I have been taking pictures of birds for many years. I have made some nice images in that time, but I never considered myself very good at capturing birds in flight. While I have made some nice images in the past, I always considered those lucky shots. I feel like the percentage of sharp images I was able to capture using my Canon gear was maybe 20%. That meant throwing away 80% of my birds in flight images.
While I did not switch over to Nikon to capture birds in flight, it has become a bonus addition to the switch. (The Decision) While I still have a love/hate relationship with my new cameras, one of the big pluses is the cameras ability to track moving subjects. Based on the experience of a great bird photographer, and fellow former Canon Explorer of Light, that also switched to Nikon, Art Morris, I learned how to set up my camera to capture birds in flight.
On the Nikon, I obviously set my camera to continuous shooting, and for the focus selection I choose the “Group” setting. When I look through the viewfinder, I see 4 focus point, but the Group includes the 13 points contained within the boundaries covered by the boxes. In the camera it looks like this.
Groups AF as seen in the camera
The great thing is when I am off and not all the points hit my target, my images stay sharp, as seen in this example.
Not hitting all targets
In fact, I have found if I am tracking and get totally off the subject for a very short time, that the subject stays in focus most of the time. See this image.
Totally missing target, yet still sharp
In this sequence you can see how my points shift as I try to follow my subject and all the images remain sharp.
A shooting sequence
Last week I spent six wonderful morning photographing at Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach, Florida. I shot more birds in flight images in those six days than I probably had my whole life! And this time the numbers were more than reversed. I feel like I got 85% of the images sharp. The downside of that is you have a more difficult time editing. As you can see from the sequence above if they are all sharp which to you decide to keep? I ended up with thousands of new images. Maybe that’s a good problem?
Here are some examples of my favorite images from the week. I promise I won’t show too many! All images made with the Nikon D850 and the Tamron 150-600mm lens, hand held.
Snowy Egret - 1/2000 sec; f/8; ISO 400; 600mm
Snowy Egret - 1/2000 sec; f/8; ISO 400; 550mm
Great Egret - 1/2000 sec; f/8; ISO 1000; 340mm
Great Blue Heron - 1/2000 sec; f/8; ISO 1250; 300mm
Osprey, diving - 1/2000 sec; f/8; ISO 200; 600mm
Great Blue Heron - 1/2000 sec; f/8; ISO 1600; 600mm
Snowy Egret - 1/2000 sec; f/10; ISO 500; 600mm
Tri-colored Heron - 1/2000 sec; f/10; ISO 900; 600mm
I really am looking forward to seeing how I do when I go to Washington next month, and Alaska in March to photograph eagles. I’ll let you know.