There are quite a few of us who indulge in walk-around birding. In short, we walk around parks and general birding hotspots and try to get whatever shots we can. For a vast majority, this happens on weekends.
I am just going to discuss one technique that I have learned over the years during my walk-around birding. This is about the settings I use on my camera and how.
Most of us already know that we can find birds just sitting around or ones that just fly past. We mostly miss out on the flypast ones. The shutter speed is the culprit in all these cases that I have seen so far (besides focus, but, that remains otherwise as well).
This is a technique that I have shared with my colleagues and friends which helps in dealing with such scenarios for the most part.
Generally, we would use slower shutter speeds for sitting birds than BIFs which would require a much higher shutter speed.
I will not get into which camera mode you choose to shoot in or if you use full manual or auto-ISO. The kind of metering mode you use will affect any “auto” that you use. That part is all yours.
The only mode in which you cannot use this technique is the Aperture Priority since this is based on shutter speed.
Personally, I use full manual (excepting for Auto-Focus and Auto-White Balance) and you can and use manual mode with Auto-ISO for similar results. I spend a lot of time round-tripping my shots from any new gear to figure out the response to light and distance and prefer to set the ISO manually instead of depending on the metering on the camera.
Now, when you are at the spot you want to start birding, just take a test shot to make sure that you have the camera working as expected.
Then, set the shutter speed to your favourite BIF speed. I generally use 1/1250, although, I have started using 1/1600 with my Nikon D850 and I will explain why in another video.
Now, take a test shot again and just make sure it is not too dark on the histogram of the LCD on the camera. I would not advise looking at the image to figure that out.
This is actually it!
Always walk-around with the camera set for BIFs. You will have enough time to reduce the shutter speed for still targets, but, if any bird flies past, you might not have the time to bump up the shutter speed at that moment.
Whenever you take a sitting bird shot, let us say with a shutter speed of around 1/640, make sure you switch right back to 1/1250 after that.
This process has two advantages…
1. You will generally be able to get birds in flight that pass by since your camera is already set for that.
2. For smaller/tiny birds, you would need a higher shutter speed even for sitting shots and even if you take those shots at 1/1250 or just one rotation of the shutter speed dial lower, you will still get them. Assuming you are working with the camera default settings of 1/3rd stops, a single rotation of the dial will set the shutter speed to 1/1000 which is good enough for most tiny birds.
To summarise, always keep your camera set to shoot BIFs. Change the shutter speed only when needed for sitting targets and switch back to the BIF settings right after that shot.
Last, but not least, is that you should keep your shutter speed to what works best for you for BIFs. The lowest reasonable speed from my experience is 1/1250. Feel free to go higher than that when needed. For example, small birds would be better at 1/1600, the tiny ones would require 1/2000 or even more.
Try out this technique and do drop in your experience with the same in the comments.
My Flickr stream has more images with the complete EXIF at Flickr in case anyone wants to look at the settings and the details related to the same.