Video: Get better bird shots every time
Mastering shutter speed is an essential part of the exposure triangle. With it we can freeze motion or blur subjects into long indistinct lines. To freeze the motion you’ll need a fast shutter speed and a moving subject, which makes bird photography the perfect topic to focus on. In this video tutorial, from our sister publication N-Photo, Jason Parnell-Brookes uses his Nikon, a telephoto lens (and a bag of bird seed!) to show you how to master this technique.
It's a technique that could be easily applied to any number of moving subjects, such as sports players or musicians, so it's valuable for everyone – even if you have no interest in birds. The quick opening and closing of the shutter captures a tiny slither of time on the image sensor, and if the aperture and ISO are appropriate then the image captures even the fastest of movements as if they were stood still. But it’s also possible to get creative and suggest movement with a little blurring by slowing down your shutter speed a touch, so there’s no one right answer when it comes to shutter speed.
Capture images of birds with precise control of shutter speed.
Time: 10 minutes
Skill level: Beginner
Kit needed: DSLR, telephoto lens,bird seeds!
Step by Step: How to capture birds in flight
1. Location and birds
The easiest place to shoot from is your own home, through a window. If you have the option of doing so it means you can bait the birds with seed and have them come to you. But if you can’t do that, head down to your local park with some bird feed.
2. Telephoto zoom
Since you’re likely to be a good distance away from your feathered friends you’ll want to use a telephoto lens to get close in to the action. We’re using a 70-200mm lens, which gives us a little space around the birds, making it easier to track them in flight.
3. Shutter priority
To freeze the action you’ll need a fast shutter speed. Follow the law of reciprocals, so if your focal length is 200mm use at least 1/200 sec or faster to freeze movement. Ideally you want your shutter speed as fast as possible for sharp shots.
4. Let the light in
To attain a fast shutter speed the Nikon will designate a wide aperture to let more light in to the sensor. But sometimes, even with a wide aperture, the image will be too dark at fast shutter speeds, so you’ll need to increase your ISO to compensate.
Longer lenses are generally heavier, so to shoot for longer periods, simply rest the camera on something soft to avoid the lens barrel being scratched. A rolled up shirt or coat is ideal.
Engage ‘group’ autofocus mode to give your Nikon a larger area to search for focus. Enabling continuous autofocus also negates the need for constant refocusing with the shutter button, which speeds up shooting and increases your hit rate when the birds are out.
6. Slow down
Once the fast shots are nailed it’s time to experiment. Slow down your shutter speed just enough to blur the wings as birds land. You may have to lower your ISO accordingly. We used 1/100 sec. This creative use of blurring is quite flattering in the right situation.