Camera tips for nesting birds?

Hi all!

I spotted a pair of nesting peregrines in a quarry near me so I tried to grab some shots this morning.  I managed to get a few, but I've obviously got the settings wrong as the photos come out very dark and I had to adjust exposure in post-processing just to get it this clear....

I'm using a Canon 7D with a 100-400mm lens, F5, ISO500, 1/2000 - which I think are better for birds in flight against the sky?

I'd appreciate any tips for settings so I can get better pictures! 

  • Hi Artypip welcome to the community.
    Are they manual settings?
    One of the other photographers will have some tips for you, but looking at the settings I think you have the shutter speed too high or the ISO too low or a combination of both if it was a dark day like it was here.
    Peregrines have the highest protection so one thing you must not do is disturb them in any way, and I would be careful in drawing attention to the nest, people are know to raid the nests for eggs and chicks.

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  • Looking at the photo if that is their normal flight path away from the nesting area I would position myself to one side  so you are not trying to focus on a bird flying directly towards you.

    These photos from 2016 are taken with the gear you have

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  • Hi ArtyPip
    I've got a similar set up to you. What I often do is to use manual (which I think you may have done) but I set the ISO to Auto. This allows the top thumb wheel to control the speed and the back thumb wheel to control the aperture and the ISO adjusts automatically. That way you will at least get a decent exposure even if sometimes you might get a high ISO value in poor light.
    In a situation like that where the birds are not in flight I would probably choose a shutter speed 1/500 - 1/800 and f5.6 and see what ISO you get. Obviously, it's best to get the lowest ISO you can to minimise noise. If a test picture comes out too light or too dark I would use the Q button to adjust the exposure compensation up or down accordingly.
    I'm not saying what I do is right or wrong but It's something I'm comfortable with. You can also use Auto ISO with the Tv or Av modes.
    There's some good photographers on here especially Whistling Joe and Bob's Retired who are more expert than me who may be able to give you more advice.



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  • Thanks folks - yes I figured (after a bit of research) that it was either ISO or shutter speed (or both) that was the issue. I altered the custom buttons (C1 to C3) on the 7D to give a number of options and nipped back over to the site to grab some reference photos to check which worked better.

    There are some pigeons on the same site so I started by using them for reference and was lucky enough to have one of the falcons come back while I was there so managed to grab a few more images. Looks like F5.6 to F6.3 and 1/125 work reasonably well at ISO500.

    I'll have to keep trying though - and maybe invest in a 1.4x extender - to get better quality shots.
  • If you want to add more photos to this thread look under your first post for the use rich formatting link and it will take you to the full text editor, you can add them from that link under every reply box but the last one.

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  • OK, some good advice from everyone here ArtyPip. Firstly though, be cautious about adding the 1.4x extender to the 7D/100-400 combination - it won't autofocus, so you may have trouble getting anything decent unless you're really fast at manual focus! (Note the 7D2 will AF with the 100-400/1.4x combination)

    I think you're trying to use too many manual settings at a time where conditions are changing rapidly (ie changing light levels in a quarry, bird sitting, then bird flying etc). Whilst you're getting your head around what impact the shutter speed, ISO and aperture have on an image, keep it simple and use Tv (shutter speed) for a while - leave ISO on Auto. That way you can quickly alter the shutter speed - 1/800 or higher for steady in-flight is a good starting point (probably higher when taking off), if the bird sits down, drop the speed a little, shoot, drop it a bit more, shoot & so on. That way you'll get a sharp, high ISO shot, a sharpish medium ISO shot, a not-very-sharp low ISO shot - simply choose the best. In time, you'll get a feel for what you & the camera can do together and take a bit more manual control should you wish. The back wheel can be used to alter exposure compensation, you may need to over-expose slightly if the bird enters clear sky (dark bird/light sky will often give you a silhouette at normal exposure). That's assuming you're using one of the general metering settings, rather than spot-metering (which is not always ideal with a moving subject due to the difficulty in keeping the bird centre-frame).


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  • Thanks Joe - as you may have guessed, I'm still figuring things out when it comes to photography... I'd love to have more time to spend at it but that will have to wait until the mortgage is paid off! :D

    My original settings were using Manual, yes - taken from recommendations I'd found online for birding. After the first set were so dark I used one set that was based on Tv but had ISO500 set. I'm still figuring out how to use the back wheel!

    There's always so much to remember - but at least the camera records the settings in each photo so I can always check the images and write down the ones that worked! :)

    I really appreciate all the advice here - it's been great to have the opportunity to photograph the falcons instead of the garden birds and I want to make the most of it!
  • Looking at your location I would try sticking with manual shutter and aperture and use Auto ISO Have your shutter set to wide open - given it looks like a dark location you might as well force the aperture as wide as possible. And adjust your shutter speed depending on likelihood of action - lower for static birds so ISO hoes down, higher shutter for action and iso will go up. I would also suggest Partial metering and see how that works for exposure on the bird - spot is very difficult to keep on the bird for sure. All these tips are worthwhile trying till you figure out the best for the location. 1/2000 is pretty unnecessary for a Falcon at the distance you are shooting as at that distance you will always be panning and they arenT the fsdtedtcwing flappers in the world. Are you in Devon by any chance? You don’t need to be any more specific if you are it’s just the location looks a little familiar, but I guess a lot of quarries look similar.




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  • Thanks Bob. Conditions were pretty overcast - the location does get good sunlight (at certain points of the day) on clear days so if the birds do stay I'll have lots of different conditions to play with the settings on.

    I guess many quarries look similar - this is Somerset, not Devon.
  • Better settings: ISO500, F6.3, 1/125 (400mm)  Still not as clear as I'd like but without more 'tele' the only other thing I can do is use a tripod instead of the monopod I had on me.