Setting a camera in manual mode is often difficult for beginners for the obvious reason that they don’t practise much using a manual mode. Beginners often think that using a manual mode is difficult and they end up using auto mode. For those who use Auto mode, I will say that get rid of this habit. Using auto mode won’t showcase your talent as well as auto mode won’t give you freedom to get the desired shot. So getting back to the topic, setting your camera for Birding can really get difficult at times if you are not used to it.
In Birding, every action, activity etc. occurs within few seconds. Sometimes a sighting of a particular bird occurs for few seconds and its gone, a bird takes a flight from a point and you want to capture the bird in flight but by the time you set the camera the bird is already gone or settled on a different spot, you want to get a photo of a bird chasing its prey but you find it difficult to get the desired shot.
Ahhhh! Yes, I know it becomes difficult to set your camera in manual mode and change it every now and then according to situations. In the genre of Bird Photography Manual mode and Shutter priority mode is what I suggest to use. Shutter priority mode is optional for those who are not easy with using manual mode and can be sometimes used for some specific photographs.
In this article we will be learning all about various settings of your camera which can be used to get various types of shots. This article will give you a basic Idea of different settings of camera for birding and how do they affect your photo in the field.
Shutter Speed is one of the important element while it comes to photographing birds. The shutter speed determines what type of shot you will be able to capture. For example – If you set shutter speed around 1/200 or above then you will be able to freeze your subject in a particular position or particular action.
If you set shutter speed relatively slow, say 1/30 and then photograph the bird in flight with a little movement of your camera in the direction where the bird is flying then you will get that panning effect which will show a bird in motion. Shutter speed also determines the amount of light entering the camera.
Faster the shutter speed, lower will be the light entering the camera as it will get less time, result would a darker image, in that case you will have correct the exposure by changing the Aperture and/or ISO. Changing aperture or ISO in this case also depends on wat type of shot you are capturing. Slower the shutter speed more light will enter the camera and result will be brighter or maybe an over exposed photo. In that case either you will have to decrease the ISO or increase the f/no.
Faster shutter speed can be used to freeze a bird in motion/action as seen in the above photograph. A shutter speed of 1/1000 was used to capture this image. To make the exposure right, ISO was increased to 640 keeping the aperture at f/9.
RULE OF THUMBS
There is a rule of thumbs for setting your shutter speed. Keep your shutter speed inverse of the focal length of you lens. For example, the focal length of the lens is 500 mm then keeping the shutter speed 1/500 is recommended. There is vibration Reduction/image stabilisation feature in some lenses which reduces your impact of shaking of hand and gives you sharper images. If your lens has a VR or Image Stabiliser then you can slow down the shutter speed a little bit to freeze the subject and without getting a blurry picture.
Thus Shutter speed works as one the most important factor in photographing birds. Play with shutter speed while photographing birds to get an idea what shutter speed you need to use in different situation to get different type of shots. For getting used to shutter speed, I recommend using shutter priority mode and try photographing birds with different shutter speed. Once you get used to it then shift to manual mode.
Aperture is basically the opening gap between the blades in the lens. There are aperture blades in the camera lens. The blades are placed in such a way to form a shape of hexagon/octagon based on how many aperture blades the lens has. The size of the gap between the blades which forms the hexagonal shape, can be adjusted. Aperture is denoted by f number and varies between different lenses. Larger the aperture, smaller is the f number and smaller the aperture, larger is the f number.
So now comes the question, what aperture to use while photographing birds? I have seen many people using a smaller f number i.e. a wider aperture while birding. Many people do the same thinking that a wider aperture will give us sharper image and our subject will stand out from the background by making the background blur. But that’s not true, birds are at relatively longer distance from our camera.
When shooting a distant subject with a wider aperture, most of the cameras will soft focus the subject. This won’t create a sharper image. As well as in some situations wider aperture will eliminate the background, i.e. you will see a clear white background instead of Blue sky, or shining water, which will decrease natural element in the frame and the photo won’t look that interesting.
