PUFFINTASTICSKOMERISTICEXOCETINGBIRDIES I know you think that a secret Puffin surgeon sneaks into your house at night and performs a ‘Puffinectomy’ on your images because you swore there was one in the shot you took but unfortunately it may just be that the ‘Puff’ are just the trickiest birds to capture in flight. There is sometimes more chance of catching air in a string vest however there are a few things we can do to make the seemingly impossible, possible. I think Puffins are about as hard as they come to capture in flight and there are many ways to do it depending on position, background and style. I’m not the best but I thoroughly enjoy giving it a go and Skomer Island on the Pembrokeshire coastline is one of my favourite places in the world, just being there is enough but if you capture a flying feathery exocet missile BIG BONUS! Please check out the previous blog on Puffin portraits (HERE) if you don’t want to try and capture them in flight because for me that is still a huge thrill. Don’t be daunted and have a go but know you will still come back with brill images. I’m going to start right at the beginning for those coming along on our workshops (we want you to get maximum ‘Puff’ out of the experience) and for those who need a helping hand. A few bits of homework will save you masses of wasted time. For Olympus users, I’m going to add my settings at the end of this piece, that are working best for me at the moment, although I am always trying new ideas and methods (it’s something we should all do by the way, don’t stick to one thing and keep on looking for improvement). One thing that is very important, don’t leave it until you get to Skomer, try these techniques on Gulls, Pigeons etc, play around and get used to the settings and more importantly test the settings to suit your style and technique. Lenses Firstly, I’m using lens lengths in 35mm terms as there are too many variables, so please work out your lenses taking into account your crop factors. There is a big tendency to use your longest lenses such as the 500 or 600mm but they have a very narrow field of view and I must admit I lose the bird when it comes in close especially the Puffin as it tends to drop dramatically when you are least expecting it. There is nothing wrong with using these especially if you can aim a little further away and follow your target as it comes closer to you just be wary that it can make catching them a little more difficult. I tend to use something in the 200-400 range as it has a wider field of view and therefore a little more room for correcting yourself. I will also often crop a little when I process to make up for the smaller subject in the frame although sometimes you get lucky and it works straight off the bat. The classic 70-200mm is a little wide and you will have to crop quite a bit to make the bird big in the frame unless you are lucky however there are many environmental shots where this space can work anyway. Some things it’s beneficial to know before you set foot into ‘Puffinworld’ Now you don’t want to waste any time on Skomer (other Islands are available!) as you only have 5 hours allotted and your senses will be tested to the max anyway with birds flying left, right and centre, up, down and all around (I think that’s a Duran Duran lyric?!) and with just a few bits of homework you can be much better prepared. Know how to: Move your AF point or points around the autofocus area available. Change the number of focus point areas/clusters/arrays (whatever they are called on your camera, you will have anything from one to 121) and check if the sensitivity is as accurate on all the points or just some (on some earlier cameras it was only the centre point) Change from single to continuous auto-focus (AL-servo, AF-C, CA-F whatever is your camera brands name for it) Alter the frames per second (if available) Manual focus Change your aperture Set your ISO Use exposure compensation (not necessary if you use manual) Easiest method The least difficult way but by no means easy is to capture these feather blurs flying side on to you and with as uncluttered a background as possible. General settings: Select all your AF points, let the camera do the work. Continuous auto-focus, machine gun mode! Exposure compensation to suit conditions. If you are shooting into the blue sky/bright sea probably at least plus 1 to 2 stops to expose your bird properly. Remember as in all photography choose the most important aspect to expose for, usually the subject. ISO and shutter speed: Use a high shutter speed of anything from 1/500 th upwards and preferably over 1/1000 th . 1/500 th will have wing blur and possibly blurred movement streaks but I’m happy with that. The higher the shutter speed the more chance you have of capturing something sharp so use your ISO to bump up the shutter speed. Don’t worry about high ISO because if your photograph is blurred you are only going to delete it anyway so what have you got to lose. Some of you with Canon 1DX’s and Nikon D5’s have no excuses, ramp it up! Aperture. Again, a relatively high aperture of f/8 or higher (full framers f/11 or even f/16) will help as you have more leeway if the autofocus doesn’t quite catch the bird in the right place and more of the bird will be in focus. The autofocus will pick the area with the highest contrast and sometimes that’s not the eye which should be sharp (if it’s not a panning shot and even then, it works better if it is). Remember the smaller the aperture (bigger numbers), the less shutter speed you will have, so you need to up the ISO to compensate (every smaller aperture change will halve the shutter speed). Aim: Try and aim for the head (eye even) and place the bird relatively centrally if it’s big in the frame. Let’s make things harder and wrestle with a Puffin (not literally although sometimes …….) Okay hopefully you’ve managed to get a few shots in the bag but what if you want them coming towards you or if the background is busy. Well tough, just don’t bother! Umm, okay if you must. Firstly, some of the previous settings are still relative, exposure compensation, continuous auto-focus and keeping an eye on the ISO usage relative to your shutter speed. So, what are the differences: One of the main things to change is your focus point/points. If you use all points your camera being basically a dumb machine will probably choose anything but the Puffin, so you need to either choose a single point or maybe a small group and that’s going to take some aim and steadiness. If you veer off the Puffin, your focus point will grab a part of the background and your Puffin will be smoother than a sand eel. Try to aim for the head and keep as steady as you can at all times. You can also ‘pump’ the shutter