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[Part 3] Capturing the Moment the Bird Takes Flight

If you encounter a bird that is just about to take flight, what should you do in order not to miss capturing this moment? In the following, a professional wild animal photographer will explain the techniques to do so using the EOS 7D Mark II. (Reported by: Gaku Tozuka)

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Predict the movement of the bird

Capturing the moment a bird takes flight might sound like a rather challenging task. However, this is not so difficult if you can predict the timing in advance. Before a bird takes flight, it would show signs such as stretching and retracting its neck (or excreting faeces in the case of birds of prey). Not only so, birds generally take off in the direction against the wind, so it is also possible to predict their direction of flight.

Next, let me explain the actual techniques to capture such a shot. Large birds such as swans need to run for a longer distance before they take off, so the key to composing the shot would be to allow space in the direction they are running. If the shoot takes place at a location that is backlit or with a cluttered background and you're using auto exposure, the brightness would vary each time you move the lens,. Therefore, why not set the exposure manually instead? If you want to freeze the movement of the subject, use the maximum aperture and take a shot at as fast a shutter speed as possible. If you are unable to raise the shutter speed, increase the ISO speed. This is the time to put the excellent high ISO speed performance of the EOS 7D Mark II to good use. Another effective way is to raise the ISO speed and narrow the aperture by one or two stops. Doing so increases the depth of field, and this technique is particularly suitable when you are using a super telephoto lens.

Level of Difficulty: Medium

Shooting Status

Lens: Super Telephoto

Light: Oblique Light

Shutter Speed: Fast

Aperture: Open

EOS 7D Mark II/ FL: 700mm (equivalent to 1,120mm in 35mm format)/ EF500mm f/4L IS II USM + EXTENDER EF1.4×III/ Manual (f/5.6, 1/1,600 sec)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto

In this example, I aimed at the moment a tundra swan took flight. Here, I set the exposure manually as using the auto setting would cause the brightness to vary with the background. The wings and the glittering water splashes are beautifully depicted.

AF points used for focusing

With Zone AF, it is unlikely that you will lose track of the movement of large birds such as the tundra swan. However, focus may be established on the wings if they are positioned in the foreground of the composition. Ensure that focus is achieved near the face of the subject.


AF operation: AI Servo AF

Drive mode: High-speed continuous

AF area selection mode: Zone AF

AF Config. Tool: Case 1

I captured the subject with AI Servo AF + Zone AF, and made sure that focus was maintained on the subject by customising Case 1 of the AF Configuration Tool. I selected the high-speed continuous shooting mode to freeze the movement of both the water splashes and the wings.

[Poor Shot]
Need to allow sufficient space in the composition

EOS 7D Mark II/ FL: 700mm (equivalent to 1,120mm in 35mm format)/ EF500mm f/4L IS II USM + EXTENDER EF1.4×III/ Aperture-priority AE (f/8, 1/5,000 sec)/ ISO 800/ WB: Auto

While I was trying to capture a great egret aiming at its food, it suddenly took off. I pressed the shutter button reflexively, but the face and wings of the subject were, unfortunately, outside the frame. Although the exposure and shutter speed were appropriate, the composition, which is a crucial element, left much to be desired. When capturing the moment a bird takes flight, it is necessary to create space in the direction the bird is moving in order to obtain a stable composition.

Techniques for preventing camera shake

Wild birds flee at the sight of human beings. So how do we get close to them? The answer is to conceal your human form from them. For example, you could use your car as a moving blind. However, using a tripod in a car can be rather unstable. When taking a shot from the car window, you could make use of a bean bag as a cushion for the camera, as the photo illustrates This helps to produce stable images, and is a common technique in wild bird photography.

Gaku Tozuka

Born in 1966 in Aichi, Tozuka developed an interest in photography when he was in the third year of high school, and started to capture natural landscapes as well as wildlife animals. At the age of 20, he became absorbed in photographing wild birds after accidentally capturing a woodpecker in his photo. He has released a large number of works in media such as magazines, bulletins, books, calendars and TV commercials.

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