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Flying Birds

barbarahirst 9 27 12 United Kingdom
5 Jan 2011 8:52AM
Have just bought a new flash to go with my nikon D80
I am wanting to take flying bird shots in my backyard
I am getting some interesting wing features and loads of blur with the tits and other small birds
And was wondering if anyone has any suggestions
Thanks in advance Barbs

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strawman 14 22.1k 16 United Kingdom
5 Jan 2011 9:08AM
Hi my thought would be to no use flash and instead ramp up the ISO on your camera in aperture priority mode with the lens wide open until you get a suitable fast shutter speed, over 1/500 I would guess is required.

If you are going to use the flash how have you configured your camera, what modes are you in etc. If it is in program or aperture priority mode there is a good chance your camera is metering for the available light with a shutter speed of about 1/60 with the flash as fill light, so you will still get plenty of motion blur.

To make the flash dominant move the camera to manual mode, and set the shutter to the maximum synch speed (@ 1/200 to 1/250 normally) and set the aperture to @ f8. set the ISO such that the camera meter shows a serious under exposure and blast away. But you will get subjects close to the camera brightly lit and hopefully sharp, and a very dark background.

But to be fair to the birds etc I would not use flash on them
barbarahirst 9 27 12 United Kingdom
5 Jan 2011 10:18AM
Wow Thanks for that
I should make myself clear ... I am trying to capture wings and things and wouldnt dream of flashing in their eyes
da_nige 14 1.2k Scotland
5 Jan 2011 10:46AM
To capture the wings on small birds without movement you need shutter speeds in the region of 1/1250th or faster. In the UK in winter there is little chance of this happening so you need to use flash. Most cameras have a flash sync speed of 1/250th or 1/200th or so so you need to use high speed flash. Using high speed flash means that the flash will have a shorter effective range so needs to be closer to the subject. The birds will not be bothered by the flash.

I'm afraid I know the theory but I have never put it into practice so this is as far as my advice goes. If you google high speed flash you should get some tips

barbarahirst 9 27 12 United Kingdom
5 Jan 2011 10:48AM
thats what I need
thanks Neil
User_Removed 8 4.6k 1 Scotland
5 Jan 2011 12:28PM
Not too sure about that. Flash will only "freeze motion" if there is so little ambient light that the exposure is not affected by it. Fine for owls at night but not for garden birds in daylight. For birds in flight in daylight I would definitely throw away the flash and use high-iso to provide a fast enough shutter speed. Even in winter light I have found ISO1600 can allow me to use 1/2000th at f/8 which, provided the focussing is spot-on will give sharp results with the exception of the wing tips (which you probably want to show some motion blur anyway).
da_nige 14 1.2k Scotland
5 Jan 2011 2:05PM
Google Austin Thomas. He uses high speed flash for small birds.
Overread 9 4.1k 19 England
5 Jan 2011 2:57PM
There is a very good post on wildilfe and the use of flash in this thread here which is well worth reading for anyone consideirng the use of flash and wildlife:
Flash on Wildilfe

Myself I think that if you want to use flash to capture wing motion its a valid approach - however its going to be tricky. Most times during the day you're going to have to use a smaller aperture, a low ISO and a very fast shutter speed to get the camera to not capture any ambient light (ie to give a totally black shot). From there you use the flash light to boost up the light levels needed to expose the shot - however chances are you'll need to mount the flashes closer to the birds (fired by wire or wireless remote methods) so that light falloff is less and chances are you'll get the best light by balancing two or more flashes so that you lose that "flash on camera was used" apperance.
I've also seen some people using some very highpowered flash units which allow for a much faster sync speed with camera bodies whilst still putting out enough power to fully light a scene for this and other kinds of highspeed photography (eg bullet shots).

All in all this lends itself to a baiting method with select perches placed near to the food with the light trained on the perch (so that you can encourage the bird to come into the flash lit area). Furthermore its a setup that might only net you one shot every so often until the birds are used to the use of flash (and some individual birds might never become used to it). This makes for a better setup then if its a feeding station rather than fully wild situations since it means any disturbance is occuring in an area that that bird is not reliant upon for food/shelter - rather than scaring the bird from its more regular feeding/terretorial areas/nest.

As for the background one trick would be to hang a sheet of coloured paper (eg all green or a blurred scene of various shades of green and brown) a good distance behind the perch and then train another flash light on that - giving enough light to illuminate it, whilst letting the blurred nature of the paper and the natural fall off of depth of field blur the background into a natural looking scene.

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