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mark fadely
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p.1 #1 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


Congratulations to mark fadely for winning Feature Thread of the Week with 15 votes - View Previous Winners


This was originally posted in the Canon Gear Forum but people encouraged me to share it here since a lot of N&W readers don't visit the Canon forum. I hope it benefits some.

Disclaimer: The title of this thread is in no way meant to demean or harm actual Geeks.


I wanted to share a story about a recent lucky shooting day I had.

There isn't that much discussion around here about positioning techniques to get closer to the subjects we shoot. Most of the shooting talk revolves around gears as Peter (Petkal) so endearingly refers to his cameras and lenses. After all this is the Canon Gear board. This topic came up when I spoke with Peter in the “Canon Big Whites - Pick 3” thread. BIF shooting is my thing and I like to travel light with a 400 5.6 being my main birding lens. It has been tempting over the years to go for a 500 or 600mm lens but portability and practicality have prevailed. A couple of weeks ago I took a vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I am mostly a bird-in-flight shooter so that means always being on the lookout for good spots with birds in the air. I arrived at the beach resort and shot shore birds for the first couple of days of my stay. I am not too keen on taking birding tours where you are with a group and the guides often don't put you in front of really good in-flight photography opportunities. When on these vacations I usually try to find a local cab driver and then pay him to drive me around for a few hours in search of in-flight birding.

On the third day in Puerto Vallarta I found just the right cabby who knew some good birding spots. He only charged $25 per hour too. Surprisingly he took me to a restaurant, surfside in the middle of the city boardwalk. It's funny; you just never know where your best shooting may happen. Anyway, we sat down and I bought the cabby (Jose) lunch and a beer. The restaurand was right on the beach with a cabana and plastic tables and chairs. As we are sitting there he says, "See that fisherman there with the net?" Right in front of us is a local fisherman hauling a fine net out of the water and the cabby says, "be ready because the fisherman is going to throw out the small fish onto the beach and just keep the large ones. When he tosses those small fish every kind of bird here is going to swarm the area." This was an exciting moment and I got my MKIV with 400 5.6 all set in manual mode and ready to shoot and I sat it on the table and waited.. I’ve learned to use manual exposure in this situation and for black birds I use my lowest shutter speed which is usually 1/1250th. Then as I target other birds I just adjust the shutter speed wheel accordingly. For brown or medium color subjects the wheel goess up one click to 1/1600th, and then for white birds the shutter goes up two or three clicks to either 1/2000th or 1/2500th. This works a lot better for me than AV mode with EC adjust. Just then the fish were released and the Puerto Vallarta birds' aerial performance began. It was awesome and I was totally prepared for it. It was the most active 15 minutes of shooting I’ve ever had. There were 25-50 birds in the air right in front of me for over 15 minutes! Here is a list of the birds that showed up.

Frigate bird
Pelican
Cormorant
Tern
Snowy Egret
Gulls of course
Blue-footed booby

The great part was that many of the shots were so close that the birds covered the whole frame of the image. Amazing times, and it just goes to show that a little planning goes a long way in getting good shots.

Here is a shot of the beach area right in front of the restaurant where the fisherman was. You can still see many birds in the air and this was after the feeding frenzy was over.







This is me(L) and Jose the cabby at the table. Thanks again Jose!







And heres a few of the shots from only a 15minute session.

All with a MKIV, 400 5.6 @ f5.6 and iso160, and 1/1250th - 1/2000th

Thanks for reading,

Please share your ideas and techniques that allow you to “get the shot”.

Mark




























Someone in the other thread asked for more information on manual BIF shooting so here's that info.

First, the camera cannot do a great job metering because the changes between sky, bird, ground, and angle to the sun etc. are just too challenging for the camera to auto adjust for. The bird reflects a certain light level and the camera cannot precisely lock onto that light level in any of its auto modes. The camera is always metering off of the some portion of the background surrounding the bird. The camera is constantly changing its exposure based on the background while the bird’s exposure level remains fairly constant. That is the reason you have so many exposure errors with blown out whites or too dark in the shawdows. Many BIF shooters compensate for this by adding exposure compensation in auto mode to help not under or over expose a scene. The EC helps but it does not fully cure the problem. Adding in EC just shifts the exposure higher or lower and then the camera goes along making auto exposure errors just as before but now it has a bias added to keep the exposure higher or lower.

Manual mode eliminates all camera exposure errors and relies on the photographer to make the decisions on exposure. When you arrive at a shooting location it is quite simple to lay out a mental exposure map of the subjects in the area. Just use the shutter speed to adjust for the desired exposure levels needed. You can do the same exposure adjustments by changing the ISO but the shutter gives you better control.

For the settings below we are using a 400 f5.6L lens always wide-open at f5.6.

