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Advice and tip on birds-in-flight photos taken (1 Viewer)

Dear fellow Birders,

I just took the leap in to DSLR photography, from a super-zoom camera.
The intention is to learn the techniques and have fun at the same time doing it.

After a lot of research I finally decided to start with a Nikon D7200 and a Nikon 70-300MM 4.5/5.6G ED VR lens.

My first trip was to a lake where there are many species present at this time, not to forget flocks and flocks of wild ducks.

I took a lot of pictures in Shutter priority mode but most of them turned out to be quite unpleasing. When I reviewed the images on my laptop at home later, the images I took had many different problems.

One of the issue that kept repeating itself over in many images was bad exposure. By that I mean that the bird(s) in flight kept getting blacked out against the sky, even though the sun was at my back or to the right in all shots. I have come to the conclusion that the selection of Spot Metering Mode was the primary mistake here. Any comments on that ? (Image attached Fourducks)

Secondly, I keep finding the lack of sharpness in the shots over and over again. Even with the slower flying birds, where I had a good chance to get follow the bird easily came our rather blunt. Could it be that I'm expecting more out of this mediocre lens or could it a lacking on my own part?

The worst issue I have experienced is the noise i keep seeing specially in the sky. The ISO was mostly set to 1250 (by the camera) and yet I am seeing noise close to that of a (tiny sensor) super zoom camera.
Am I expecting too much from a crop-sensor body or, again, am I doing something wrong? (image attached bird_d7200_is01250_sp2000)

I have attached a cropped pictures:
1) White bird in flight: ISO 1250, Shutter 1/2000, Aperture F13, Spot metered
2) Four ducks in flight: ISO 1250, Shutter 1/5000, F18, Spot


I would really appreciate comments and advise on the above mentioned issues. Also, please ID this bird :t:

Thanks!!
 

Attachments

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  • FourDucks_ISO1250_SS5000_F18.jpg
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Chosun Juan

Given to Fly
Australia - Aboriginal
The Nikon D7200 is a fine camera with great IQ for a DX format.

I like to keep things very simple and with a degree of automation.

For birds in flight, or moving, a shutter speed of 1/2000 sec works well to start with.

Rather than shutter priority, I use aperture priority with Auto ISO.
Set the minimum shutter speed to 1/2000 sec.
Set the minimum ISO to 100.
Set the maximum ISO to 1600
Use Spot Metering - that's correct
I use Centre spot focus in general - maybe 3D tracking on a big slow bird like a Pelican etc.

The way auto ISO works in practice is that it will automatically choose the lowest ISO for the light available to achieve the minimum shutter speed you have set. What does it really matter if it chooses 100, 200, or 400 ISO ..... it's just one less thing to worry about in the heat of the moment.

If your desired minimum shutter speed cannot be achieved even by the Auto ISO bumping things all the way up to your maximum set level, then it will shoot at your maximum ISO and start to drop the shutter speed below the minimum you set.

A word on apertures - yours seem rather high (you may be running into diffraction effects which will make the image soft). You generally want about f5.6 - f9 depending on the dof effects you want and the light available.

With high contrast birds and changing aspect, you will have to dial a bit of exposure compensation in at the time of shooting.
eg. A white bird that turns into the sun will need some -negative exposure compensation to preserve highlights. This will speed up the shutter speed effectively.
A black bird that turns away from the sun, or goes into shadow will need some +positive exposure compensation. This will slow the shutter speed effectively.

Check the exposure histogram to make sure that you are exposing to the right - ie the left hand side of the histogram curve (the shadows) must be to the right of the left hand graph edge as far as possible without the right hand side of the curve going beyond the right hand edge of the graph (if this happens you will 'blow' the highlights. It doesn't matter if you blow the background - just try not to blow any highlights on the subject). In this way you will minimize captured noise. The main thing is to make sure that you capture all the available information. Underexposing (falling off the left hand edge of the graph) make the image more noisy.

