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Sunday 17 May 2015

Up, up and away...... mastering BIFs!

What is a BIF?
No, it's not a punch on the nose. That's more of a BOF.
   A BIF is one of these;

'Hey, that's a Lapwing!'  I hear you all cry!
Well, yes it is, but it's also a 'BIF'!
  It's a 'Bird In Flight', and it's the holy grail for most bird and nature photographers, and for good reason!
 Good shots of birds in flight are extremely difficult! There are so many factors that come into play, and not simply just having the best photographic equipment, although this obviously helps.

    I've been asked before how I get my shots, so here I explain.
I must point out that every photographer has their own way, but this is how I go about getting my BIFs!
  Firstly, camera settings.
It took me many years to ween myself off the safety of 'Auto' settings.  I was scared of missing a shot, and I was new to DSLR photography, so wasn't confident in the manual settings, in fact I didn't understand 'ISO', Shutter speeds, apertures etc etc!
   Unfortunately my ignorance cost me so many decent photos, as 'Auto' settings are little better than useless when it comes to nature photography. You may as well use a teapot to get your bird in flight pictures, the results would be almost the same!
   So now I use either 'Shutter priority' or 'Manual' settings to set a fast shutter speed in order to freeze the bird in flight. I tend to use between 1600 and 3200. I set my ISO at 250, but allow 'auto ISO' to overide this if the light sensitivity is not enough to allow the best exposure, for example if the bird flies down in front of a dark background, such as a hedge or line of trees. Here's an example from yesterday at RSPB Greylake when the auto - ISO kicked in as I tried to photograph a Cuckoo in flight with a line of trees behind;

High ISO's lead to more 'noise' in the pictures, as is visible in this case, but it allows you to photograph the bird, and still reasonably sharply!
 If I'm using Manual settings I usually have an aperture of f7.1 or f8. This lets in less light than wider apertures, but the subjects tend to be sharper. It also affects the DOF (Depth of field), meaning all or most of the bird will be in focus.

  So, I have the settings. Now I need the light!!
 Good light is so important for freezing birds in flight and capturing details. Make sure the sun is behind you. Even a side light can leave an over-exposed side of the bird, plus dark shadows on the other side!
  If you can, focus on the eye and head of the bird, this is the most important part, get this sharp and the rest can be less so and you'll still have a good photo.
Next you need the birds. Try and choose a place where birds regularly come into land. You have the chance of more dynamic shots, legs outstretched and wings open to slow themselves down.
  Also make sure the background is clear, it's easier to focus on a bird if a clear sky is the only background distraction!
   Birds taking off also offer a good photo opportunity!

Technique is also important. 'Panning' is a term used for following a bird with a camera and turning with it as it flies, keeping it in the viewfinder. This isn't as easy as it sounds and takes lots of practice! Then you have another problem.... what lens are you using?
  You need one that gets you close to the bird, but if you're too close you'll rarely get all of the bird in the shot! A real dilemma!! I handhold all my shots, this is particularly important when photographing birds in flight. BIFs can be taken with big lenses on tripods and monopods, but it is even tougher to get a good capture, especially with many birds that are very erratic in flight and so difficult to track.
    I use a 70-300mm lens. It's hard to locate the bird in flight at the 300mm end, so I usually pull it back to 100-150mm until I have the bird in my viewfinder, then I'll zoom in for the shots. This all has to be done extremely quickly as birds in flight move quickly! They undulate, they zigzag, they suddenly drop into a tree, they turn away, change direction...etc etc!!
  Some people use '3D' tracking autofocus, but I have limited success this way, my experience of using it is patchy and frustrating, especially if there is a high contrast background! So I use a single, centre point focus, it's harder, but if I get it right, the birds are in focus and I feel like I'm master of my own photographic destiny!

So there you are!! Perfect BIFs every time!!!

Or so you'd think! But no.

Even after all I've said, most of my shots will be blurry, out of focus and unusable! Part of the bird will be out of the frame, a wing will cover the head, the light or exposure will be off...etc etc!
   But, if it was so easy, it wouldn't be the holy grail for bird photographers, and I wouldn't get the buzz of achievement when I get a rare good BIF!

Here are a few more of my BIFs from the last couple of days;

^Above^ - Heron at RSPB Greylake. Herons are about as easy as it gets when it comes to BIFs, they're big, slow flyers.

^Above^ - Another easier bird to photograph in flight, these Mute Swans were at RSPB Greylake too. I dial in a minus third exposure compensation for these birds, as well as Egrets, as the whites often become 'washed out' otherwise.

^Above^ - Male Mallard at Greylake.

^Above^ - Woodpigeon.

^Above^ - Collared Dove.

^Above^ - Another Lapwing at Greylake.

^Above^ - A Swift after a fly.
  These are about as hard as BIFs get! This shot isn't helped by the fact I had a minus 2 thirds exposure compensation set for a Mute Swan, and I forgot to dial it back to '0'! A common mistake! Check your settings all the time!

^Above^ - Action flight shots are highly desired! This is a male and female Blackbird bickering in my Somerset garden.

^Above^ - This shows that the Blackbirds started off on a roof! Be alert, I got the above shots because I predicted what might happen when I saw them!

Below I share some of my other, non BIF shots from the last couple of days;

^Above^ - The female Blackbird just before her scrap!

^Above^ - Blue Tits with Caterpillars at RSPB Greylake.

^Above^ - Dunnock at RSPB Greylake.

^Above^ - Female Reed Bunting at  Greylake.

^Above^ - Male Reed Bunting at Greylake.

^Above^ - Young Robin at Greylake. Yep, no red breast at this age!

^Above^ - Reed Warbler at Greylake.

^Above^ - Baby Lapwing at Greylake.

^Above^ - Male Pheasant crossing the road near Burtle in Somerset.

^Above^ - Heron by the river near Mark in Somerset.

^Above^ - Ceanothus near my Somerset garden.

^Above^ - 3 Greylake sunset shots!

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