I can’t speak for other photographers, but I’ve found that a periodic skills tune-up can be beneficial to support a wide range of photographic competencies. This article shares a number of recent test/practice photographs. I would normally show finished images in my articles, including any cropping that needed to be done.
All of the photographs in this posting were processed in post from RAW files. The images are shown without any cropping as I felt it may be more beneficial for readers to see the full frame captures of these practice images.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
When doing a skills tune-up it is advisable to set some objectives for the practice session. For my purposes, a good bird-in-flight test image will have the subject bird filling at least 50% of the width or height of the frame… be properly exposed… and be in focus.
I’m not a stickler about the position of the bird in the composition. As long as I have sufficient room to produce a useable, cropped image… then I consider the photograph to be a successful test.
There are many reasons to do a skills tune-up. It could be to reinforce slow shutter speed handheld ability. Focus on becoming more proficient by using a particular lens or in-camera technology. Practice using a different auto-focusing mode or array of focusing points. Creating images under specific conditions like using a teleconverter for distant subjects. Or practicing with subject tracking and shutter release timing… to name a few.
Sometimes a skills tune-up may not even involve creating any images with our camera. We may spend time trying out new techniques in post… or going out with the intention of studying the behaviours of birds to improve our observation skills.
In advance of doing a skills tune-up it is important to remind ourselves that the objective of our photographic outing is not to create useable images. If that occurs… it is a bonus to the skills tune-up exercise. The objective is to improve our photographic skills in specific, pre-determined areas. If I don’t come home with a lot of unusable images I know I haven’t pushed myself and my gear hard enough.
I hadn’t been out photographing birds-in-flight for about seven weeks. From experience I knew that I needed a skills tune-up with my eye/hand coordination and shutter release timing. So, I grabbed one of my cameras and headed down to Forty Mile Creek.
I wasn’t expecting to find any noteworthy birds. There were a few gulls, ducks and geese close in to shore. These are species that many folks would simply avoid as they are so commonplace.
I’ve always found the somewhat erratic flight patterns of gulls to be ideal for eye/hand coordination practice. So, I began by tracking gulls in-flight and trying to gradually fill more and more of my frame with a subject bird.
As I had expected, my eye/hand coordination had eroded a bit over the past seven weeks. So, I focused on capturing images of gulls wheeling around in mid-air, coming in to land, or flying downwind.
As my coordination improved I concentrated on getting the subject bird larger in my compositions, without clipping wings or body parts. I often purposely clip wings of birds-in-flight, but I specifically tried to avoid this approach during this particular skills tune-up.
I then expanded my skills tune-up to include some ‘turn and shoot’ opportunities. These are when a bird-in-flight is not immediately noticed until it is almost on top of a photographer.
All we typically have time to do is instinctively react by turning and shooting. For me, these ‘turn and shoot’ subject birds-in-flight are usually within 10 metres of my shooting position.
Later I spotted a gull feeding on a fish near the shoreline. These types of images can be graphic in nature, especially if a photographer is a bit squeamish about watching one species prey upon another one. I used this opportunity to practice my shutter release timing while using Pro Capture L and Bird Detection AI with subjects on the ground.
My last skills tune-up was to observe some ducks to get a sense of the timing of their movements. Most birds at rest follow a common pattern. Head turn… pause and look…. then head movement again. The pause can vary significantly by species and by individual bird. A pause of two seconds or more is sometimes sufficient to grab a Handheld Hi Res image of a wild bird as you can see in the photograph above the and 100% crop below.
Using Handheld Hi Res technology has some potential with wild birds. As you can see with the 100% crop I have some room for improvement… so this is something to which I will need to dedicate more time and effort. I’ll need to bring my stool with me next time.
Challenging ourselves with a periodic skills tune-up is a great way to get ourselves ready for key activity periods during the birding season… as well as help improve specific photographic competencies.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process in post. This is the 1,344 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.
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