For BIF on the 400mm lens a minimum shutter speed needs to be at least 1/800th for clean shots so I start with 1/1250th if the available light is there. If you don’t want to see any blur on the wingtips then even higher shutter speeds will be required. Usually I don’t mind a little blur so 1/1250th is generally good for me. During the brighter part of a sunny day exposure for black feathers is usually pretty good with iso400 and a shutter speed of 1/1250th. That will be the lowest shutter speed you will use and then you can test exposures on the lighter colored birds. Adjust the iso so that it is high enough for the black birds and then leave it there. Of course when the light is not as bright like in the early morning, the iso will have to be set higher. By trial and error I have found the shutter speed range of 1/1250th - 1/2500th will pretty much cover the range of bird colors with proper exposures. For birds at the extremes of dark and light you may even have to go one click further in each direction for exact exposure. Constantly chimp your shots in the beginning to check the histogram and get a good "feel" for what birds need what exposure. At first you will start tracking a bird and get some good in-focus shots only to find you left the shutter speed set for black when you were shooting a white bird, DOH! Good thing I've never done that myself

Keep in mind that as birds fly their angle to the sun can change which will also affect your exposures. As you practice you will learn little tricks to help fine tune the exposure settings. When the bird is flying on your left side the exposure may be a different than when it is on your right. This may sound complicated, but like most things, it may be a big challenge at first, but with practice it becomes second nature.


Mark



Feb 20, 2014 at 02:13 PM
jimbob
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p.1 #2 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


A wonderful set of birds in flight Mark. Also I enjoyed your story and the location shots of yourself and Jose and the very well written tutorial on exposure and manual settings. Jim.


Feb 20, 2014 at 02:50 PM
arbitrage
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p.1 #3 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


Thanks for bringing this over here also Mark. I think a lot of people will/should benefit from this info. This is what getting good images is all about...not $10,000 lenses

As promised in the original thread.......Voted TOTW



Feb 20, 2014 at 02:59 PM
mitesh
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p.1 #4 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


arbitrage wrote:
Thanks for bringing this over here also Mark. I think a lot of people will/should benefit from this info. This is what getting good images is all about...not $10,000 lenses

As promised in the original thread.......Voted TOTW


+1



Feb 20, 2014 at 03:14 PM
markdennis
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p.1 #5 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


Very interesting and some fine shots. Thanks.

Mark



Feb 20, 2014 at 03:35 PM
Tim Kuhn
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p.1 #6 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


Thanks for the post Mark, I'm sure a lot of people will get some valuable tips out of this.

I'll add a few thoughts and things I do differently, they are meant to add to the discussion not to say that one method is right or wrong.

I too shoot manual exposure, I do that for everything not just bif. When I get out of the car I look at the light and set the exposure, take a test shot of something neutral and check the lcd. That way if something surprises me along the way I'll have the correct setting already. I also constantly check the lcd while shooting, if conditions are even the slightest bit variable I check after each burst or so. I find the adjustments to make with flyers isn't any different than for static subjects, you just need to know how to use the dials by touch. One thing I have picked up over the years is how to adjust to what color bird is flying by or if the light is constantly changing due to partial clouds and such. In this case I'll change the ISO because it's quick and easy to do. If the sun is out or white birds, ISO 400, dark birds or clouds ISO 800, that sort of thing. That way I can control the dof and whatever wing blur I'm happy with at the time with the shutter and aperture and just spin dials for light. Or if Ma nature throws a real curve I'll also spin the shutter along with adjusting the ISO if something surprises me or I get a white bird in the sun followed by a cloud and a dark bird.

Getting lined up with the light is extremely important. Some call this luck but you can make your luck. Watch the patterns of the flyers and get yourself in the correct position. Of course sometimes you cannot do that but we are talking about striving for ideals. Birds will follow patterns in their flight to take into effect the wind and other parameters, take advantage of that and work it.

I shoot bif with whatever lens I'm carrying, I really don't have a preference. They all have advantages and disadvantages. The main difference in using different lenses is the shutter speeds you need to use. Still I rarely go over 1/2000 with any lens. Sure sometimes I will but there rarely is a need to even at 800mm. I usually shoot at 800, that's my go to lens, so I try to start at 1/1000 with that but I will go lower on bigger slower birds such as gulls, eagles, cormies.

Another thing learned over time is to use burst liberally but also knowing when not to use it. If you don't use restraint you'll end up filling up cards with crap like clipped wings, birds flying away, shots without focus locked on. That's all fine if you like to spend time deleting but most of us have better things to do

For AF I use the factory settings for the most part on both my 1d mk4 and 1dx. I use center point and minimum helpers. My technique requires you stay on the subject but it does reward you with super sharp shots and minimal loss of focus. Of course if you go off of the bird you will need to get right back on it.

Most of all these things just take practice. I practice often, especially if I'm out mid day and the light is difficult. That's a good time to sharpen your skills tracking IFs.

On of the more difficult things with IFs is keeping your backgrounds good. It you are careful about that before you start shooting it will be to your benefit. I'll also try to stop firing once the subject moves passed the good background.

