Whilst on a recent holiday, due to the abundance of birds, I decided to try my hand at capturing some of them going about their lives. I happened to have packed my 500mm Sigma lens and found this very helpful to shoot birds with. It can be very hard to get close to a bird in its natural habitat, so being able to shoot them from further away worked very well. I was captivated by the large Eagles gliding overhead and spent much time trying to capture them in flight.
After setting my ISO at 100 and my focus onto AF-C so it would target the focus on the bird high in the sky. I then took an exposure reading in the sky to set a correct aperture and suitable Shutter speed. I then attempted to capture some shots. The first problem I encountered, was that these birds, even though they are gliding, are moving very fast. As such, they are very hard to find in the sky at 500mm, so by zooming back to 200mm to find the small spec in the sky, then panning with them as I zoomed back to 500mm, I could keep them in frame and start shooting. The first batch of shots were a little disappointing because I was shooting around midday and most of the shots were silhouettes of eagles.
Lesson learned: Shoot away from the sun or wait until the sun moves closer to the horizon, so the bird will have some light on its underside.
After following the bird circling the sky, it made some attempts at swooping down to the water to catch fish. They very quickly flip and dive down and I found that I captured it only partially in frame as it did this. But there were quite a few eagles in the sky, so I picked another one to watch and it soon went in for the dive and I was rewarded with one shot that captured this pose in the photo below. I will admit that I took several shots of it on the way down and this was the only one that I caught with it fully in frame.
The next morning whilst doing some fishing I had my camera within easy reach. Another eagle was circling above, so down went the rod and I started following it with my camera. It suddenly dove and I missed the whole dive because it was going so fast I couldn’t follow it, but I captured it as it reached the water and plucked out a fish and flew away. I was surprised to see that these shots were a little blurry because I was shooting at 1/1000 with an aperture of f6.3. All I can think of is that the birds wingtips are moving faster that 1/1000, maybe next time I’ll try a faster speed.
There were not just eagles to shoot in the Van park where I was staying, There were Cockatoo’s, Lorikeets, Seagulls, Happy Jacks, Crows and Noisy Minors. These birds are much easier to photograph because they tend to stay still in the trees, so you can take your time with exposure and composition, or so I thought. First of all, they may be staying on the same branch or spot on the ground, but they rarely stay still and they also don’t care if they are in the shadows or in the case of a Cockatoo, in the bright sunshine causing the highlights to blow out.
A lot of my shots, (even though I set my camera to spot metering) were too dark or blown out from the bright reflections. I found that I had to underexpose for the cockatoo’s to retain detail in their feathers otherwise it would all be lost. Next time I might try a polarising filter and see how that works on the cockatoo’s. Most of the other bird just required some patience to wait for them to look up or face the camera, provided I had the sun on my back.
I wanted to go for the shallow depth of field look with the flock of seagulls but afterwards found that it was a little too much unless you could pick out a single bird away from the others. So next time I will close the aperture up a little just to keep a little more focal area, this would have given my shots a more pleasing appeal.
Trying to capture a Cockatoo in flight is near impossible because they fly so fast and erratically, but I managed to fluke a shot of one as he left a perch high up in a tree.
I have come to the conclusion that Bird photography can be a very rewarding pastime, but to become good at it you need to be very patient and have lots of time watching and learning each breeds nuances and routines to help make your results more successful.
So I have great respect for the specialist bird photographers who can produce those sharp, well framed photos on a regular basis. It’s not an easy thing standing in the sun keeping still for long spells with your camera at the ready and hoping that a bird will not only pose for you, but also provide some degree of acceptable lighting. I took several hundred photos over the easter break and was only rewarded with a handful of good shots. But I would do it all again just to chance another handful of shots to be proud of.
I hope this little story will inspire you to get out there and give it a go, because the rewards are many, just like the eagle having a go at fishing, every now and then it pays off.