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04.05.2010

Birds in flight are beautiful and amazing to see but they can be a challenge for the nature photographer to master. With some practice and proper technique you may find them one of your favorite subjects. Here are some important tips to help you become a BIF master. Always remember to relax, be patient and give yourself plenty of time.

 Learn the proper modes and techniques, take notes and practice, practice, practice. Set your focus mode to Continuous (Nikon) or Servo (Canon) and make sure your viewfinder diopter is set and you can see the focus screen clearly. Make sure you understand how to acquire and re-acquire focus lock-on as needed, I use back button AF on only. Set your lens distance switch to limited range. Set you custom function focus tracking to slow if you have the option. Pre-focus when possible. The bird’s eye should always be the sharpest element in the image. 

Eagle Chase over Kachemak Bay, Alaska © 2010 Robert OToole / Robert OToole Photography

NIKON D700 and Sigma 120-400mm F4.5-5.6 DG APO OS HSM, Handheld, 1/1250 sec at F8, manual metering, flash off, ISO 800.

SHUTTER SPEED
This is one of the most important factors to success. Start at 1/1250th of a second for a larger bird and move to 1/2000 or faster. For smaller, faster birds you have to go even higher. Utilize Manual Mode to lock in action stopping shutter speeds. Set your ISO high to give you the shutter speed you need, you can minimize any noise in post production.



Tufted Puffin, Katmai, Alaska © 2010 Robert OToole / Robert OToole Photography

NIKON D300 and Sigma 120-400mm F4.5-5.6 DG APO OS HSM, Handheld, 1/2000 sec at F5.6, manual metering, flash off, ISO 400.  

PROPER LENS SELECTION AND DISTANCE
Use the proper lens so that your subject is not too small in the frame. This can make autofocus difficult. I recommend a subject size that fills about 2/3rds of the frame. A teleconvertor or extender can really help when you cannot move closer to the subject.

Snowy Egret, Fort De Soto Park, Florida © 2010 Robert OToole / Robert OToole Photography

NIKON D300 and Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 DG HSM, Handheld, 1/1250 sec at F4, manual metering, flash off, ISO 400.

FLASH
Fill Flash can really make the birds eye appear the sharpest possible, and it can really help bring out crisp detail in the bird’s feathers. Make sure to set your flash in High speed Sync, HSS in Canon and FP for Nikon.

QUALITY LIGHT
Always use light to your advantage by placing your back to the light source and aiming your shadow at the subject. Photograph in the best light possible and learn when to stop when the conditions are too harsh or too dark.

Spoonbill, Little Estero Lagoon, Florida © 2010 Robert OToole / Robert OToole Photography

NIKON D700 and Sigma 120-400mm F4.5-5.6 DG APO OS HSM, Handheld, 1/1250 sec at F5.6, manual metering, flash off, ISO 800.

Remember to keep practicing, even experienced or professional photographers can get discouraged at first so keep trying and don’t give up.

Let me know if there is another nature technique you would like to learn more about in a future blog post. If you would like to know more or to join my free newsletter list please email me Robert@RobertOToolePhotography.com or visit my website: http://www.robertotoolephotography.com

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  1. Great pictures, really great. Thanks for the insight. Very usefull

  2. Thanks for the professional advice. This is something I have been struggling with. Hopefully, I can nail a few shots with my new Sigma 150-500 OS!!!

  3. Beautiful photos, I am not always able to get as close as some of these photos were taken. I have Sigma’s 150 to 500 DG and find it very hard to get the Hawks in fine focus as you have in your photos.

  4. Admired your work thanks a lot.. I have newly bought a Sigma 150 – 500 mm OS. Kindly give me a basic method how to use properly lens n specially on focusing, thank you.

  5. Hi Ricardo, can you give a bit more info? What subjects are you looking to capture? Do you want to know more about how/when to use OS? Let us know!

  6. I would like to request how / when to use OS n Proper focusing capturing birds. Sir sorry my English not so good, thank you so much again Sir.

  7. Sir, just finish reading your site in Nature photography really a wonderful site i have been reading. Thank you so much for sharing your magnificent experience n very Professional tutorial. I would love to wait your new Sigma work shop. Honestly I ‘m just an amateur want to learn from a Pro like you Sir. My best regards Sir.