Bird Photography Camera Settings

Bird Photography Camera Settings - Photography Tips

Photo Tips Podcast: Bird Photography Camera Settings #33

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Bird Photography Camera Settings

Zim: Today Alison Precious is back on the podcast so we can continue to talk about bird photography. But we're going to get into the nitty gritty of camera settings and technique. Alison is a photographer based in Gravesend England and she's been shooting birds for over a decade. She's also a member in good standing with the Royal Pphotographic Society. Hey Alison thanks for coming back to the podcast how are you doing today?

Alison: I'm good thanks Zim.

Zim: I hear it's still pretty gray and nasty over there.

Alison: Yeah it's wet, dull and dismal.

Zim: I’m sorry to hear that. But onwards. Foor the last two podcasts we've talked about setting up for your shot, what you need to know before going outside. Today, I want to talk a about actual camera settings. One of the things that caught my attention last time was that you said that you like to shoot at about two hundred millimeters on a full frame sensor and that really surprised me because it felt like a really short lens for this type of photography. Can you go over again why you're shooting so short?

Alison: Because I can get closer to the birds. It's less bulky and it's easier to get in really close to get the good pictures. You're more likely to get intimate pictures the closer you are. That's why I like using the two hundred.

Zim: So it sounds a lot like photographing people; I mean often times you want to shoot at about a hundred millimeters or more, but actually if you're shooting a shorter lens  it allows you to be more intimate with the subject. It feels like you are heading in this direction in that you are looking to get more intimate with your subect as well?

Alison: Yeah, yeah you need to be patient. You know, you're there you're ready, so you know patience just to get that good shot with the two hundred. Obviously the closer you are the better the picture.

Zim: What about your settings? Are you shooting Manual, or Auto, or Shutter Priority?

Alison: I'm using Manual mode.

Zim: So what's your f/stop and shutter speed when you're doing that?

Alison: My f/stop is usually 5.6 or lower. My shutter speed, the minimum I'll go is twelve fifty and largest I'll go is about sixteen hundred.

Zim: Okay so your shutter speed is only between one over twelve hundred and fifty and one over sixteen hundred, that seems really slow to me. I would have assumed that you would be shooting something like one over five thousand. Are you popping up your shutter speed at all if they're in flight?

Alison: No, I just got up to about sixteen hundred when they’re in flight that's sufficient.

Zim: That's really interesting because it's not nearly as fast as I would have imagined. What about your f/stop? Why are you shooting such a low f/stop.

Alison: Because the bird is the subject. I like to try to blur out the background so the bird really pops. And I get really good details on the bird itself. I don’t want too much background.

Zim: I would have been concerned with trying to nail the focus and I would have assumed that by shooting so shallow this would make things a lot harder. I would have gone to a higher f/stop just to give myself a little bit of wiggle room on that focus. But as I think it through, I guess when you are shooting at 200mm and you are so close to the subject it’s not necessary to be shooting at high f/stops.

Alison: No, I prefer it lower.

Zim: So what's your ISO setting?

Alison: Usually when I’m shooting birds I have it set to automatic. But depending on the light conditions I might go and set the minimum or maximum, and probably the maximum around 800 and the minimum 100.

Zim: Basically what I'm hearing from you is that you're setting your shutter speed reasonably high to make sure you stop any motion; you’ve got your f/stop reasonably shallow so you can drop out the background but because you’re likely to have varying lighting conditions as that bird moves around, you’re setting your ISO to auto so that the camera will adjust for any changes you might encounter.

Alison: That's right yeah.

Zim: I'm curious what metering mode are you using?

Alison: I use matrix metering and I find that works fine for what I'm doing.

Zim: So you're not spot metering at all?

Alison: No.

Zim: So I understand that you own a Sony 7R mark 3 but you're not using that for any of your bird photography, is that correct?

Alison: That's correct.

Zim: I'm curious why not?

Alison: I can’t really nail the focus. I’ve been trying but I have more luck with the Canon.

Zim: Which Canon do you shot with?

Alison: The 1DX Mark 3.

Zim: And you find a lot more success nailing the focus with that than the Sony?

Alison: Yeah much better, yeah.

Zim: That’s interesting. So my next question is what drive mode are you in?

Alison: I use continuous high mode shooting especially when the bird is in flight because I feel that gives me a higher probability of nailing that perfect shot for myself. Yeah, the camera is capable of shooting lots of frames per second, so I’ve tried to push the camera to it’s optimal use.

Zim: My next question is what's your white balance setting?

Alison: I usually use automatic white balance. So I let the camera choose.

Zim: That would indicate that you are probably shooting RAW files?

Alison: Yes.

Zim: So if you have any white balance issues at all you'll just go ahead and fix that and post process.

Alison: I do.

Zim: So what autofocus selection mode are you using most of the time.

Alison: One spot focus.

Zim: So basically you're going to predetermine where you want that bird to be in your frame and then you point your camera until the bird falls behind your focus point?

Alison: That's correct.

Zim: What about your auto focus mode, are you using single shot or using AI?

Alison: I'm using AI, because the subject often moves and  I can trackit and stay on it.

Zim: So basically you're increasing the likelihood of getting focus as the bird moves around as it closes distance or increases distance.

Alison: That's correct yes.

Zim: It's my understanding that a lot of bird shooters like to use back button focus where they’re untethering the focus from the shutter and the metering, is that the way you like to shoot to?

Alison: I do like to use back button focus because it gives me an edge on speed.

Zim: Why is that?

Alison: Because if you back button focus first, you’ve already achieved the focus and then you just press the shutter. Where as ordinarily, as you press the shutter it then finds focus and then fires the picture.

Zim: I think that's it on the settings right? You're shooting in manual mode, we know your f/stop, shutter speed and ISO settings. You’re shooting continuous shutter with AI focus and you’re back button focusing. Do you have any other words of wisdom for those who really want to get into bird photography?

Alison: It’s a passion, bird photography. The more you can learn about the subject that you’re photographing, the better your pictures will be.

Zim: I think your comments previously about being patient is really important, because I've been out there a couple times in the last few weeks and you really need to hunker down and just wait for them to show up in that perfect spot. And then you still have to practice everything else to get it right.

Alison: You do. You need a great deal of patience. And look at other people’s photographs, study them see what you like about them and try to mimic it in your photographs.

Zim: I think over and over again it really comes down to the person behind the camera and not the camera itself. Although the settings are really helpful in this situation because you're shooting a moving object (it's a bit of a technical thing that we're doing) but without the research, the practice and patience, I don't think you’ll get very far.

Alison: No, the more you know about the subjects the better your photographs will become.

Zim: Well Allison thank you so much for joining me again. I think that pretty much sums it up unless you have some ideas on what else we can talk about?  

Alison: It would be quite nice to talk about the country code, how to behave in nature when you’re observing animals. 

Zim: I had no idea there was a code other than not littering. So I guess I’ll try to behave until our next talk! Ok, so enjoy your gloomy weather. And I’ll call you in the spring.

Alison: Thank you so.


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