The more that I’ve been experimenting with shooting at 60 frames per second, the more intrigued I’ve become with how to potentially utilize this capability. This article shares some test images of small birds taking flight at 60 frames per second (FPS).
Many small birds, such as sparrows, are ubiquitous and we often don’t pay any attention to them at all. Anyone who has attempted to photograph small birds in flight can attest to how challenging it can be to even get them in the frame for an image. My test images today focused on trying to capture small birds taking flight. The first short run of 4 consecutive images is of a sparrow taking flight from my backyard deck. These were captured just after high noon.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
As is the case with larger birds, it is very important to watch for small birds starting to go into a crouching position, as this is typically the first stage of them taking off.
You can see in the image above that the sparrow is beginning to launch itself forward while spreading its wings.
Image three captured the sparrow with its wings extended and beginning its first down stroke. Notice how its flight feathers are well spread to capture as much air as possible. The toes on one foot are still touching the deck.
In the fourth frame the sparrow is now fully airborne as it completes its first down stroke wing beat. In the next frame the bird was already exiting the frame. I must admit that I was thrilled to capture this small snippet of action today. These four frames were captured in 1/15th of a second during a longer run of 40 images.
As you look at the EXIF data you’ll see that even though this scene was shot in bright sunshine, I used a fairly high ISO of 1800. This was due to my choice of shutter speed, i.e. 1/12800th of a second. Knowing that small birds have extremely fast wing speeds I used a very fast shutter speed to ‘freeze’ the action. One of the biggest challenges capturing images at 60 frames per second is timing your shutter release. When using a Nikon 1 V2, my 40 shot buffer fills in only 2/3 of a second. I did burn through hundreds of unusable photographs today during my testing because my timing was off by just a hair.
The sparrow images in this article were all cropped to 4000 pixels on the width, then resized for web use.
Now, let’s have a look at 5 consecutive images of a small bird taking flight from the top of a shepherd’s pole which was holding a bird feeder. Since this bird was a bit larger I chose a shutter speed of 1/3200. I’m unsure of the bird species – perhaps a reader can help with identification. You’ll notice in the EXIF data that the ISO is also a bit high at ISO-2000. This is because this image series was captured later in the afternoon at about 4 PM under partially cloudy conditions.
In the frames leading up to this first image above, the bird was standing very erect. As soon as it began its crouch I fired off my run of 40 photographs. The 5 images shown in this article were captured in 1/12th of a second. I did not crop these photographs at all so readers could get an idea of how quickly a small bird moves and the distance it travels.
Frame 2 captured the bird just about to launch forward.
Frame 3 is a good example of how much more of a photograph a bird covers when its wings are extended. It is important to anticipate this when framing your potential images. I really love this photograph as the bird’s toes are still just touching the shepherd’s pole.
The fourth frame in the run isn’t usable due to the bird’s wing position. I wanted to show this frame so you could see how many inches further away from the pole that the bird has propelled itself in just 1/60th of a second.
The fifth frame shows the bird in full flight as the first wing beat down stroke is completed. In the next photograph the bird was partially cropped off as it was leaving the frame.
Over the next while, as I work on my technique shooting at 60 frames per second, I will be sharing some additional insights with readers.
What I can tell you is that this specific subject matter, when shot at a very fast frame rate like 60 frames per second, is a real blast! It is certainly challenging, requiring high levels of concentration and split-second shutter release timing.
Another thing that I love about this type of photography is its accessibility. These types of images are possible for virtually anyone who has a camera (most likely mirrorless) that can shoot at fast frame rates. You don’t need a lot of expensive flash gear, special triggers, hours of set-up time, or even a tripod or monopod for that matter. You can just grab your camera body, mount a telephoto lens on it and go outside – photographing even the most common birds in your area – and still have a ton of fun!
It is also a great way to enhance your eye-hand coordination and your shutter release timing.
All photographs were captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.
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