Sunlit Wings: The Story Behind the Photo

By Chandra Brooks

Sunlit Wings Chandra Brooks (1/2500, f/8.0, ISO 800, Sony A9, 100-400 GM)

I had the opportunity to go on the James River in Virginia where osprey and bald eagles are frequent visitors. I wanted to be sure I’d catch them in flight, so before we got on the boat, I had my camera settings locked in. Most cameras allow specific settings to be mapped to a custom button enabling an effortless change of settings. My shutter speed was 1/2500. (It should
be at least 1/1600 to 1/2000 for most birds in flight). Aperture was set at f/8.0 for a good depth of field on the bird but less detail in the background. ISO was set at 800 since we had good morning light. I also made sure my camera was set to Continuous AF, wide-area tracking, and its highest frame rate.

Photographing birds in flight is always a challenge. I was surprised at just how fast these amazing creatures really are. When they spot a fish and tuck their wings to drop to the water, it’s a challenge to even keep them in the frame. The key is to lock focus and start tracking the birds as soon as possible. I use back button focus, so I would pick a target bird, hold focus, and track them until I saw a flight position I liked. Then I would start to shoot and follow the action.

Often multiple birds are making hunting passes and there really isn’t any time to fuss with settings. It helps to know your camera, be able to change settings without looking, know how its AF system works, understand the behavior of your species, and just practice. If you’re interested in osprey, Mark Smith has a YouTube channel with some fantastic videos.

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