Birds in Flight–How to get the shot

After a fews weeks of filling cards with birds standing in water,
it dawned on me that the “money shot” –is the “in-flight” capture.
And so, I had to learn how to tweak the continuous auto-focus on both camera menu
in order to highlight only a small area the size of a birds head.
(Otherwise the camera will focus on the tip of the wings, or the body, or
the feet, etc.) The shot you want should have the eye tack sharp and 95% of the feathers from wingtip to
wingtip, beak to talons, bow to stern etc. Of course now, you have to track the eye!
Plan using your high speed multiple image capture mode and pan as smoothly as possible.
If 30% of the frames are sharp–you are doing well.
Now, to make it more challenging: if you want a soft focus background to isolate the subject–
work in the F6-F8 depth of field. Avoiding motion blur is the second challenge.
I suggest using a monopod or tripod , and a shutter speed of 1,000th of a second.
This may be impossible if the light is low. So at this point, I make the dreaded decision
to up the ISO sensitivity from 100 (where every pixel is clean) to upwards of 500.
I can maybe get away with high ISO’s of almost 1,000 on the Nikon D850–if I do a bit of luminosity
smoothing in Adobe Lightroom.

As far as compositions go, I really like the backlit look–sun rays outlining each feather.
(Thats the goal, anyway) It helps to have a location where you can move around a lot
to choose a dark or at least uncluttered backdrop. I avoid national parks with boardwalks.
I need to roam in the wild! Wet sneakers make good photos.

Getting a perfectly black backdrop: I don’t like images that look obviously retouched–but I have succumbed to
temptation and used the “Dodge and Burn” tool in Lightroom with a heavy hand–in order to
get a pure black background. (Confessions of a retoucher)
I justify this bad behavior only for marketing photos. Editorial photos must be 100%
true to the scene.

After many cards of birds flying away from you, you start to wish for an assistant.
In the future, I will find an assistant to walk behind the bird
and rustle the the that the bird flies toward me, and I am free of guilt for disturbing the peace.

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