Photographing Bird Life: My Camera Settings and Gear

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: March 26, 2021

Category: Photography

Over the past 12 months since the Covid-19 Pandemic emerged and restrictions were placed on our daily lives, I’ve mentioned in my recent videos how not being able to take portraits has made me play with other genres of photography with a view to keeping creative, and keeping the ‘tools in my hands’.

I’m throughly enjoying my landscape photography project; not just for the photography side of things but also, and most importantly, it means I’m outside in the fresh air…plus many other benefits.

I’ve also been enjoying getting out with a 600mm lens and photographing Bird Life; be it in my back garden or on the nearby coast.

Photographing something different like this has been not only been great escapism and source of enjoyment but has also been great for diving into camera settings I ordinarily wouldn’t have / didn’t, with my portrait work…

Focus Tracking, Back Button Focusing, Crop Sensor Mode and so it goes on; I’m genuinely having so much fun with this.

Anyway, I thought I’d share some of this info just in case you too were thinking of giving it a try…

 

Camera Settings

I’ll be experimenting more and more with these, but for now, here’s what my basic settings are:

Mode: Aperture Priority

Aperture: f/5.6 to f/6.3, which is as wide open as possible on the 600mm lens I’m using

ISO: Auto

 

Focus Tracking

The focus tracking has blown me away.

I’ve set my camera up so that I can very quickly jump from a Wide Focus Tracking Area to a Flexible Spot (small) and a Flexible Spot (medium) Tracking Area; all I have to do is press the AEL button on the back of the camera to jump from one to the other.

 

Generally when a bird is in flight I’m using the Wide Focus Area (Tracking) which means that as soon as anything is within that area, the camera locks on and the focus is bang on as it adjusts whilst the bird is moving. Incredible.

I use the Flexible Spot (Tracking) every other time. Simply position the focus area over the bird, press the Back Button Focus to lock on and that’s it. Wherever the bird moves (or I move the lens to change the composition) the focus is locked onto the bird.

Back Button Focus

Never had any cause to use this until now but wow…this makes a HUGE difference in your success rate!

  1. Aim lens at Birds
  2. Hold down assigned button to activate Back Button Focus (I have assigned the AF-ON button)
  3. Keep tapping the shutter button to immediately take in-focus images because the camera is locked on. No delay whatsoever in taking pictures because the camera is already focused! Brilliant!

Crop Sensor Mode (APS-C)

A great function built into my Sony A7RIV is the Crop Sensor (APS-C) mode which in simple terms extends the reach of the lenses I use. The 600mm becomes a 900mm (thereabouts) which means I can get in closer and get pinpoint focus and sharpness. The resolution goes from 61 Mega-Pixels to 26 Mega-Pixels which still produces a fantastic, detailed and sharp image.

You might question doing this and consider cropping in post afterwards rather than doing it in-camera. This would still give a great result because of the 61 Mega Pixels you have to play with (in a Sony A7RIV) but I prefer to do this in-camera. There are beneficial differences to doing in-camera so at some point I’ll do a side-by-side comparison and share the results.

As a side note, it’s also easier to pan when you can see the bird / subject closer in at the time of shooting.

I have the C4 / Trash button assigned to activate the APS-C Crop Sensor mode simply by pressing it and then pressing again to return to full frame.

Kit / Gear

I’ve mentioned that I’m using my workhorse Sony A7RIV but thought I’d show what I’m using with it when doing this stuff.

Lens: Sony 200mm – 600mm FE f/5.6 – f/6.3 G (LINK)

Despite the size of this lens it’s actually not that heavy so could be used handheld…for a while.

That said, I’m using it with the Gimbal below…

Gimbal: Neewar Carbon Fibre 360 Degree Panoramic Gimbal (LINK)

This is a total game-changer making it so easy to move quickly and effortlessly in all directions.

Love it!

 

One thing is for sure, and that’s when restrictions ease and we can all go back to living some kind of a normal life Post-Covid, even though my main photography work is taking portraits, I’ll be carrying on with my landscape project and photographing wildlife such as this.

This period of time where we’ve all had to adapt to restrictions has literally opened my eyes. Whereas before, I guess I was blinkered in that I shoot portraits and absolutely love it, and when there were days with no portraits to shoot my camera stayed in the bag, this won’t ever be the case again.

It’s so good to keep the tools in your hands and actually I think being out doing what I have been doing this past 12 months has had a huge mental and physical benefit.

Photography is so much more than pixels and kit; the escapism and sheer joy of photographing what makes YOU happy is immeasureable!

Catch you next time,
Glyn

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4 Comments

  1. Tor Berg

    Great article Glyn.

    I love to read about your approach towards landscape and bird-photography. It’s also so inspiring to hear about the increasing level of creativity during this challenging time.

    I’m not using Sony equipment (Fujifilm) but as you said – it’s not all about the pixel and gear, it’s the peace in mind.

    Reply
    • Glyn Dewis

      Absolutely Tor; the main thing is being out and keeping the tools (whatever they are) in your hands.
      Best to you
      Glyn

      Reply
  2. Robin

    Great tutorial Glyn. I sold some lenses and I got myself a sigma 100-400 recently. Although the camera is different, the auto focus methods are similar and your article has made me think again about assigning the other buttons. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Glyn Dewis

      Great to hear Robin. Assigning the buttons has certaibly simplified the process so I can concentrate more on ‘getting the shot’
      Regards
      Glyn

      Reply

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