It does not matter if a person is into bird watching or not, people in general enjoy a lazy stroll in the park or unwinding by the lake. Looking up at the sky, watching the birds fly about, or make a dive to catch a fish is so fascinating that many spend hours doing just that. Bombay based Ashish Mantri loves bird watching and taking pictures of these feathered beauties. Here is a post and few pictures shared by him.
What makes watching birds, of avian variety, interesting? To me, it’s the birds’ ability to take to the sky, their happy-go-lucky attitude kind of flights, their joy of freedom as they move in a heavenly manner from the earth to the sky, that I find inspiring and exhilarating.
Another question – what makes taking pictures of the birds frustrating?
Simple. It is their irritating habit to take to the sky precisely when I am about to capture their image, their not-caring-for-the-poor-photographer kind of attitude, their unsettling habit of moving too freely between the earth & the sky, that the photographer in me finds very frustrating. I can see a number of fellow photographers nodding their head.
The stubborn that I am (my wife would vouch for that), I have made an effort to keep trying to capture the moments of flights of these birds through my lens, and have learnt some basic tricks which can provide good images of the birds in flight. So here are some of the tips & tricks to get lucky in bird photography:
For bird-in-flight images, it is essential to choose a location where you get a vast perspective, solid foothold with no possibility of tripping & falling as you move with your eyes panning their flight, and the right amount of light falling from behind you on the birds, as they move perpendicular to you. This would get you the best chance for a clear image. Having said that, it may be worth a while to capture the image of a silhouette of a bird in flight – possibly getting you a lyrical kind of image.
The birds are uninhibited with no possibility of control on their in-flight movements. Hence it is essential to be as much light ourselves as possible. While the high range zoom lenses may make you reach closer to the birds, beyond a point their heaviness would be a deterrent. Hence a range of 300-500 mm lenses would be ideal. Also, a heavier lens requires a tripod or a monopod which is just an additional burden you can do without.
Right equipment settings
I will try not to be too technical, else my ignorance will be exposed:
- The manual mode is the preferred one for BIF images. With the camera tracking the flight over rapidly changing background & the environment, the manual mode would allow you more control over the exposure.
- The auto focus mode should be in AI Servo mode, making the camera lock the focus on the BIF and then continue to focus it even when it moves.
- The shooting mode must be continuous, allowing you to take multiple images in the burst mode. This gives you higher chances of good pictures, once the focus is right.
- Ideally, the aperture should be at f/8 giving you a good balance of getting the bird in focus at a fast enough shutter speed.
- The lens’ focus switch must be kept at AF (Auto Focus).
- The shutter speed should ideally be at 1/500 – or faster. Also, it is better to switch off the Image Stabilizer of the lens, so that the auto focus does not slow down.
Having set the camera, get used to panning the camera as the bird moves, and moving the zoom from widest to the closest. With the hand-held stance, it does take a bit longer to adapt to this, but once you get used to it, the results are for keeps.
It is also essential to know the flight style of the birds. For example, while the raptors normally hover in circles, the egrets & herons fly in lazy linear motion. Terns fly faster with sudden change in the flight path. The most difficult could be the swallows & the swifts whose movement just can not be predicted. Understanding this would help you in finding the right moment when a bird is at the slowest in flight.
Try capturing the images when bird is flying perpendicular to you, as it gives you longer time and the bird movement looks graceful. However, while it is difficult to capture the image with bird coming towards the camera, it gives a good scope to capture the front features – and sometimes an occasional fish in their bill may make the composition interesting.
Now, that I have covered the basics, all you need is the patience and perseverance. Remember, a good photograph requires only a good camera, a good subject, a good location & a lot of dose of just plain luck.
See, so easy. That’s why I love birds!