01 November 2017

Starting out with Birds in Flight Photography Cape Town

Starting out with Birds in Flight Photography
Many photographers, when they first getting interested in Birds in Flight / Action Photography, are of opinion that they require professional grade gear, or at least the latest and / or greatest DSLR / Lens combination that they can afford.

With more than five years of personal experience in the capturing of Birds in Flight and the training and development of new photographers in the capturing Birds in Flight I have seen quite a number of substantial improvements via the photographer's ability without any significant change in body and / or lens combinations.

The more advanced Canon APS-C or Full Frame bodies (paired with i.e. a 300mm or 400mm prime lens) will provide for an excellent basis to start from, but from personal experience, have seen many new photographers with professional grade equipment coming to my Birds in Flight Photography Private Training / Workshops with the total honesty (and frustration) of not being successful in this exiting action genre.

What I tell many Cape Town photographers staring out with Birds in Flight Photography is that they may just have a possible body / lens combination in their bags without spending any money on new gear.

'Gear Acquisition Syndrome'
Birds in Flight Photography gear acquisition (as referred to tong-in-cheek globally as GAS - 'Gear Acquisition Syndrome') can very quickly spiral out of control for new photographers putting gear first and not considering a more complete range of requirements / skills development for getting started. I generally recommend Birds in Flight photography delegates / beginners not to make any changes to current gear for at least three to six months (to focus on skills development first).

Birds in Flight Photography Tips and Training Opportunities Cape Town
For Birds in Flight Photography tips,training and shooting opportunities please Contact me

Birds in Flight / Action Photography Advanced Autofocus Workshop Cape Town

Capturing Birds in Flight is a combination of the following requirements / understandings:

DSLR Bodies: FPS / AF / Shutter Speed
Starting out with Birds in Flight Photography
Shutter Speed: 1/3200s
Any DSLR capable of shooting between 4 and 14 frames per second (fps) in continuous shooting mode are suitable for Birds in Flight. I.e the Canon EOS 600D / 700D's at 5 fps will get the job done. Even entry-level DSLR bodies with a limited 9-Point Autofocus (AF) system is responsive enough for tracking fast flying birds. 

Understanding and application of shutter speed is a more critical requirement in my view. About all DSLR's will offer shutter speeds of a maximum of 1/4000s up to 1/8000s (in some higher-end bodies) of which all is suitable for freezing the wings of most birds. 

I generally use 1/3200s to 1/5000s shutter speeds for the majority of my Birds in Flight photography.

Popular Lenses for Birds in Flight Photography
After training many new Birds in Flight photographers at Woodbridge Island, Cape Town the following Canon, Sigma and Tamron lenses are the most popular for Canon APS-C and Full Frame bodies:
  • Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens
  • Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens
  • Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens
  • Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM lens
  • Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens
  • Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lenses
  • Sigma 120-400mm lenses
  • Sigma 150-500 / 600mm lenses
  • Tamron 150-600mm lenses

Starting out with Birds in Flight Photography Cape Town
With Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens
Lenses: Minimum Focal Length and Apertures
Telephoto zoom kit lenses in the minimum focal length range of +- 250mm are just about suitable as an entry lens choice for starting out at Woodbridge Island, Cape Town - as some areas will allow for very close access to low flying birds.

The 55-250mm or the 70-300mm variable-aperture f/4-5.6 tele-zoom lenses can't really be compared with the optical quality of a prime lens of 300mm or 400mm lens (with apertures of f/4 or f5/6), but under sufficient light you will be surprised of what is achievable - even at f/8 (the 'sweet spot' for image quality / sharpness of many 70-300mm lenses). 

Image one:  King Gull captured using an entry-level DSLR (EOS 700D) and the kit variable aperture zoom lens (Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4.5.6 IS II Lens)

Image two:  Grey Heron captured using an entry-level Canon DSLR (EOS 700D) and a consumer variable aperture lens (Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens).

Image three:  Reed Cormorant captured using a mid-range enthusiast Canon DSLR (EOS 70D) and the very cost-effective 400mm telephoto lens (Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens)

Image four:  Swift Tern captured using a semi-professional Canon DSLR (EOS 7D Mark II) and the very cost-effective 400mm telephoto lens (Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens)

Image five:  Pied Kingfisher captured using a semi-professional Canon DSLR (EOS 6D) and sharp and fast Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens)

Image six:  Swift Tern captured using a semi-professional Canon DSLR (EOS 6D) and professional-grade prime super-telephoto Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM lens)

The biggest success criteria of the three images below are not the gear, but the most applicable exposure settings, quality of the light and the fact that I was quite close to the bird with an anticipation / understanding of the subjects's behaviour / flying pattern(s).

Birds in Flight Photography: Skills / Techniques
With learning any new photography genre there is a learning curve. Only many hours in the field will ensure the understanding and mastering of the most suitable camera body / AF / lens settings and the best exposure modes for action photography (ito best results for depth of filed, subject sharpness and overall satisfaction rate of the photographer).

It can take anything from six months or longer for getting a thorough understanding of the camera / lens settings, exposure settings and to learn the different bird birds ito their flying and general behaviour patterns. The objective should not be to master this as quick as possible, but to take time to learn, have fun and spend time with like-minded photographers.

Personal Dedication: Commitment / Motivation
I've seen many of my Birds in Flight Photography delegates increasing their Birds in Flight capturing skills over time well past the original workshop and practical shoots. Some then go on to purchase new and more advanced bodies and lenses, but most just keep on working their skills lens (by shooting as often as they can, asking as many questions as possible and not be afraid to experiment with camera / lens and exposure setting.

Two Cost-Effective Canon Birds in Flight Lens Options - Go Here>>

(Click to Enlarge)
Starting out with Birds in Flight Photography King Gull: Canon EOS 700D / EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II Lens
King Gull: Canon EOS 700D / EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II Lens

Starting out with Birds in Flight Photography - Grey Heron: Canon EOS 700D / EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens
Grey Heron: Canon EOS 700D / EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens


Starting out with Birds in Flight Photography - Reed Cormorant: Canon EOS 70D / EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens
Reed Cormorant: Canon EOS 70D / EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens


Starting out with Birds in Flight Photography - Swift Tern: Canon EOS 7D Mark II / EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens
Swift Tern: Canon EOS 7D Mark II / EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens

Starting out with Birds in Flight Photography - Pied Kingfisher: Canon EOS 6D / EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens
Pied Kingfisher: Canon EOS 6D / EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens


Starting out with Birds in Flight Photography Cape Town - Swift Tern: Canon EOS 6D / EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens
Swift Tern: Canon EOS 6D / EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens

Birds in Flight Photography Cape Town

Birds in Flight Photography Cape Town

All 9 Birds in Flight images were captured around the Milnerton Lagoon / Woodbridge Island, Cape Town in mostly early morning and sunny conditions.