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George

15 - Birds in Flight

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One of life’s little joys for me is photographing birds in flight. When I ditched my DSLRosaurus for the Fuji X system, birds in flight were no longer worth the effort. I did try with the X-T2, but the keeper rate was dishearteningly dismal. Picked up the Fuji X-T3 this year, whacked on the 50-140mm, stuck it in zone focus and continuous tracking mode and when I got home I was amazed. The zone tracking focus works and my keeper rate is now as good, if not better than with my old DSLR.

If I’m walking along the shore in my normal walk around aperture priority shoot anything mode, and the light is good, all I need to do if I see birds flying around is press the up button on the back of the camera to change the AF mode from single point to zone focus, and then change the button on the front of the camera from S to C (continuous tracking focus). Takes about 2 seconds, that’s it, and if the light is really good I’m ready for birds in flight. Took this shot recently.

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And here is a 100% crop. Even managed catchlight in both eyes.

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If the light isn't good to begin with, don't bother. Birds in flight is difficult enough to master without attempting it in poor light. Direct sunlight isn't the best either as the sunlight can burn out white feathers. A bright day with sun behind some kind of cloud to diffuse the light is best. I shoot in Aperture priority so only shoot birds in flight if my camera is selecting shutter speeds of 1/800th of a second or faster. Image stabilisation helps considerably. If the light is poor, I'll shoot something else like birds on the ground or landscapes.

Photographing birds isn’t a science, it’s an art, with much trial and error. Digital photos cost nothing to look at on your computer so don’t be afraid to shoot thousands of images while you learn. Most of your photos will be horrendously out of focus and look something like these.

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Don’t be disheartened if all your photos look like this, just keep practising and your skills will improve. Eventually you’ll be going home with shots like this. Note that there is no direct sunlight burning out any white feathers as there is an overcast but bright sky diffusing the light very nicely. I was in Aperture priority using spot metering at f/2.8 ISO 160. The camera selected a shutter speed of 1/1700 in aperture priority. If the light is excellent, there is no need to go full manual.

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Brilliant opportunities to practice BIF is when the seagulls nest on roofs and they are dive bombing folks who walk past. Find a seagull nest with chicks. Stand as close to the nest and the chicks as possible to annoy the parents. Practice your BIF skills and laugh as folks look out their windows to see what’s pissing off the seagulls.

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