New community member here struggling with BIF, but can get sharp stationary images.

Hey all,

First and foremost just like to say hello as I’m new here.

I’m sure this thread has been spoken on in length many times before, but I am curious on how so many of you capture amazing in flight images will lots of detail.

The equipment I am using are a Canon 80d DSLR 24 mega pixels and a sigma 150-600 f5-6.3 contemporary lens.

Settings I use are high speed burst photo mode, f7.1/8 if light allows and a shutter speed of 1250-2500 depending on the bird or subject. Focus I have set to servo or continuous and use either a single point or 9 point again depending on subject. Image stability is on.

it’s gotten quite frustrating firing off a load of shots and not a single one is in focus, I’ve tried handheld and now started using a gimbal head and tripod. 

I understand by the nature of it, I will have a load of unusable shots but I can’t seem to get many if any in focus keepers.

How did you all overcome this or was is investment in better gear and more practice or a combination of both.

  • Welcome to the community Swify_shoots...things are a tad quiet on here the now so you may not get that many responses am afraid....it can be very frustrating photographing wildlife at time but that's the joy of try try and try again...Hopefully the link below shall give you some pointers and somebody that actually knows what they are talking about can assist you as I am bad enough with my own cameras lol

    community.rspb.org.uk/.../getting-off-auto---index
  • Hello SS, welcome from Caithness, up at the very top of Scotland. Use my tablet for taking photos, so sorry no use for any advice, but there are a few here who use camera equipment and are very knowledgeable about the technology, they will help out I am sure. As Linda says it is very quiet here just now, so an answer may not be quickly. Enjoy.
  • Hi Swifty, no-one's got over it, it's part and parcel of photographing birds in flight. Better gear will definitely help, but you have to ask yourself... how did they take those action shots in days gone by, before all this wonderful technology? Key, I think, is knowing your camera and lens inside out and back to front, so you can change settings as and when required, in an instant (something I'm nowhere near achieving), and alongside that practise, practise, practise.
    I read somewhere about a professional wildlife photographer who would think a successful day was one usable picture per 1000 images taken! (I reckon his definition of "usable" is a bit stricter than mine lol) He also said that if you look at all the great photos that win awards etc, probably none were taken by a bloke walking about on the off chance something would happen. They research the birds, the area, the habitat, the behaviours, the weather forecast, the light direction for particular times of day... the list is endless... and then they have a plan of what the image they want is, before even going out.

    The link Linda has provided is a great place to start, but also do an interweb search for birds in flight photography and take a glance at the myriad of YouTube videos on the subject... you're definitely not alone in the quest for sharp images!
  • Another thought that just occurred to me Swifty, (belatedly because I'm appalling at it) is Post Production, ie what do you do to the images once they're off the camera? Apparently now the noise reduction software and image sharpening software are phenomenal and can save previously poor photos from the "delete" button.
    I think it's going to be my new years resolution to learn how to post process proficiently!
  • To me, it looks to me as if the images you posted were big crops from images taken on a typical overcast UK day so it would be interesting to see what the pre cropped image looks like. Cropping often reduces image quality because you have less pixels. Are you shooting in RAW or JPEG and are you shooting at the largest resolution your camera will shoot at? For what its worth - Marsh Harrier against a dark background is always going to an issue).

    Some suggestions for you to try even if they seem counter intuitive.

    1: try a bigger focus group. Single point is very difficult at a distance with a long zoom - its amazing much the pressure of using the shutter button at the face end of your camera lens combo can alter where the single focus point is aiming.

    2: Does the 80D have various focus tracking modes - if so go for the mode that sticks with the target longer.

    3: Switch off Image Stabilisation on the lens and try that for a while to see if quality improves. If your shutter speed is higher than the focal length of your lens then your images should sharp enough if you are panning with a bird in flight. Sometimes the Image stabilisation can be trying to help when it doesn't need to.

    4: Turn off rapid burst mode and firing off loads of images. Once you press the shutter button the mirror goes up and the camera no longer adjusts focus via sight - the software tries to predict where the target is going each time it gets a quick view of the target. Thats why people are moving to mirrorless as the focusing doesn't get interrupted as much. Using a lower burst mode you should be able to tell whether you are in focus before you shoot and a couple of images should be in focus rather than half a dozen out of focus. Using a fast frame rate on something like a Harrier or Owl is overkill, they just don't move fast enough to warrant it.

    5: Wind you lens in a bit - shoot at 550mm rather than 600mm and see if that helps. I had a Sigma 50-500 many years ago that needed to be at 450mm to be sharp.

    6: Make absolutely sure that your left arm which is supporting the lens is not touching either the zoom ring or the focus ring when shooting.

    Try those tips and get back to me if you have no success or any questions.


    But remember for really long distances sharpness is very hard - bad weather or too good weather (heat haze), overcropping loses detail, birds agains similar coloured backgrounds are difficult for focus systems that require good contrast etc.


    Last but not least which Im not really qualified to speak annas I have never owned one of these Sigma 150-600s but don't they have a dock which helps ensure that they focus correctly with the camera? Maybe someone else can chip in on that.
  • 1 easy idea is to just go to a local park where there are plenty of gulls - they aren't super fast and they will often fly, they are very good subjects for practicing BIF images - once you start getting better detailed images more often, you will be more likely to get better shots of other birds too.
  • Bob's covered everything pretty well - and Benji's suggestion of finding something reliable to practice on is always a good idea.
    On the subject of equipment, I don't normally suggest people go out and splash money to fix issues they're having, but the 80D isn't as fast tracking birds in flight as some other bodies. My wife was having frustrations with hers a few years ago with hardly any in-focus shots of gulls passing us on a cliff path. Swapping to the 7D2 I had with me on the same day she was getting a good hit rate. The 7D2 has a better AF system (it has twin processors, one dedicated to AF) and is noticeably faster to track the subject than the 80D. Also, 3rd party lenses don't typically AF as fast as native hardware (the manufacturers don't publish their AF algorithms, so Sigma etc have to reverse engineer them) so different kit may help increase your hit rate, but that's only likely to gain you an extra edge, rather than being a magic bullet (if that makes sense).
    Lastly, in-flight across your field of view means the focus distance isn't changing dramatically compared to something flying straight toward you - so trying to position yourself to achieve that will maximise the camera's chances of nailing focus
  • Swifty Shots, hello and welcome.

    Lots of good advice for you from Bob, and also Whistling Joe.

    I don't think the 80D has tracking, but I do know the Sigma 150-600 does have an image stabiliser (often shortened to IS). With photography, particularly wildlife in action, a lot can by trial and error, and with the beauty of digital, the only real cost is time to sort and bin or keep.

    The Canon 80D is similar to the 750D I used to use, likewise the Sigma 150-600 lens. Practice does make for better photos because you start to understand your camera and lens setup, plus watching birds in flight, will also make things a little easier. But they can, and will often, be unpredictable, and just when you think you've grasped it.....

    Light is a very important factor, at times I find white birds, like egrets, and dark birds, like cormorants, can throw the focus out. Also water, snow and ice can also confuse focusing and exposure.

    December, and certainly the current general weather conditions, being cloud and dull, don't make for easy photography, particularly for beginners.

    Finally, with the image stabiliser in the Sigma, try a mix of slower moving subjects with the IS on and off, while keeping the other settings fixed. There are times when the IS can be beneficial and times when it isn't.

    My guesses for your ID's, and as always, I welcome any corrections, because I am still learning.

    1. Jay
    2. Possibly buzzard
    3. Not sure,
    4. Kestrel

    Keep at it, don't give up, ask and there should be an answer somewhere.