Better BiFs – The Agnostic Approach
Everyone has an opinion about how to photograph birds in flight. In fact how to set up a camera can become a religion to some people. Like everyone else I have an opinion too, but my opinion is to not have an opinion. The thing is that there are so many variables in shooting Bifs that saying “I always do” about anything really only shows that you are a slave to your own dogma. Think about it, birds are always different, colors and sizes, weather is often different, grey sky, blue sky, twilight, and backgrounds are often different, sky, mountains, trees, and water. And then there is the fact that all cameras perform differently. So why in the world would you use the same techniques and camera settings for so many situations? You wouldn’t if you were shooting anything but birds.
There are only two things that I do consistently when shooting birds in flight. I usually use continuous focus tracking and I usually keep the shutter speed above 1/1000 sec. Even those are subject to change. Everything else is depends on the days events and my goals. I will always arrive at my location early and make some test shots cycling through the different settings in my camera and determine which is working best with my objectives. The things I look at the most are Metering/Exposure compensation, focus lock, and the different focus patterns. This method will serve you well if you really drill down on your goals for that shoot. For example, the last time I shot Terns my goal was to capture only head-on and downward diving shots (consider everything else as gravy) against the sky as there was a full moon visible. Terns are mostly white and this day the sky was cloudless and blue so there was fairly good contrast and the brightness of the sky and birds was pretty close so I chose to use zero to minus .3 exposure compensation, short focus lock and just the regular center focus pattern. Easy peasy, and it worked out just fine.
The point I am trying to make is that you are best served by knowing about exposure and learning about how your camera operates. All the well-meaning advice in the world is not a good substitute. Do the work and try all the options and you will get your greatest results. …And you can take that to the bank!
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