Roseate Spoonbill 012116a copy

I have been reading and hopefully adding some decent advice to some folks who are wanting to photograph birds in flight and achieve great results. First one must understand realistic expectations. A lens is only as good as the camera it is attached to and the person using the setup. This is not to say someone is responsible for all the mistakes, but understanding one’s gear is essential.
First one must understand the difference between blurry and not sharp.Blurry is something that results from movement of either the subject or the camera. Technically it could also be not sharp, but I am using not sharp as a term for more of out of focus. In order to pan with a bird that is moving several things are needed to get a great image. You need to have a high enough shutter speed to stop movement…simple. You will increase your chances of getting it sharp if you pan at the same speed the bird is moving. If you are panning at 30 mph and the bird is moving at a different speed, well you are going to get blur. You must, and this is very important know how your camera system focuses, whether it is one spot, several spots or the whole screen, single focus or continuous focus. A camera system will look for something that is the greatest contrast or closest to it and focus on that. It has no idea that you are photographing a bird. It is doing what it is programmed to do. John Shaw used to always tell folks: “technology is not an excuse to abandon technique”. Best quote ever I believe. We buy a camera and want it to do all the work, but we forget it doesn’t know what we are wanting to do. We have to help it.
Secondly, if the lens focuses on something beside your subject, it isn’t the lens’s fault that the thing we wanted to be focused isn’t. There are cases where you need to have your camera and lens calibrated for micro focusing, which means it is focusing slightly in front or behind the focus point. I have a local shop here that can do it for me. It doesn’t cost much and it is worth saving me the headache. Honestly though, I have never had to have one done. Set your camera on a tripod with the long lens, shoot something sitting still at a high enough speed to freeze movement. If it is sharp you lens is working fine. If you are manually focusing, check your diopter to make sure it is focused for your vision as well.
Understand what Vibration Compensation, Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction does for your photography. Don’t think that it will be a cure all for bad technique. It is designed to pick up to 3 or 4 stops on a stationary object when you are stationary as well. It will help to steady your hand when panning or hand holding. It will not get you a sharp image if you simply pan quickly with a bird as it flies by. That is an unrealistic expectation of your equipment. I an handhold my 600mm lens for 1/60th of a second with VC and get a sharp image if the subject doesn’t move. If you are using a tripod, use a good one. Don’t spend thousands of dollars on a camera and then less than $100 on a tripod. To do wildlife effectively, you should be spending about $750 minimum on a tripod and gimbal head. You will make a one time investment for a lifetime of happiness and little frustration. My tripod, the Sirui N3204X has 4 leg sections and the largest leg is 32mm. It is plenty big enough to handle the job I put it through. My rig will support 50 pounds easily, but my gear is no where near that heavy…perfect. Get a system that will support 5 to 10 times what you will put on it for the best support.
Most of all know how light effects your image. If the lighting is poor you will have a harder time getting the shutter speeds you need (at least 1/1000th of a second) to stop or slow down a bird in flight. You can push the ISO up, but understand you will have noise and it may take away from the sharpness of the image. If the lighting is great and bright, birds in flight, are much easier to capture. I can consistently get tack sharp images with my Tamron SP 150-600mm Di VC USD lens because I know my equipment and practice good technique. It allows me to take advantage of a very sharp lens!
Roseate Spoonbill, Merritt Island, Florida. Tamron SP 150-600mm Di VC USD lens on a Canon 7Dii, Manual Mode, f8, ISO 400, resulting in a shutter speed of 1/1600th of a second, Sirui N3204X tripod and PH20 Gimbal head, Mix Camerawerx Spot Shot, Peak Design strap, Lowepro photo backpack, processed in Lightroom CC.

8 Responses to “Expectations”

  1. Steve Fassio Says:

    Outstanding tips and tutorial. You have now become my Tamron guru. Thanks David !

  2. Ronnie Sue Ambrosino Says:

    Thank you for posting and for sharing your knowledge. it is much appreciated! I think my stumbling block with sharpness is not fully understanding when to use which focal point. My camera (Nikon D750) has a few different menu options that define the focus points and in addition, I can choose from single point, group point, 9 point or 51 points. Thanks to some of the recent information you’ve offered, I’m currently practicing with the first 3 settings to try to determine which is best for the situation. I’m practicing on birds on a feeder in my backyard, which i think gives me a somewhat consistent testing environment.
    I find my camera stops “hunting” if I use AF-S, but am trying to get sharpness with AF-C. I use BBF.
    With the information you offered, I have a better understanding of my problem-now I just need to learn how to fix it!
    thanks again….

    • lilybug1960 Says:

      I’m glad the information has helped. BBF is a great tool for birds in flight as well. It really can simplify things. I practice at my feeders all the time!

  3. Thanks for the tips! I have been following the thread on the Tamron group as well and know I have a lot to learn with this lens. It’s easier to blame the lens than figure out what you are doing wrong. 😉

    • lilybug1960 Says:

      I am glad the tips helped. Learning the gear is challenging and frustrating at times, but once you do learn it, it all becomes pure fun!

  4. Frank Barker Says:

    i was wondering if you were using ai servo and what focus pattern on the 7d

    • lilybug1960 Says:

      I am using Ai Servo and I use one of the zone settings. It allows me to select only the center area of the center zone. It ends up being 9 points I think.

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