This article discusses an approach I use for BIF (birds-in-flight) practice at 1600 mm equivalent field-of-view. While I don’t usually photograph birds-in-flight using this long focal length, I do find it beneficial to periodically practice my handheld technique and eye/hand coordination at this very long focal length.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
One of the challenges facing people who enjoy photographing birds-in-flight handheld, is developing and maintaining their eye/hand coordination.
Long focal length lenses have narrow angles-of-view which can make it quite challenging to find birds-in-flight in a camera’s viewfinder.
For example, a 600 mm lens has an angle of view of about 4 degrees. Shooting with an 800 mm focal lens reduces that to about 3 degrees. Using an equivalent focal length of 1600 mm makes it even tighter… down to about 1.5 degrees.
Photographers who use long focal length zoom lenses often will back their zoom off when attempting to locate a bird-in-flight. Then, zoom in on it once they have it in their viewfinder.
When specifically going out to practice my BIF technique I periodically like to push myself and my gear by shooting at an equivalent focal length 1600 mm.
As we all know, life is a relative experience. So, practicing at an efov of 1600 mm, makes shooting at an efov of 800 mm or 1120 mm relatively easier by comparison.
I set strict guidelines for myself when out with my camera gear and doing my BIF practice at 1600 mm. Here are the guidelines that I followed for the photographs in this article.
- After putting my M.Zuiko MC-20 and M.Zuiko 100-400 zoom on my camera, I fully extend the combination to 800 mm (efov 1600 mm).
- I’m must leave my lens/teleconverter at this extended focal length for the entire duration of my practice session.
- I’m not allowed to back the zoom lens off to help locate birds-in-flight. Nor am I allowed to back the zoom lens off when birds fly in tight towards me to frame them better in my compositions.
- I must capture all of my images at the 800 mm (efov 1600 mm) focal length.
- After capturing an image, or a run of images of the same bird, I must lower my camera to mid chest.
- Once I select another bird-in-flight to photograph I can raise my camera to my eye to attempt to locate it in my viewfinder. I must stay focused on that specific bird. I am allowed to take my camera away from my eye momentarily to try to locate the subject bird-in-flight.
- If I am unable to locate the subject bird in my viewfinder I must lower my camera back to mid chest height. Then, select another potential subject bird.
- Whenever possible I must try to fill the frame with the bird-in-flight that I have selected. I am allowed to clip portions of the bird’s wings, body or legs. The goal is to get in a tight as possible.
- A number of my attempted photographs must include tracking with birds-in-flight as they come in to land in amongst other birds.
- I am not allowed to pre-focus my lens.
As you can imagine, using these strict guidelines results in a good number of missed photographs, or ones that are poorly executed on my part. Improving my eye/hand coordination when shooting at long focal lengths is the primary goal of this exercise. Missing images and learning from my mistakes (e.g. poor shutter timing) is another goal of this BIF practice at 1600 mm exercise.
All of the photographs in this article were captured handheld at Grimsby Harbour during a visit of about 2 hours. While some people have no interest in photographing gulls, I find them to be excellent practice subjects.
Gulls are somewhat erratic flyers, especially when approaching their landing zone, or when flying in strong winds. This can make panning with a gull more challenging from an eye/hand coordination standpoint than photographing a thick bodied and less nimble bird like a duck.
If you haven’t tried this type of exercise before you may find it to be a fun and challenging experience. Be patient and cut yourself some slack.
Remember, hit rate doesn’t matter at all with this BIF practice at 1600 mm exercise. It all about pushing yourself hard and missing photographs. Then, learning from the ones we miss. Pushing ourselves beyond our current limits helps with skills development.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. All photographs are displayed as full frame captured that have been resized for web use. This is the 1,088th article published on this website since its original inception.
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