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FORUMS Photography Talk by Genre Bird Talk
Thread started 24 Apr 2016 (Sunday) 08:31
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Bird in flight shooting - "muddy" images

 
DionM
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Post has been edited over 1 year ago by DionM.
Apr 24, 2016 08:31 |  #1

I started off photographing birds "seriously" about 6 months ago. Mostly small perched birds here in Australia.

I have recently starting trying for birds in flight and it is frustrating me. I guess the easiest way to describe the photos is 'muddy'. Not particularly out of focus, but not especially in focus, and the colours are 'muddy'.

I know how to get sharp images of perched birds. But this is a whole other (frustrating) ball game.

I think my gear is up to it - I have shot birds in flight with both my 7D2 and 600/4 II (handheld) and my 70D with 400/5.6. Both combos gives excellent IQ for perched birds. For all intents and purposes, AF (when I am tracking the birds in flight) tells me it has a lock. I use AI Servo, typically single point focus, and I use backbutton focus so I have that held in the whole time while tracking the bird and hit the shutter as needed. I am shooting at 1/800 to 1/1200th, usually wide open, and on sunny days ISO is nice and low (less than 400).

I have attached two samples:
- The first was shot today > the bird going to your left of screen (with the more blue background). This was the 70D + 400/5.6; handheld, ISO200, 1/1000, f/6.3. I have +1.21 of exposure added in LR5 plus clarity and a bit of sharpening. Still not an image I'm very happy with.
- The second was shot a couple of months ago > the bird going to your right of screen (with a greyer background). This was 7D2 + 600/4 II + 1.4TCIII; handheld ISO100, f/9, 1/800sec. +1.21 of exposure in LR5 plus clarity and sharpening. A little better, but probably not where I want to be at (given how I can make the 600/4 II perform for perched birds this shot just doesn't have the same punch in terms of clarity and colours).

Can anyone point to some good tutorials (or post here?) about how I can lift my game for BIF? I know I should have had some exposure comp dialled in (as evidenced by the + exposure in post), and I think I have the bird in focus but when I get back the photos are just disappointing.

Note that the handheld 600/4 BIF was an exception. I have started carrying my 70D+400/5.6 on trips to be just my BIF lens - I find the 600 (usually with a TC strapped on) too unwieldy for BIF.

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Sgt.
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Post has been last edited over 1 year ago by Sgt.. 2 edits done in total.
Apr 24, 2016 09:09 |  #2

https://www.youtube.co​m/watch?v=VzdaD3qAXbo (external link)

I would start shooting in AV and add exposure compensation.
Your first shot of the bird is underexposed.
Dont worry about blowing out the sky.
Also try to get that shutter speed higher/faster.

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MalVeauX
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Post has been edited over 1 year ago by MalVeauX.
Apr 24, 2016 09:58 |  #3

DionM wrote in post #17983027 (external link)
I started off photographing birds "seriously" about 6 months ago. Mostly small perched birds here in Australia.

I have recently starting trying for birds in flight and it is frustrating me. I guess the easiest way to describe the photos is 'muddy'. Not particularly out of focus, but not especially in focus, and the colours are 'muddy'.

I know how to get sharp images of perched birds. But this is a whole other (frustrating) ball game.

I think my gear is up to it - I have shot birds in flight with both my 7D2 and 600/4 II (handheld) and my 70D with 400/5.6. Both combos gives excellent IQ for perched birds. For all intents and purposes, AF (when I am tracking the birds in flight) tells me it has a lock. I use AI Servo, typically single point focus, and I use backbutton focus so I have that held in the whole time while tracking the bird and hit the shutter as needed. I am shooting at 1/800 to 1/1200th, usually wide open, and on sunny days ISO is nice and low (less than 400).

I have attached two samples:
- The first was shot today > the bird going to your left of screen (with the more blue background). This was the 70D + 400/5.6; handheld, ISO200, 1/1000, f/6.3. I have +1.21 of exposure added in LR5 plus clarity and a bit of sharpening. Still not an image I'm very happy with.
- The second was shot a couple of months ago > the bird going to your right of screen (with a greyer background). This was 7D2 + 600/4 II + 1.4TCIII; handheld ISO100, f/9, 1/800sec. +1.21 of exposure in LR5 plus clarity and sharpening. A little better, but probably not where I want to be at (given how I can make the 600/4 II perform for perched birds this shot just doesn't have the same punch in terms of clarity and colours).