I forgot where else I was going with this I may come back later and add to it

Great post Mark, well done

Tim

Edited on Feb 20, 2014 at 08:11 PM · View previous versions



Feb 20, 2014 at 03:54 PM
Christian H
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p.1 #7 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


Baited shots are always easier to get, but I vote yes on getting close as opposed to using long glass. Experienced wildlife photographers can get surprisingly close to their subjects with 300-500 mm lenses. Longer glass makes sense if you have limited mobility - can't/won't/not allowed to leave the vehicle or parking lot - or if you must have good background separation with small f-stops. But for most shooting situations +/- 400 mm works great: long enough to get you some reach but not so long as to keep you from conveying any sort of intimacy. Plus, the ease of handholding in this focal range.


Feb 20, 2014 at 04:00 PM
eorlando
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p.1 #8 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


What a great post! Thanks for sharing... great pics by the way!


Feb 20, 2014 at 04:36 PM
IndyFab
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p.1 #9 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


Voted TOTW


Feb 20, 2014 at 05:18 PM
Lil Judd
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p.1 #10 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


Great post, well done

and congratulations on your successful shoot

Lil



Feb 20, 2014 at 05:20 PM
 

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arbitrage
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p.1 #11 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


Tim Kuhn wrote:
Another thing learned over time is to use burst liberally but also knowing when not to use it. If you don't use restraint you'll end up filling up cards with crap like clipped wings, birds flying away, shots without focus locked on. That's all fine if you like to spend time deleting but most of us have better things to do

Tim


Although everything Tim says is worth its weight in gold...I had to single out this paragraph as I just spent this morning driving myself crazy as I deleted 5000 images that were absolutely stupid to even take but that is what happens when you get new toys



Feb 20, 2014 at 06:21 PM
Tim Kuhn
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p.1 #12 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


but that is what happens when you get new toys Or if you are desperate to take pictures. We all do it


Feb 20, 2014 at 08:02 PM
alivis
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p.1 #13 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


I'm just learning to do BIF and this thread is invaluable. Thanks! Beautiful shots too. Paul


Feb 20, 2014 at 08:49 PM
kmunroe
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p.1 #14 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


great post Mark


Feb 20, 2014 at 08:52 PM
birdied
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p.1 #15 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


Great post Mark, thank you. Tim, your post is also most helpful. Thank you both.

Birdie



Feb 20, 2014 at 09:47 PM
acjd
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p.1 #16 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


Sorry, I put this post in the wrong forum. It was meant for this thread. Confusing.

Mark

Thank you very much for taking the time to write this and tell your story. Well done and I really like the Pelican.

You wrote: Please share your ideas and techniques that allow you to “get the shot”. . One question. There was a day when all cameras were manual mode. I learned using a camera without a meter (yes, I am really old). Back in the day you learned sunny 16 or you didn't get a picture. Or you were rich and bought a meter.

In any case, times change and these new fangled cameras are really computers. So why not take advantage of that? Regardless of the color of the bird, why not just leave it on AV or TV, using spot metering, and single point with minimal expansion as noted by Tim?

The whole point of spot metering is to meter only on your subject, let the background be whatever. So why not take advantage of that little computer in the camera? Yes, you need to be able to track the bird, as Tim noted, but that just takes time to learn.

edit. Oops. When I mentioned Tim, I meant what he wrote on the Canon thread. So confusing Oops



Feb 20, 2014 at 11:59 PM
Tim Kuhn
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p.1 #17 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


ACJD,
Just to be clear, I know this can be confusing, I have not posted a response on the Gear forum thread

Also, I don't use the in camera meter. I meter by eye, kind of along the sunny 16 method but a bit more from instinct. You may ask why don't I use the computer that controls metering. The in camera meter makes many decisions, usually compromises, trying to figure out what I want. I know what I want and control the camera to deliver that. I may get it wrong but at least it's me missing the shot, not the camera guessing missing the shot

Tim



Feb 21, 2014 at 12:24 AM
surfnron
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p.1 #18 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


Thanx Mark and Tim for your invaluable thoughts ~ Ron


Feb 21, 2014 at 02:06 AM
mitesh
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p.1 #19 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


Tim Kuhn wrote:
The in camera meter makes many decisions, usually compromises, trying to figure out what I want. I know what I want and control the camera to deliver that.


That was the first piece of advice you gave me about a year and a half ago, Tim, on one of my first posts. Still remember it vividly because it was great advice. Started learning full manual then and now it's like second nature



Feb 21, 2014 at 02:12 AM
mark fadely
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p.1 #20 · Gears, Geeks, & Techniques


jimbob wrote:
A wonderful set of birds in flight Mark. Also I enjoyed your story and the location shots of yourself and Jose and the very well written tutorial on exposure and manual settings. Jim.


Thank you Jim,

I'm glad you liked it. It was a really fun day for sure. In 10yrs of shooting BIF I've never had an opportunity quite like this one.

Mark



Feb 21, 2014 at 12:33 PM
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