To reference your shots they would have been better off at:
Shot#1 ..... aperture f9 which would have dropped your ISO and given more detail.
Shot#2 ...... aperture f9, shutter speed 1/2000, which would have dropped the ISO right down close to the minimum. Maybe even minimum, so your shutter speed would be automatically set higher than 1/2000.

Your equipment should give very good results.




Chosun :gh:
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Poland
Yeah, shooting at f/18 is insane - not only because of the lack of light and thus a lot of noise, but also because that is actually already detrimental to the optical quality of the lens due to diffraction.

I may be old-fashioned but as someone who grew up on old manual film cameras, I never became a fan of automatic exposure for wildlife shooting. I am always shooting birds in manual - it takes a bit to accumulate experience, but then you can basically guess the settings just by looking around you, maybe take a picture, see where the histogram is and compensate. In broad daylight, for flying birds I would usually use something like 1/1000 s f/8 ISO 400 or so. You don't need to push the time that short, especially with only 300mms of reach, especially if you practice a bit in following the bird.

An important part of the technique is the actual focusing and shooting. I am a Canon user, so I am not sure how exactly are things called in Nikon land, but I presume it will be similar. So there are two ways of auto-focus: continuous AF, when it keeps re-focusing on a moving subject and "normal" where once it locks a focus, it stays there. In Canon you press the shutter half-way to make it focus, which I think is also similar in Nikon? Anyway, I found myself using mostly the "normal" mode for birds that don't fill a significant part of my field of view - simply because in the continuous mode, I tend to slip the focusing point (I usually use only one to keep control) off the bird and the lens goes wild focusing on the sky. In that case however, you need to be active with your finger - press to focus, then quickly snap a series - if you keep it locked for a while, you need to release and push again to make it focus again and so on...

Also, you are shooting in burst, right? Expect to have a lot of pictures and only a few good ones!
 

nikonmike

Well-known member
We all have different ways of doing BIF, i go manual with auto iso, shutter speed 1600 to 2000 most of the time, lens often wide open,single center point focus box again most of the time.

You need to put the work in, gulls and pigeons are good practice
 

marcsantacurz

Well-known member
I second what was said about the insane apertures. Way too small, you will absolutely get soft images that way especially combined with ISO 1250. If the subject is close, try F8 to get some DoF if it's a large bird. If it's at a distance, go with minimum aperture or maybe 6.3. Don't go above f11 unless you have a really good reason to do it and you better stay at low ISO too.

If I am shooting against a slowly changing background, I will shoot M with with appropriate shutter and aperture settings, and AUTO ISO and use exposure compensation. Usually +0.7 to +1.5 when shooting against the sky or +0 to +0.3 when shooting against ground cover.

If I am moving between sky and ground, I will fix the ISO too. I aim at a patch of brown grass (about the same as a bird color) and find what is the correct ISO, then fix that (maybe going 1/3 step brighter). As long as the birds are in sun, it will work great and ignore any changes in background brightness. if the birds are going between shade and sun, I prefer auto iso.

I find for cropping, I get better results shooting raw than dealing with jpeg artifacts. But that's really a 3rd order effect compared to the big ones of f-stop, shutter speed, iso, and technique.

The other thing to look at is the shutter release setting. The default for AF-C is to use release priority, not focus priority. That means it will start shooting frames when you press the button even if it is not fully locked on. That can fool you to thinking you got the shot if you only shoot 1 or 2 frames in AF-C. I set AF-C to focus priority so it will not start taking frames until it gets AF lock on confirmation. This is menu item A1 on my d850 and it has 4 choices (might not be in the right order): release, release+focus, focus+release, focus. "focus" means it will only shoot a frame if it is in focus -- your AF rate will be lower than otherwise. "focus+release" means the 1st frame must be in focus, but subsequent frames might not be -- keeps high AF speed after the 1st frame. "release+focus" means it takes a 1st frame immediately then subsequent frames when they are in-focus. "release" means it will shot as fast as it can without focus lock for as long as you hold the button. I do "focus+release".

