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Under Water, Over Land
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Old March 3rd, 2008, 07:26 AM   #1
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Birds in Flight

I have the opportunity to tape hawks, vultures, and osprey in flight this summer, something which I have never done. I would like to know from those who do about camera mounting. Assume that the hawks are soaring and that they are some distance from the camera, hence, bringing in the subject with telephoto.

Where is the camera--on the tripod, the shoulder, gun stock or something else? In practicing for this project I have been taping basket ball games for a local college, trying to follow the ball. With the camera above the arena and the court being a flat horizontal surface, keeping the action in a two-dimensional aspect is not difficult. Later this spring will do baseball with flyballs. Another problem is even with the drag in the tripod head fully off, there is still a lot of resistance making really quick movements difficult.

A second question: What is the best method for rapidly locating the flying bird in the viewer? Is it just practice, or are there some tricks to this? I have tried looking through the eyepiece at wide angle and then bringing it in, but by the time I get it in range, a lot of the action is over.


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Old March 3rd, 2008, 05:37 PM   #2
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Use a very tall tripod with plenty of room to tilt the head - it's probably the only time I'd use a centre column fully extended.

Don't try to get close-up shots - it's very difficult to keep the bird in the frame - until you've had some practice.

And practice is what you need for finding the birds in flight. If you can, try practicing on aircraft flying overhead.

What kind of camera are you using? If it's a small camcorder, then you could try hand-holding it while lying on your back. I haven't tried it with a bigger machine.
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Old March 3rd, 2008, 07:10 PM   #3
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Try a Shoulder-Mount for Flying Birds

For birds, aircraft, flyballs, etc., I don't use anything but my shoulder-mounts, for either video or still cameras. They give me steadiness and smoothness and full mobility. There are quite a few for sale from commercial sources, but I developed my own, which are fitted to me and which I change on a continual basis. You can see them, if you go through my Flickr album and if you search my name on these forums, you can find detailed descriptions of how I made them.
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Old March 4th, 2008, 03:28 AM   #4
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It takes a lot of practice filming birds in flight, I would suggest a heavy tripod with plenty of pan and tilt adjustments, I use a Sachtler 7+7 studio head on heavy duty tripod legs. As for finding the bird trying lining up the bird along the camera lens, this will get you in the vicinity. I also find it is handy to get a land reference directly below the bird and then frame on the land reference and just tilt up until you find it.

Of course the larger birds are easier to film. This is a link to a Dalmation pelican I shot using a SP Betacam D600 camera and Canon 300mm FD lens. The shot was played back in slow motion through a Digital Betacam A500

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Old March 4th, 2008, 04:43 AM   #5
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Another thing is to press the record button as soon as you start looking for the bird. If you wait til the bird is in the viewfinder, you may well lose it by the time the camera start rolling. It uses more tape this way, but increases the chances of actually filming something.
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Old March 5th, 2008, 08:15 AM   #6
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Setting exposure

Thanks for the great tips. Will now be practicing airplanes in flight.

In anticipation of a fly-by of some airplane or bird, are there any tips as to how to pre-set the exposure so that the object is not merely a silhouette, but, that if close enough to see any colors?


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Old March 5th, 2008, 11:37 AM   #7
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If the sky is a bright blue midday sky, then you may need only a little over-exposure for a bird directly overhead. Or hold a small item up against the sky and meter off that. But often it is a matter of guesswork and experience.
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Old March 9th, 2008, 02:39 PM   #8
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Good Morning,

First I film 80% birds in flight. It does take a lot of practice.

I have tried it all ways and have had success at each. here are some things i have learned.

1. Hand Held, using a point and shoot like a gl2 allows you to shoot with both eyes on the bird. I always do this and it takes a little practice but it is essential in finding high or distant flying birds, but once you are on to it it works great.

with my xl2 I can shoot with both eyes open but there is a paralax issue where the level of the lens is and where your free eye is. this can work but takes a huge amount of practice to get used to where the free flying bird should be in relation to where the lens is!!!
Below is a 3 minute clip for the last uwol challenge where i have shot hand held, there is no post stablization.

2. should brace:

I found this works well with distant birds but shooting straight up and steep angles It is extremely difficult. also when I use a shoulder mount I use a a manfrotto 521 remote to my right hand!! this way I can still move the left to the camera to make adjustments if necessay.

Were I to recomend one I would consider the spider brace because of the two hand positions!!

3. Tripod this is great when you have a blind, have time to set up or know exactly where things are going to happen.

If you use long lenses I recomend you put a sight on the camera!!!!

Much bird photography is a very fluid affair and mostly a tripod will cause you to miss a huge number of shots. However, the ones you do get may be a little nicer due to the steadiness of the shots!!

If you raise the center post you will still get movement and then you may as well be using the shoulder mount. In my opinion the best tripod has no center post!! I have one of each and I never, ever raise the post!!

Ohter Thouhgts:

Zoom: a 20x is awesome but it is easy to use it to much. First the further out the more you need and the more the movements are amplified.

The fast flying birds need to have room in the view finder to move and allow you the opportunity to keep them framed. If you zoom to close you will lose them and most likly not have them again. So there is a balance between size of subject in relation to speed of movement!!

I would use manual focus. with flying birds most cameras will search real hard and often at inopportune times!! Often times with distant birds, farely small in a blue sky the camera can not even find them.

If the birds will be at a distance I would recommend focusing on something easy to focus at the approximate distance, then when you go on target it takes very little movement of the focus ring to get it right.

You can also set the camera for innfinite focus and leave it there.

If you are going to start wide, I would zoom focus the camera, bring the zoom back as far as you can then start shooting, that way when you draw down on the bird it is in focus.

I have at times used auto focus to get the distance, then flipped to manual afterwards.

I would also endevor to shoot with as small an aperature as possible which will increase your depth of field so you have more subject area in focus.

However, shooting birds I do not want more than 1/100 shutter speed, I prefer 1/60th. To me this takes precedent over the depth of field. It may be useful at times to use filters to alter your aperature instead of your shutter speed. Sense you are shooting slow shutter speed you usually do not have trouble with this!!

that is about it for now, I am out of time.

practice on p[igeons, crows or wahtever!!
Dale W. Guthormsen
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Old March 11th, 2008, 02:36 PM   #9
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Dale is right that the raised tripod head can cause movement. But basically I use the tripod to support the weight of the camera, while effectively hand-holding it. It means I can't get at birds right overhead (that's when I let them fly out of the frame). I also means I don't find the horizon has gone off the level when it appears in a clip. There is no perfect way, you just have to practice and find what suits you.
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Old March 11th, 2008, 09:38 PM   #10
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Flight shots are indeed tough to get right. No magic bullet, just lots of practice. A couple years ago I spent about a week working a Northern Harrier that hunted over a fairly small area. I got about 1 1/2 hours of video, of which about 1/3 is not of much use. I put together a short clip, if anyone is at all interested seeing it. It's at:

A real sore back and arm after this shoot....
Don DesJardin
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