button which basically means instead of keeping your finger pressed in machine gun mode just lift your finger and place it back again so the camera can have another go at locking on. Think about where you want your Puffin in the composition as you may need to crop later. If you are too tight or in the wrong position you may be unable to save the composition by cropping. If I have watched the birds for a little while I will probably have my AF point or points slightly to one side or the other depending on the direction of flight and a little higher than central to give me a little leeway as it comes forward and as I prefer it to be higher in the frame than lower. Aperture: In this instance your aperture will depend greatly on keeping the background as diffuse as possible so as not to get in the way of your main subject the Puffin unless of course you want an image of a Puffin in it’s environment. Something like f/5.6 or f/8 would render some of the background out of focus depending how close the Puffin is to it but you will need to judge that for yourselves on location. Remember that by shooting for the head your aim needs to be accurate, as if the head is out you don’t have a shot. Shutter speed: As fast as you can get. Raise your ISO up as high as you can get away with. I don’t know the exact names and menu system but all brands have ways of tuning the autofocus tracking. As I said I’ll write about the Olympus specifically at the end but my last Canon could alter the tracking by telling the camera how fast it would take to lock on and for it to refocus. Minus settings would hold the focus longer but would take longer to refocus if it lost focus. Plus settings would refocus quicker but would ‘fall’ off the subject if your aim was out and grab onto the background, hence the ‘pumping’ shutter technique can help in re-aquiring. This is one of those things to try out maybe even before you get to shoot the Puffins. I would say you need to be more into the plus region, just try it out, you won’t break anything (other than your heart!) A couple of other things: Puffins often fly towards their nest but abort at the last moment and then make another pass or maybe several before actually landing. Use this to your advantage and watch the Puffin all the way through your viewfinder. This will give your camera focus a helping hand to catch up rather than expecting it to lock on with it unawares. I tend to use the conventional method of pressing the shutter button for focussing rather than back-button focussing as I like to be able to move the focus point around whilst shooting. You can also use back button methods to pre-focus on a point and then disengage the focus. When the bird flies into your pre-focussed path then re-engage the shutter button using the back button. You could also use manual focussing by pre-focussing on a certain spot and wait for the Puffin to fly into your path. Try using a fairly wide big aperture of f/8 or above however this method is very hit and miss as you don’t know if the little darlings will fly exactly into your path and of course you are back to the problems as mentioned earlier of heavy backgrounds and slow shutter speeds with the raising of your ISO. Try as many combinations as you can to find something that works for you, as in all photography there is no real right and wrong, just find a way! Try panning to give your shot a sense of movement, doesn’t always work but it looks great when it does and this has the added bonus of not needing as quick a shutter speed and you can have a small aperture of f/11 or more etc which you will need to slow the shutter speed down anyway. No ‘Carry on’ jokes please but wind can be your friend. Wind conditions can be helpful as birds will often use the wind to take off and fly into as it makes it easier for them just like planes (where do you think the planes got the idea from?). It’s often cited they can’t fly with the wind, that is not true. So, if you have a nice breeze check the direction, plonk yourself down and watch the direction the birds are flying in. If they are using the wind to land, point yourself in that direction. Olympians! I’ve been using this camera for around a year now and did some extensive testing even before I bought the little beauty (which resulted in the Amateur Photographer field test review, what do you mean you missed it!). In fact, the first time I used it and the reason I was immediately happy with it was because I tested it on Skomer, now there is a baptism of fire. It was easily on a par with my 7D mk2 and the firmware update has actually improved it further. My settings are as follows: Aperture priority most of the time (I will delve into the dark world of manual from time to time when conditions are consistent). Puffins flying across you and with an uncluttered background: 1. I will use an aperture of f/5.6 or even f/8 as long as I can achieve a high enough shutter speed. Raise that ISO, do not be afraid. In fact, these days I often use Auto ISO to make sure that if I’m swinging quickly from left to right the ISO will raise according to the change in light conditions. I cannot do that quick enough myself and besides it’s one less thing to worry about. My auto ISO is set to 1/1000 th in general as the lowest shutter speed and runs from ISO200 up to ISO1600 but these are all changeable depending on conditions. If there is plenty of light, up the lowest shutter speed and experiment with how far the ISO can go etc. I also have my ISO mapped to fn2 so that I can change to manual pronto if necessary. 2. I will use the 9 area grouping or the full automatic grouping (I do wish there was another group between such as 25 or 45 etc). 3. Continuous auto-focus (I don’t like the tracking mode but try it for yourself). 4. C-AF lock +1 or 2. The plus settings are if the bird is erratic and the auto-focus will keep hunting. The minus are if the bird is still and it stops the auto-focus from searching, remaining locked longer. Puffins at 12 O’clock 1. Aperture of f/4. This will give you the fastest shutter speed, a more diffuse background and a harder job of keeping your Puffin in focus however life is always about compromises! 2. Again, raise that ISO as high as you dare to achieve the highest shutter speed if it’s needed. 3. C-AF +1 or 2 as that Puff is Mr or Mrs Erratic! 4. Single point or 5 point grouping. My BIF General settings: 1. AF mode C-AF 2. AF scanner mode 2 3. AF area pointer on2 4. C-AF lock +1 or 2 5. C1 Res priority C on 6. IS on 7. 10 fps 8. Don’t forget to tweak to taste. Rob
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
© Geraint Radford and Rob Cottle - Copying, displaying or redistribution of these images without written permission is prohibited