Marc
 
The Nikon D7200 is a fine camera with great IQ for a DX format.

I like to keep things very simple and with a degree of automation.

For birds in flight, or moving, a shutter speed of 1/2000 sec works well to start with.

Rather than shutter priority, I use aperture priority with Auto ISO.
Set the minimum shutter speed to 1/2000 sec.
Set the minimum ISO to 100.
Set the maximum ISO to 1600
Use Spot Metering - that's correct
I use Centre spot focus in general - maybe 3D tracking on a big slow bird like a Pelican etc.

The way auto ISO works in practice is that it will automatically choose the lowest ISO for the light available to achieve the minimum shutter speed you have set. What does it really matter if it chooses 100, 200, or 400 ISO ..... it's just one less thing to worry about in the heat of the moment.

If your desired minimum shutter speed cannot be achieved even by the Auto ISO bumping things all the way up to your maximum set level, then it will shoot at your maximum ISO and start to drop the shutter speed below the minimum you set.

A word on apertures - yours seem rather high (you may be running into diffraction effects which will make the image soft). You generally want about f5.6 - f9 depending on the dof effects you want and the light available.

With high contrast birds and changing aspect, you will have to dial a bit of exposure compensation in at the time of shooting.
eg. A white bird that turns into the sun will need some -negative exposure compensation to preserve highlights. This will speed up the shutter speed effectively.
A black bird that turns away from the sun, or goes into shadow will need some +positive exposure compensation. This will slow the shutter speed effectively.

Check the exposure histogram to make sure that you are exposing to the right - ie the left hand side of the histogram curve (the shadows) must be to the right of the left hand graph edge as far as possible without the right hand side of the curve going beyond the right hand edge of the graph (if this happens you will 'blow' the highlights. It doesn't matter if you blow the background - just try not to blow any highlights on the subject). In this way you will minimize captured noise. The main thing is to make sure that you capture all the available information. Underexposing (falling off the left hand edge of the graph) make the image more noisy.

To reference your shots they would have been better off at:
Shot#1 ..... aperture f9 which would have dropped your ISO and given more detail.
Shot#2 ...... aperture f9, shutter speed 1/2000, which would have dropped the ISO right down close to the minimum. Maybe even minimum, so your shutter speed would be automatically set higher than 1/2000.

Your equipment should give very good results.


Chosun :gh:

Thank you for your quick and detailed reply.

Aperture: It seems that the biggest mistake on my part, in regards to sharpness issues, was that I was using a very narrow aperture. This seems to be the consensus among other posters as well.
So the ideal limit would be anything under f11?

ISO: The ISO limit of up to 1600 is something I am a bit skeptical about. You see, the areas that lack contrast (sky for example) show quite a bit of noise even at 1250. Is the wider aperture going to reduce the amount of noise at the same ISO ?

Metering: The metering mode you have kindly suggested is Spot. I was under the impression that my wrongly exposed photo of the four ducks was due to Spot metering picking up from the exposure value from the bright sky.
Shouldn't it be Center-weighted or Matrix?
Can you please validate this theory?

Histograms: I think my knowledge about this needs to be enhanced my an order of a magnitude.

Lastly, could you please revisit the fours ducks picture with the perspective of exposure and offer some tips?

Thanks!
 

njlarsen

Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
Supporter
Barbados
The assumption when using spot metering is that the spot is on the main subject, in other words that one of your ducks would be covering up the spot. But with what I see on this image, under those conditions you had, you would have to also use exposure compensation, which Marc already described.

As a side note, seeing the need for exposure compensation is easier with a mirrorless camera because you are seeing what the sensor is doing in your EVF.

Niels
 

Chosun Juan

Given to Fly
Australia - Aboriginal
Thank you for your quick and detailed reply.

