from having a long lens is to photograph birds.  Bring them up close and personal to admire their colors, shape and look.  It’s a great idea but unlike the grand landscape, birds don’t sit still for long.  And if they do, it’s usually hundreds of yards away where they can keep an eye on you with plenty of time to flee.

Which comes to the second temptation – photograph flying birds.  What a great idea, to stop a bird in flight to admire how they glide through the air.  Tricky thing to do, however.

Turns out camera makers have tools to make it easier.  With all the gear available for photographers why should this be a surprise.  Interestingly, this idea is adapted from the armament business – a sighting tool.

This device sits in the hotshoe on top of the camera and projects a bright red reticle onto glass that you look through instead of the camera’s viewfinder.  A couple of simply adjustments ensures alignment between what you place the reticle on and what your camera lens sees.  Now instead of squinting through the viewfinder trying to keep a flying bird (or fast car, or airplane, or any moving object) centered in the view, you see the whole scene in front of you while aiming at the subject.  Much easier to track a moving object.

I set my camera up for continuous focus using all the focal points available, use the highest frames per second shooting rate and as high a shutter speed as I can get.  Then it’s time for birds.

300mm lens, f/3.2, 1/2000 sec

200mm lens, F/3.5, 1/1000 sec.

200mm lens, f/3.5, 1/3200 sec.

All of these images are seriously cropped from larger versions so they aren’t as crisply sharp as I’d want.  One of my first lessons is to not try and learn to do this using swallows as the subject.  They can hit a top speed of 40 MPH and seem to be capable of 90 degree turns at that speed.  I’m not sure my camera is able to focus fast enough to keep up with their changes in distance and trajectory.  Without the eyesight mounted on my camera I doubt being able to even make these images so it works as advertised.

At least I have a goal to reach now, really nice images of flying martins.  But I’ll probably practice more on something a little less agile and quick.  Maybe like this guy.

300mm lens, f/5.6, 1/640 sec

No, seriously, something that moves faster than a sloth.  I’m thinking my old friends will work just fine.

Sandhill Cranes, 200mm lens, f/3.5, 1/2500 sec

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3 thoughts on “Hitting the target

  1. Fascinating post, Mel. I too love to try to photograph birds and in particular birds in flight. I’ve never tried a sight like the one that you are using, but am now tempted to give one a try. Tracking a bird, I’ve found, takes a lot of practice and a fair amount of luck. There is something so addictive about this kind of photography that I’ll keep going out time and time again in search of that elusive perfect shot.

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    • Mike,
      I’d love to tell you the sight makes it easier but I’ve only started using it. The theory is sound but like anything I’m sure practice over and over again is needed. Hopefully my images will get better.

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      • I have friend who has mastered a series of settings that help him to get quite a few sharp in-flight shots. The Canon 7D Mark II apparently has a lot of customizable focusing features that he uses to good effect. The challenge, of course, is that you still have to get the bird in the frame and most birds are not cooperative in flying in predictable patterns.

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