Back Modifications (3)
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Black headed gull

By danielwaters    
Every time I take a shot of a bird in flight I seem to get a very soft murky shot with no clarity. This was shot at 1600th of a second so the shutter speed should have been enough to freeze it and I had the lens resting on a hide window ledge to reduce camera shake, but it's still very soft. It's a real shame as I've nailed the timing. Any ideas on what's going wrong? By the way this hasn't been cropped very heavily (just to improve the composition). Th original is just as soft.

Tags: Wildlife and nature

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This photo is here for critique. Please only comment constructively and with suggestions on how to improve it.


Woofmix 9 69 United Kingdom
3 Jul 2009 9:59PM
Well captured, it's very hard to capture birds in motion like that, my only suggestion is to use an even faster shutter speed 1/3000 for a shot like that with a long lens. I've found it's better to use a high ISO to get a high shutter speed and deal with any extra noise or graininess in post processing. A shot with too much motion blur is a throw away but a sharp shot with a bit much noise can be manipulated.


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NEWMANP 10 1.6k 574 United Kingdom
3 Jul 2009 10:44PM
i would have liked the full exposure details to consider a solid answer, but its interesting to me because i just came back from Farne.
photographing birds in flight is very tricky but there are a few things you can question.

the lens should be fine, i was using a 100-400 hand held with vr.
the shutter speed is not an issue, thats plenty fast enough.
the aperature being used will see a difference, at the long end you would need to be stopped down at least 2 stops to get near quality, also depth of field will be limited at anything less than f8. i was using 350 asa even in glorious sunshine.
you dont say what the weather was like but bright weather always makes the image look sharper due to the shadows and contrast.
what method of focus are you using. continuous would be better, which focus screen are you selecting, predictive movement would be better, are you tracking flight or are you stabbing an exposure, tracking works best. i prefer to focus manually but thats a life time of using manual cameras.
after all that, check if the jpeg has any in camera sharpening. as it stands at this resolution its hard to see the sharpness faults.

without the full information required, i would guess that you have focus set on single focus in the centre of the screen and that the system is hunting for a solid point of focus and cant decide. the focus looks to me to be just behind the centre of the bird with the rear wing tips sharp. it may have focused on the .the picture itself is a superb piece of timing and a lovely image. maybe a little tweak in levels/curves to lift the tones but great otherwise.
hope this helps.
James_C 8 36 56 United Kingdom
3 Jul 2009 10:44PM
Have uploaded a version with some thoughts.

danielwaters 10 93 4 United Kingdom
3 Jul 2009 11:00PM

Thanks for the feedback. The extra details are:

- F7.1 aperture
- continuous focusing, as this is one of a series of shots and they all look similar in terms of lack of detail.
- ISO 800
- against sharpening in the photos file properties it has no information so I assume there is no in camera sharpening. I tend to do my sharpening in Elements and have never fiddled with in camera sharpening. When I try and sharpen in Elements I can't improve on the result. The uploaded image has not been processed at all
- James: your modification is a better effort at sharpening than mine were. Could you tell me what sharpening stats you used - amount, radius and threshold?

Thanks again for your help.

albi 13 68 1 England
4 Jul 2009 8:32AM
The shutter speed was ok and you was using AIservo which is what you need to be using for flight photography, resting the camera on the hide window ledge is not a good idea you'd be better of hand holding it. I use a tripod with a gimbal head or hand hold for all my flight photography.
Sunlight plays a big part in it, even when shutter speeds are high in cloudy weather the sharpness can suffer without the light.

Keep practicing and it will come.....

danielwaters 10 93 4 United Kingdom
4 Jul 2009 10:18AM
Thanks Albi. It must have been that it wasn't bright enough, as it was lightly shaded. You've got a fantastic portfolio - that's where I want to be getting to!
banehawi Plus
13 1.8k 3849 Canada
4 Jul 2009 2:43PM
You have some good advice above Dan.

In addition:

You mention continuous focus, - your camera has AI, and AI Servo as continuous modes, - make certain you use only AI Servo, AI can be unreliable.

Shoot in RAW. Your camera has numerous JPEG modes that will apply various settings to the shot, - with RAW you have complete control.

The 50D has automatic noise reduction, - turn it off, - or use RAW, - this can soften the image.

To use AI Servo, - select a single focus point, place the point on the moving bird, half press the shutter, and track the bird, keeping the focus point on the subject, them press the shutter at the appropriate time.

The sharpened mod above is over sharpened.

To use USM, heres a general guide:

Open the shot and zoom to 50%;

Radius = 0.8

Threshold = 3

Amount, - start with the slider all the way to the right, and slide to the left until there are no halos around the edges, and it looks sharp.

Hope this helps along with the rest of the comments


francisr 13 165
29 Mar 2010 8:11PM
I was just having a general rummage around past uploaded phots and ran across yours.

Yes - know the problem - I have lots of shots like this:




Winding the shutter speed up helped

But the common factor was the 100-400mm canon lens, which was always a bit soft especially wide open @400m. I found that using the centre focusing point also helped because using them all meant that the lens would pick up on the water closer to the camera and not the bird.

Anyhow, things improved dramatically when I switched to a 400mm F5.6 canon lens. Its autofocus speed is blistering and it sharp wider open. Try this example link or this one link .

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