I think birds are one of the most difficult subjects to photograph unless they are standing perfectly still. I have always found it difficult to pan my camera at just the right speed and manage to stay ahead of the bird. Focussing is almost impossible since the bird is always moving. Also I tend to try to fill the frame with the bird and then when they extend their wings they are outside the frame. Then there is the depth of field issue. With my 70-300mm lens, when I am using a wide-open aperture the depth of field seems to be razor thin. So I always used to use f/8 or even f/11 to get some sort of depth (which would reduce shutter speed or increase the noise from high ISO).
Well I have learned a few things with all the practice I am getting with the abundant birds in Florida. As always, you can click the images to view larger versions.
1. Big birds move slower. I still have a hard time with small birds, but practicing the panning with big birds is helping.
2. Big birds have very large wings. So I don’t even try to fill the frame in case they move their wings. I rely on cropping later.
3. The lens makes a huge difference! I rented a 400mm 5.6L lens and when it is set at it’s widest aperture of 5.6 I still get rather decent depth and the sharpness is incredible.
4. Use aperture priority not shutter priority. Once I discovered that my lens was awesome at 5.6, I just left it on 5.6 and let the camera adjust the shutter speed. That way I would always get the fastest speed possible.
5. The faster the shutter speed the better. I always used to photograph wildlife on shutter priority at 1/500 second. Now I am getting much sharper images with shutter speeds around 1/2500 second!
6. Use AI Servo focus rather than One Shot so the camera continually maintains focus on a moving object. The lens also helped with this factor since it’s focussing is very fast.
7. Flying birds look great against a blue sky so don’t worry about photographing mid-day. Just avoid white sky.
8. Practice, practice, practice! (A lot easier to say in Florida than in BC.)
I hope you find these tips helpful, and if you have any tips of your own please add them in the comments. I would love to get more tips while I am here in Florida to practice with my big lens and big birds.