Okay, so a “behind the frame” shot about a bird-in-flight photograph was inevitably going to be a summary of general photographic tips when it comes to birds…
On this particular morning, my wife and I were driving around in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in South Africa. We came across 2 quirky secretary birds ambling along the grasslands on a mountain slope. After trampling a snake to death and devouring it (too far for quality photos), this one started running in our direction. I knew that a takeoff was imminent. A quick check of my current settings to ensure enough shutter speed – and BOOM!
Settings for this shot:
Focal Length: 600mm (I was using a 300mm f2.8 stabilised lens and a 2x teleconverter).
Aperture: f5.6 (wide open with the lens combo I was using – if you are far enough from your subject you should have sufficient DOF).
Shutter Speed: 1/1250 (large, slower birds don’t need too high shutter speeds to freeze the wing movement).
Key points to take away from this?
- I had spent some time with these birds before, therefore I knew what to expect when it started running. There is no substitute for time spent in the field observing and photographing your subjects.
- I had to be able to track the subject in the autofocus sensor and pan along with its movement perpendicular to my position.
- I had to have confidence in my gear and the settings choices I made.
- I had to use burst-fire (continuous shooting). Why? There are only a few in-flight poses that are really pleasing. Shooting multiple frames with a short opportunity like this gives you a better chance of nailing a “keeper”.
What are the key aspects that make this photo work?
1. A clean and uncluttered background – achieved by correct vehicle placement and opening up the aperture nice and wide;
2. Pleasing wing position showing the primaries;
3. Pleasing head angle and flight angle towards the viewing pane;
4. Soft overcast light enhancing plumage detail.
Birds are often deemed as more exciting to photograph than mammals because they are more likely to do something interesting more often. Many bird species provide hours of frustration as you get it wrong or you wait for them to take off and a few glimpses of absolute glee when they do and you nail it. There are quite a few places in cities, towns and rural areas where decent bird photography is possible. Explore your local area and find a spot that rocks!
Keep on clicking!