The Daily Bird #347.

Breathtaking flight shots from Kengi, click for full size! (White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Red-headed Woodpecker, Starling.)

© Kengi, all rights reserved.


  1. rq says

    All they’re missing are the flashy sound effects -- WHOOSH! ZOOM! SKREEEEeeee…!!! (That last for the starling, landing gear down and everything.)
    Beautiful shots, Kengi!

  2. Kengi says

    Thanks for the compliments. I appreciate them. I’ll pass along how I took these shots so others may try to duplicate the technique and improve upon it.

    First, I use the continuous shooting mode to capture bursts. For a point-and-shoot, my CoolPix actually does a pretty high-speed burst even at full resolution. You just have to wait for the memory buffer to slowly empty into the card after each burst.

    In my front yard, the birds often fly into the trees and stop for a bit before flying down to the shepard’s hook, then down to the tray. When I see a bird stop in the tree, I get ready and watch the bird (not through the camera). As soon as it appears to leap, I start the burst and hope I’m pointing at the place it will land.

    Focus and exposure are a problem with such shots. Some really expensive cameras within the last couple of years will actually do focus and exposure for each picture within a burst. Most cameras, however, will meter and focus right before the burst, then lock those settings for the duration. That’s a problem because I hit the shutter button well before the bird comes into range.

    To solve this issue, I set the camera to manual everything. I start with manual exposure. For a point-and-shoot, the CoolPix has a decent metering system so I can see about the right target range for setting the shutter speed. For my camera, I need all the shutter speed I can get, so I keep the lens aperture open all the way or, at most, one stop down. Even then, I have to push the ISO much higher than I like just to get reasonable shots. I take a few test shots, and see what I can allow in under-exposure.

    The trees are much darker than the birds in full light, so I know I can under expose by a fair amount. Again, with a few test shots you can get a reasonable exposure and just leave it there. I found 1/1250 was the minimum shutter speed I need, and 1/2000 is preferred. The lens is f/4.5 when wide open, so that’s all I can do there unless I give up a little shutter speed for a f/5.6. I push the ISO as high as I need to get into that range, despite grainy results.

    All of this is only possible this time of year for a short window late in the afternoon when the sun is high and from the west, breaking through an open area in the trees giving decent enough light to try this.

    Focus. Yeah, that’s a bigger problem, especially with the point-and-shoot. Again, manual focus and planning the shot is the solution for me. I focus on the iron shepard’s hook where I hope the bird will land using the fiddly manual focus system. On the CoolPix, you can zoom the screen to 4x magnification to help. Then I figure the bird will be a little beyond that point, and fudge the focus beyond a bit.

    In my yard, the shepard’s hook is very close to three meters away from my camera. I set the camera and myself a little back inside the window to keep it a little out of site, and close the right-hand window shutter a bit to hide my right arm so I can lift it to the camera without scaring the birds. So I push the focus out a bit beyond the three meter point, and keep it there. I’m very close to 185mm zoom (in 135 equivalence) when doing this.

    Then I wait for the bird to fly into the focus and exposure zone using the burst. That’s why the nuthatch photo is more out of focus. He aborted his run and swept away before landing, so he never got into the focus zone. Still, kind of a cool shot despite that. (I like the back-lighting which clearly shows the meat in his arms and where the feathers grow out of.)

    I’m borrowing my friend’s camera and lens soon, and will try to do better with his equipment. He has a D750, which has a full-frame sensor which picks up lots of light, and a nice fast lens. That should allow me to shut the lens down a bit more and gain some depth of field, expanding that focus zone. It also handles high ISO speeds better. I should be able to get 1/2000 shutter speeds consistently, combined with that better depth of field. Kind of looking forward to trying it.

  3. Raucous Indignation says

    Okay, for serious. I’m getting my camera out of the closet.

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