Friday, November 6, 2015

"Flights of Fancy, Birds in the Air" by Walt Anderson

When pursuing avian flight photography there are several decisions you must make before taking a photograph.  One of the first is how you wish to show your subject and its motion.

If you wish to stop motion and show all the feather detail of a bird you will want to use a very fast shutter speed.  I would normally set my camera at 1/1000 of a second as a minimum. Often times with smaller and faster birds I will increase the shutter speed to as high as 1/2500.  When trying to photograph hummingbirds without using flash, I would go to an even higher shutter speed.  Because you want at least some depth of field, use an aperture setting of F5.6 to F8.  To achieve these fast shutter speeds and reasonable depth of field, you will need to use higher than normal ISO settings on your camera.  Luckily for us, each new generation of digital camera gives us better results at higher ISO's.  Depending on the amount of ambient light, I start at ISO 800 and increase it as needed.  I am often using ISO 1600 to 3200 to gain the shutter speeds I desire.

If you wish to show a sense of motion in your photograph of flight, you need to use a much slower shutter speed.  Start at 1/100 of a second and go slower from there depending on the size and speed of your subject.  I often find that a 1/60 or 1/50 of a second works well for me.  With this you will need to use the technique of panning with your subject. When trying to use slow shutter speeds to pan on bright days, you need to set your camera to a low ISO (100) and stop down the lens to F16 or F22 as necessary.  An alternative way to achieve slow shutter speeds is to use a neutral density filter or even a polarizing filter to block some light.  Panning with your subject to show motion while maintaining a somewhat sharp subject requires more practice than when trying to stop the birds motion.  You will need to allow yourself time to adjust to the speed and flight pattern of the bird.  I personally always try to have a least one portion of the bird in sharp focus (usually the head) when doing blurs, but that is an individual choice.

These photos were taken on the same day and location at Lock and Dam 14 on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River about twenty minutes apart.  The first was using a 1/1000 shutter speed and the second was at 1/60.

Walt Anderson is an award winning photographer/inventor specializing in wildlife, landscapes and Americana subjects.  In addition to being published in both books and magazines, he has sold prints at art shows, lead tours and workshops in North America, and is teaching photography classes at Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL.

Inspired by Larry West at an early 1990’s workshop, Walt started to explore the capabilities of the new TTL flash units that were just being introduced.  He founded Visual Echoes Inc. to   produce and market his products including the Flash X-tender™ (also marketed under the name “Better Beamer”) and the Panning Plate.  He has shared his knowledge of the use of flash with his Sunshine in your Pocket program for many conventions and clubs and served as a mentor for the NANPA College Student Program.

Walt will be presenting his program at CAPS- Chicago Area Photographic School on Saturday, November 21st.

To go to the CAPS website go to:  Home

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