While photographing birds, one needs to focus on the eye of the bird, when you use a wider aperture only the eye gets focused and the image doesn’t look sharper. While capturing birds, a moderate aperture i.e. f number ranging between f/9 – f/14 or/f15 is recommended. This aperture range is known for giving sharper images.
Keeping your aperture in this range will also help to focus the background little bit (If the background is closer to the bird then it will be little bit sharper and if the background is at a distance from the subject then it will blurred) that will add a natural element to your frame and will convey natural habitat of the particular bird. Also when you focus on the eye of the subject, not only the eye but the beak of the bird will also get focus which will give a perfect image.
The below image shows a sharp image in which the eye as well as the beak is brought into focus.
ISO means the light sensitivity of the camera sensor. ISO can be used to increase or decrease the light sensitivity and thus increasing the exposure in the image. Higher the ISO creates more noise in the image. Noise can be described as the pixels that are visible in the image. If you increase the ISO you will see dot/grains/pixels in the image.
Lower ISO won’t only create less noise but also will enhance the colour and dynamic range, which is the ability of the camera to show details of things in shadow as well as direct sunlight. But sometimes increasing ISO is required in situations where there is less light and you also need to use faster shutter speed.
In such cases you need to increase the ISO. Bigger the camera sensor, lower will be the impact of increased ISO on you image. For example – If you have a crop senor camera and if you are setting the ISO at 1600 creates noise in the image, then while using a full frame camera noise will be seen in the image higher than 1600, i.e. at 1600 you will get a clear image than a crop sensor.
If a subject is moving in speed and you want to freeze the subject in the motion in that case you have to increase the ISO. Sometimes you are shooting a subject, and have a tripod, then you can mount the camera on the tripod, decrease the shutter speed, and lower the ISO.
Often you go for birding early in the morning and wait for sunrise so that birds would come out their nest as well as due to sun light you will get sharper images. But at times it happens that a particular bird appears in front of you before the sunrise or it happens that you wait the whole day for a particular bird and as the sun is ready to set you find that particular bird in front of you. In such situations there isn’t enough light to photograph the bird.
You have to keep you shutter speed fast so that you get a perfect image, you set a wider aperture but that doesn’t work either, in that case you need to increase the ISO. An increase in ISO will give your more noise in the image, i.e. more grains in the image. Thus increasing the ISO to large numbers is not recommended, as you will get a grainier image. An example of such photo is given below. This photo was purposely taken to show the impact of higher ISO on you image.
This photo was taken before the sunrise and an ISO of 3200 was used to capture this image.
Apart from Shutter speed, Aperture and ISO there are some more settings that you need to know about while photographing birds. Let’s have a look at them.
Metering is yet another element that determines the exposure of your image. While you use a centre weighted metering, the camera takes into consideration only the centre of the image and adjusts exposure according to that. In the spot metering mode, the camera will consider only 5-6% of the area around the focus point and will adjust the exposure accordingly. The best way is to keep your camera on evaluative/matrix metering so that the subject as well as the other elements and the background all are considered and then the exposure is set by the camera. Matrix metering is relatively intelligent metering mode as compared to others.
White Balance makes it possible to bring the right colours in your image. I recommend you to use Auto white balance as the bird is constantly moving from direct sunlight to shadow and shadows to sunlight. Using AWB makes sure that you don’t have to change the white balance constantly. As it is you have to change other settings constantly so it’s better to keep your white balance on auto so that you don’t waste time changing it constantly and miss the moment.
Talking about focusing use of auto focus will help you out for fast focusing. Use manual focusing only when you are confident and fast enough in it. Back button focusing helps in focusing faster and then let the shutter button do it’s own work of just capturing the image. Using your thumb you can focus pressing the back button focus. Read your camera manual to know about back button focusing.
That’s all about setting your camera for bird photography. Obviously it’s not possible to guide anyone for each and every shot. Its upon you, how you practise manual mode of your camera, it depends on how you play with settings of your camera to create your own unique photographs. After all it is your hard work, your skills, your practise and your dedication that show up. So get on the field and practise more and more.
If you have any queries then please write down in the comment section. Also if you think this blog was helpful for you then write down in the comment section below.