Choosing shooting angles is something that all photographers face on a regular basis regardless of the subject matter they intend to capture. Shooting angles can affect a range of creative attributes in a photograph including depth-of-field, contrast, and the mood communicated by an image. This article shares some images of birds-in flight (mainly swallows) and discusses the importance of shooting angles in these images.
As we know depth-of-field is affected by four factors. These include lens focal length, aperture, distance to subject, and subject distance to background. Contrary to some misinformation that is commonly parroted in some photographic chatrooms, sensor size does not directly impact depth-of-field.
Obviously a photographer using a smaller sensor camera will be able to use a shorter focal length lens to achieve an equivalent field-of-view when compared with a full frame camera. And, as we know… a shorter focal length will always have more depth-of-field (all other things being equal) than will a longer focal length… regardless of the size of the sensor that may be in a camera body.
This is why it is important that we understand the optical properties of the lenses that we use for our photography… regardless of the camera system we own.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
The notion that shallow depth-of-field cannot be achieved with a smaller sensor camera like M4/3 is simply nonsense. The photograph above illustrates how a shooting angle that takes advantage of an unobstructed background can create excellent subject separation.
If you look at the EXIF data you’ll see that I was only 6.9 metres away from this swallow taking flight, and used a 400 mm focal length at f/6.3 to capture this image. These parameters would create about 5 centimeters (~2 inches) of depth-of-field.
When you examine the image you’ll see that the swallow’s left wing is out-of-focus. I specifically chose a shooting angle that would capture a profile view of the swallow as it took flight. This helped to maximize the depth-of-field available to me.
If the subject bird would have been larger, or was taking flight on more of an angle towards my camera, I could have stopped my lens down and/or used a shorter focal length to increase my depth-of-field. For example, using an aperture of f/8 would have increased my depth-of-field to 7 centimeters (~2.75 inches). In addition, using a slightly shorter focal length of 350 mm would have increased my depth-of-field further to a total of 9 centimetres (~3.5 inches).
Another way that I could have increased my depth-of-field was to keep shooting with a focal length of 400 mm at f/6.3… but back away from the subject swallow. Rather than a distance to subject of 6.9 metres, a distance of 10 metres would have increased my depth of field to 11 centimeters (~4.3 inches).
Sometimes it can be prudent to wait for a bird to land in an area that will help create shallow depth-of-field and good subject separation. This was the case with the red-winged blackbird taking flight in the above image. I was fairly close to the subject bird at 9,5 metres, and I chose a shooting angle that would increase the distance from the subject bird to the background. This allowed me to shoot at 400 mm at f/6.3 and achieve shallow depth-of-field with good subject separation from the background.
Now let’s have a look at two images of swallows in flight where the birds have approximately the same body angle.
Both of these photographs… just like all of the other images in this article… were captured using Pro Capture H. All of the birds were launching into flight from perched positions. These included a variety of perches like nesting boxes, branches/twigs, and on-site signage. I composed the photographs above in anticipation that the birds would launch themselves into my frame once they took flight. The two images above were captured 28 minutes apart at the same location (Biggar Lagoon Wetlands).
As you review the two images you can see that the backgrounds are totally different and generate a different feeling with each image. Sometimes differences like this can be created by simply moving a few feet to one side and using a revised shooting angle that incorporates a different background.
Here are a few more examples that illustrate how using a shooting angle that takes advantage of a dark background can add drama to photographs of birds-in-flight.
If you examine the EXIF data for the 4 images above you’ll find that I underexposed all of them by -1 EV. These birds were launching into strong, bright sunlight so I underexposed the images for two reasons. The first was to retain more of the highlights, and the second was to create additional contrast and drama.
You’ve likely read articles or watched YouTube videos where a bird photographer will strongly recommend to avoid harsh, bright sunlight and to only photograph birds earlier in the morning, or at late day. There are many good reasons to use this approach.
I’ve always enjoyed experimenting with different lighting conditions to see how they can be utilized. Strong, bright sunlight can provide opportunities for additional contrast if the shooting angles used can position birds against dark backgrounds as is the case with the 4 images above.
Strong, bright sunlight can also be used as backlighting for birds in flight… or to highlight specific physical attributes of a subject. The key is to find a good shooting angle. Let’s look at a few quick samples…
Choosing shooting angles really comes down to personal taste and the creative intent of an individual photographer. As we can see with the images that follow, the choice of shooting angle can significantly change the overall impact of an image… even when similar subjects are photographed.
Choosing a shooting angle is just as important as the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and composition approach we use. In many ways, the right shooting is the glue that brings all of the creative elements of a photograph together.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. My standard Pro Capture H settings were used with Pre-Shutter Frames and Frame Limiter both set to 15. I used a single, small AF point and shot at 60 frames-per-second. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. This is the 1,282 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.
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