Aperture: It seems that the biggest mistake on my part, in regards to sharpness issues, was that I was using a very narrow aperture. This seems to be the consensus among other posters as well.
So the ideal limit would be anything under f11?

ISO: The ISO limit of up to 1600 is something I am a bit skeptical about. You see, the areas that lack contrast (sky for example) show quite a bit of noise even at 1250. Is the wider aperture going to reduce the amount of noise at the same ISO ?

Metering: The metering mode you have kindly suggested is Spot. I was under the impression that my wrongly exposed photo of the four ducks was due to Spot metering picking up from the exposure value from the bright sky.
Shouldn't it be Center-weighted or Matrix?
Can you please validate this theory?

Histograms: I think my knowledge about this needs to be enhanced my an order of a magnitude.

Lastly, could you please revisit the fours ducks picture with the perspective of exposure and offer some tips?

Thanks!
OK, first thing to say is that by recommending Aperture Mode and Auto ISO it is intended as a very quick and largely automated way to get you able to take useful photos. You might have to dial in some exposure compensation one way or the other on black or white birds in changing light. That ISO range I recommended is fine for that sensor. The part you have to do is get the exposure right - that is the best way to minimize noise. Spot metering is definitely what you want.

You really want to concentrate on getting close (as your lens is shortish) , getting the lighting and photographing direction as advantageous as possible (lower angles of bright light coming from over your shoulder onto the subject). You also want to concentrate on nailing the focus and good steady shooting technique (Marc has given some great tips there that you should follow and set your camera up that way).

You should research your lens and find out what apertures it is sharpest at. Make sure to look up your exact lens - I think from memory (with your FX lens) it will be sharpest from wide open to ~f8 or so. You should also look up a depth of field (dof) calculator to see how deep the in-focus range will be at the various distances you are likely to shoot at. Keep this in mind for small or large birds. Use the biggest apertures (lowest f numbers) that you can to get the subject in focus - this will keep the shutter speeds up and the ISO's down for better pictures (with your shorter lens 1/1600th sec shutter speed will be fine too - I should have said that initially).

That's why I recommended Aperture Mode so that you can easily change the aperture to suit, and everything else takes care of itself on auto. Having said that though, your camera (great as it is) won't work miracles in super challenging harsh light/hight contrast, or extremely low light conditions. Check out the Brown Thornbill in my gallery - that was taken at ISO 3200 with backlighting, and a slower than ideal shutter speed. It also had no processing to speak of.

With Spot Metering you can lock the exposure reading and then recompile the frame. With your four ducks photo that is one way of doing it. Otherwise Spot Metering is linked to the AF point in these Nikon cameras. That shot is challenging - you have underwings in shadow - you really need more exposure on them - even with spot metering you may have to dial in some extra exposure. Check it on the histogram. Typically you will blow the sky to get birds in this aspect exposed correctly. You'll end up with detailed birds and whitish sky, and that's fine. (unless the sky colour is a feature you want to capture - prepare then to have silhouetted birds - all part of the art - check my shot of a kangaroo mob early one morning to see what near monotonal results happen then).

If you could post the histogram of the duck photo that may help people to comment further.

It pays to go out and practice all this stuff and relate it to the picture taken, how it looks, settings used, and the histogram. By changing small things - aperture, exposure compensation settings, you can see what this does to shutter speeds/ISO, how the picture looks, and how it moves the histogram and over exposure blinkies around. The best way to do this is with something you can easily get close to that won't fly away - like trees and flowers. Then you will know what to do with birds.

The ultimate Rolls-Royce technique is to use Manual Mode so that you have the exposure meter graph showing in the viewfinder. It's much easier to handle that in the heat of the moment if you learn all the basics I mentioned first via a more automated stepping stone.

You could also check out this very useful thread on tips for beginning photography and settings and methodology. It mirrors a lot of what I have posted here. Hope that helps.
https://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=371415





Chosun :gh:
 

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