Capturing birds in flight is arguably one of the hardest photographic endeavors you could pursue.  The tips are to take a lot of images and do it in bursts. 

 
Photo of the Week: Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna) in flight EQ: D800 f/2.8 300mm with 2.0x TC     Taken: 3-22-13 12:35 Setting: 600mm, f/8, 1/1600s, ISO720     Condition: Sunny but in some shade

Photo of the Week: Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna) in flight

EQ: D800 f/2.8 300mm with 2.0x TC     Taken: 3-22-13 12:35

Setting: 600mm, f/8, 1/1600s, ISO720     Condition: Sunny but in some shade

 

This was taken at the end of a Santa Cruz Bird Club field trip and the sun had broken through the fog a couple of hours earlier.  To reduce the high contrast that occurs in full sun, I positioned myself so I was shooting in an area of shady diffuse light.  Hummingbirds can fly between 25-30 mph and up to 60 mph in a dive.  Their wing beats are typically 70 bpm but can be as high as 200 bpm.  I rarely use a tripod so I set the shutter speed to 1/1600 s to stop the motion and reduce any camera shake from hand holding a heavy set up.  There was good lighting so I was able to increase the f/stop to f/8 to improve the depth of field.  I was probably about 15-20 ft from the flowers waiting for the birds to come and take the nectar.  I must have fired off over 50 frames to get this one and couple others that were good but I really liked this one.  With the fast shutter speed I was able to capture the bird in flight and the f/8 gave me a pleasing depth of field.  You would think with wing beats at 1/200 s a 1/1600 s would stop wings cold.  However, you still see soft focus along the wing and towards the tips.  This is due to the depth of field limits being reached and the acceleration of the wing when changing directions.

Some cameras allow you to set how your camera will capture images.  There is the single shot mode, which I never use, and burst modes.  The burst modes are setting a preset number of frames per shutter release, slow continuous, and maximum continuous burst.  I shoot in maximum continuous burst using the back button to focus and the half shutter release to lock the exposure.  If your camera doesn't have the option to use another button besides the half pressed shutter release option, don't worry, but if you do have that as an option try it out.  It allows for continuous focus when the back button is pressed and the option to lock the focus by releasing the bottom.  More options when shooting.  The advantage of shooting in burst mode is it gives the camera time to clear the buffer so you can shoot away without having to wait for the images to write to the card.  I like the continuous mode especially in capturing birds in flight because they're moving so you need to move too.  My camera can shoot about 5 fps and after about 4 to 5 s the buffer fills up and then the capture rate really slows down.  To keep from being slowed down, I do pause at times to allow the buffer to clear so I'm ready for the next burst when needed.

 
Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna) in flight EQ: D800 f/2.8 300mm with 1.7x TC     Taken: 6-6-14 10:20 Setting: 500mm, f/5, 1/2500s, ISO1600     Condition: Sunny but in some shade

Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna) in flight

EQ: D800 f/2.8 300mm with 1.7x TC     Taken: 6-6-14 10:20

Setting: 500mm, f/5, 1/2500s, ISO1600     Condition: Sunny but in some shade

 

I was about the same distance from this hummer as the one in the first photo, 10-15 ft, but I was using a higher shutter speed and lower f/stop.  Here the wings were stopped but the depth of field with the long lens soften the wing tips.  The soft focus and allowing some parts blur due to motion adds depth to the image and gives you a sense of motion.

Your comments are welcomed and if you have any questions about the photo or any other questions leave me a message.

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