Stack the odds of suc­cess in your favour

Sharp frame-fill­ing shots are not guar­an­teed – but these six steps will give you bet­ter odds

NPhoto - - Nikon Skills -

Lo­ca­tion! Lo­ca­tion! Lo­ca­tion!

You may chance upon an owl fly­ing over your head, but to max­imise your chance to get­ting a good shot you need to find a lo­ca­tion where your cho­sen species is seen reg­u­larly. Spend some time on Google re­search­ing lo­ca­tions, and find out where other pho­tog­ra­phers have had suc­cess.

The need for speed

The long lens and the fast-mov­ing sub­ject means you need to use a fast shut­ter speed, how­ever dull the day. A speed of 1/2000 sec is the bare min­i­mum. But sim­i­larly, to en­sure the back­ground is as blurred as pos­si­ble, you should use your lens wide open (that’s f/6.3 on our Sigma 150-500mm).

Lock­ing in on the prey

You need to mas­ter the pan­ning tech­nique. You can’t rely on a bird just en­ter­ing the frame, so a tri­pod is not a great help. Track the bird smoothly across the sky, and wait for it to get closer and turn to the light. Ideally you want it front- or side-lit, to show the colour and de­tail of the plumage.

Big is best

You need a long lens. Even though Red Kites have a five-foot wing­span they will be some way from you when they fly past. A lens with an ef­fec­tive fo­cal length of 600mm (600mm on an FX model, or 400mm on a DX SLR) is ideal. We used a Sigma 150-500mm, set to 500mm, on a DX Nikon D300s.

Man­ual ex­po­sure with Auto ISO

Set both the aper­ture and shut­ter speed in Man­ual mode, and then set the ISO to au­to­matic. This means you get the pre­cise set­tings you need even if the light­ing changes sud­denly, and the cam­era ad­justs the sen­sor sen­si­tiv­ity so you don’t have to worry about un­der- or over-ex­po­sure.

Dy­namic fo­cus­ing

Kites move quickly, so you need to make sure the aut­o­fo­cus can keep up! This un­pre­dictabil­ity is the per­fect sce­nario for Nikon’s Dy­namic Area AF. Use the cen­tral AF point, and try to keep this over the bird as you pan – if you can’t keep up, the SLR will switch to an­other AF point au­to­mat­i­cally.

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