photographing flying birds, one spot, AI or AI-servo?

I was up and out before the sun rose this morning, just in time to catch a Red Tailed Hawk across the Slough. I managed to take a few pictures on his way across. Waiting for him to become airborne again I was all set up to capture some more. I had my camera set up in what I thought was the best settings for flying birds.

This is not one of those I took this morning.

I took 50 photos of it as it flew from the far side over the house. I had the mode set on one spot, I have been struggling with that since I decided to make it work. I uploaded the images and not one was worthy of editing, none were in focus. It is commonly known that the discard rate for images of flying birds is high. Capturing their pictures is not an easy task, but zero out of 50 in a word stinks.

I have had limited success when using one spot focus, the images on this page were taken last week. They were all captured using one spot, however after this morning I decided there must be a better way.

I began with YouTube, of course, I watched several videos and read some articles on which mode to select. It was well worth my time, One spot, AI and AI Servo all have their special time and place to be used.

One spot is used when shooting stationary subjects, Portraits, Trees and Landscapes. It may be used for wildlife when the animal is still or behind weeds or reeds. Pinpointing the eyes, or another focus point is the ideal use of One spot. It will hold the focus as long as the shutter release button is held 1/2 way. It will not however follow the subject, it is also stationary. That is the reason I kept having to lift and depress the shutter to keep the subject in focus.

I am getting fairly well skilled with that mode, but not good enough. Furthermore the intention of the way it is developed is counter to the way I have been using it. I went to AI mode.

AI mode has it’s own use as well which consist of taking photos in rapid succession of slow a moving subject. People walking, slow moving animals and subjects that do not stay in one place. The focus will follow the original point adjusting accordingly. However if the movement is too fast all focus is lost.

One spot is great for stationary subjects.

AI Servo is a bit of a combination of the two first modes, however now that I understand it I feel this is the way to go. This is a grid supported mode, any point on the grid may be chosen to be the focus point. Then a surrounding grid may be utilized, all of the way from all 48 (or so) points to the 8 surrounding the focal point. I set out to experiment this afternoon with the center focus point and the 8 surrounding points set up on my camera. It’s been my experience at noon the Vultures and Hawks begin to fly around the Slough again. Of Course none showed up this noon, I took a few shots of Seagulls that were not well focused; they were deleted as well.

I’m now waiting until tomorrow morning, I will get up and out early again. Most mornings the Hawk does a fly-over, I’m not a pessimist but I alway hope for the best and expect the worst. I will be able to take pictures of many different birds flying around, if the Hawks don’t show up it won’t be a deal breaker.

To round it all up I have my camera set up tonight ISO 800, F8 and the shutter will depend on the lighting but it should be around 1/1000. A faster shutter if it is bright and clear out, the conditions will dictate that. I’m all set for another experimental go round, I’ll see tomorrow how it pans out.

Jacques Lebec Shutter Flutter

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