Birding help?

posted April 8th, 2015
So, I'm getting pretty into shooting birds now and boy am I having some difficulties!

Focus is my leading problem, I just cant seem to get a good focus on flying birds. My lens wonders to surrounding terrain instead of staying on the bird. I've been panning fast moving airplanes for over 10 years, but I cannot seem to get a grip on birds!

My camera's are also not too great at high ISO, so I'm often left with grainy/flat birds when I try to shoot at speeds of 1600/2500. (Nikon D5100 & D3200)

Any help would be greatly appreciated :)
posted April 8th, 2015
Are you using a center point focal point and light meter? I find that helps. Also don't push the zoom to its extreme as it is less sharp there. Pull back a little. I also use a single shot not one of the moving auto focus options.

posted April 8th, 2015
Have you set your camera to AF-C Auto Focus Mode and Dynamic Area for Auto Focus Area Mode? The fifth and sixth menu option on your "info screen." If you are far enough away, perhaps AF-S and "Single Point Area" (the center one) might work better, especially if your panning is accurate. As Sheila said. @swguevin

The problem with birds versus planes is that their motion is nowhere as predictable. And of course they are a lot smaller, so grabbing initial focus is that much harder. A further difficulty to "tracking" on the D5100 is that there are only 11 focus points around the center of the frame and they are not densely packed. So if the bird moves out from one point and yet is not covered by another, the camera can easily get confused. There is little you can do about that, unfortunately. So you should do your utmost to depend on accurate panning. The D5300 (even better the D7100/7200) is better equipped for "tracking" with a denser set of focus points.

There is no need to use a shutter faster than about 1/640, it actually depends on the focal length of the lens, so you should not have to suffer with high ISO. Your D5100 really is rather good at ISO up to about 1600. I would set up the ISO Sensitivity Settings, half way down the second page of the Shooting Menu, and use them to control your ISO dynamically and automatically for a given (slowest) allowed shutter speed. "A" Priority mode of course.

Here's a bird I shot last weekend with my Nikon (D7100). I did switch in 3D Tracking (rather than Dynamic Area) and it worked well for me with the relatively dense and extensive set of focus points.
http://365project.org/frankhymus/365/2015-04-03

Good luck! It comes with practice and perseverance, and there are few short cuts other than those.
posted April 9th, 2015
Currently there is a Camera Settings Challenge on Focus. http://365project.org/discuss/themes-competitions/25211/camera-settings-challenge-focus-single-and-continuous

There is alot of information....maybe it will help you.
posted April 11th, 2015
I started taking bird photos last August and I am not an expert but would like to share what I do everyday and hope it gives you some idea. I use my Canon Rebel SL1 and EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 lens. I have my tripod set up permanently in front of my dinning room window, facing my bird feeder. My camera is about 11-12 ft from my bird feeder. The settings are: manual mode, spot metering, f/5.6, ISO auto (I prefer to take photos when the ISO is 400 or lower), speed 1/1250 (for black-capped chickadee and all small fast birds. Other bigger birds, 1/1000 is fine), Al Servo, continuous shooting, and picture style: auto. Since my lens is an entry level telephoto zoom lens, having good sunlight is extremely important. To me, patience is the key and taking bird photos in a natural setting is more challenging because it is more difficult to find and predict where the birds fly to. So, I started taking bird photos close to my bird feeder last summer. In the near future, when I have a better lens, I would like to take BIF photos in a natural setting. Happy photo shooting :-)
posted September 8th, 2016
@frankhymus What is Dynamic Area for Auto Focus Area Mode?
posted September 8th, 2016
@shesnapped It's a Nikon thing, for Continuous Auto Focus or Tracking auto Focus. Canon calls these things something very different, and indeed it operates differently. I'll look up the Canon equivalents if you want me to.
posted October 15th, 2016
What lens are you using? I use a Nikkon D3300 with an 18-300mm lens. Just started photographing again this year, but new to DSLR have been getting some great pics with my 18-300mm just waiting on the adapter to go with my 500mm telephoto lens, which I can't wait to use!
posted February 7th, 2017
Well I know nothing about Nikon but have years of experience trying to get flight shots. Fieldcraft is most important, watching your subject , get to know it's flight path (for example to a feeder or nest site) pre focus on a much used take off perch then the autofocus does not have to search for ages to pic up the bird and can follow it into the air more easily, pan steadily... this is only achieved by practice and more practice . For large birds..gulls at the coast for example focus on bird while too far away to expose get it in focus and pan with it till close enough to press shutter. Big birds are best to practice on.... windy days when birds 'hang' on the wind are good too... and remember even the very best professional wildlife photographers only ever publish a very small % of what they take . One in a hundred is not uncommon! Its the myriad failures that make the one great shot so precious..that is the joy of nature photography :)
posted February 23rd, 2017
You tube has some good tutorials that I have found helpful. Then practice with the settings. Good luck
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