Can anyone point to some good tutorials (or post here?) about how I can lift my game for BIF? I know I should have had some exposure comp dialled in (as evidenced by the + exposure in post), and I think I have the bird in focus but when I get back the photos are just disappointing.

Heya,

I bird all the time, and I shoot at 600mm on APS-C very often for this, but also 300mm on APS-C as well. I find 1/800 and 1/1200 to be too slow of a shutter unless the bird is hovering. But if the bird is banking, diving, etc, this is simply too slow. I start at 1/2000s. It's not just the bird that is moving, you are moving, and the longer your lens the more movement is occurring that you have to calm down with a high shutter. Think about it in arc degrees with a 600mm on your APS-C, it's a very small angle! It's moving. Your subject is moving. I can get away with 1/1000s with my 300mm because the angle is wider. But with 600mm, I find I have got to push to 1/2000s right away.

Your camera is capable of great ISO performance, I would not stress keeping it low. Stress your shutter speed instead. Also, it helps a lot to be on a gimbal. Hand holding a heavy rig and tracking a bird just adds more movement and shake to the system, and you have to account for that too. You can get away with slower shutter speeds from a tripod+gimbal setup. That said, sometimes it can limit your movement for tracking a bird--if they're close range and overhead, instead of distant and at an angle that is not above you. Push ISO to get your shutter up. If you think it's fast enough, it's not. I can get blur even at 1/2000s on wing tips, etc. Distance to subject also matters and whether they're panning or not. The closer they are to you, the faster they're rate of movement is relative to the pixel collecting light--compared to when they're distant, the rate they pass a pixel is less (same concept as why stars trail with telephotos, but less so with ultrawides, it's all about arc degrees & objects moving relative to a pixel).

Light matters. Shooting in the right light matters, from the right direction, etc. When I'm shooting in day light, I make sure the sun is on my back. I will move around so that I can get to a spot where I'm shooting with the sun behind me, and the bird opposite, so that I can get that light on their face/eyes. If I can't do that, I don't bother shooting unless it's just one of those moments you cannot pass up. But realistically, shooting a back-lit bird in flight is something I just avoid (and I shoot manual for that anyways). Quality of light makes a big difference too. Day light with direct sun can be punishing to a bird photo, giving it a hot spot on one side, darkness on the other. I prefer slightly over-cast days, where the light is more even. I also really prefer cloudless skies as it gives more interesting backgrounds if they're high up instead of just blown white.

I generally shoot AV when I'm in fast changing light (clouds, shore line at the beach, where I basically am most of the time) and I simply use EC to ensure I keep exposure up regardless of getting white clouds, sun, etc, in my shots or just reflections on things that shine near white. So I'm often at +1 EC when shooting in AV. However, I often shoot in manual mode and I prefer to use partial metering so that my subject area is the primary area evaluated for exposure purposes (personal preference). No matter what mode or settings you're using, the histogram is important to read. I basically will push ISO as much as I need to, to get the image exposed to the right, birds look much better slightly over-exposed. It also helps with recovering shadow areas to get color & detail there. And it helps with noise of course. But I will push ISO to whatever it takes to allow me to expose to the right via histogram, and keep about 1/2000s shutter speed. Even in poor light, I try to do that. I'll take grain over severe under-exposure nearly any day! But because it's hard to expose automatically when the sky is involved, the histogram is your best friend to know you at least have a base exposure to work from. And of course, shoot RAW for recovery (getting an extra stop of leeway helps tons when you're trying to expose to the right and recover a clipped highlight, etc).

I bring up distance because the farther you are away, the less pixels there are on the subject which takes away detail. Even if you have 600mm and APS-C, you still need to be very, very close. When you have more pixels on target, everything is easier to work with (better ISO pattern, easier clean up, better shadow lifting, better color pattern, more micro detail on feathers, eyes, etc). Doing hard crops will look muddy compared to getting a good 25~33% of your frame filled as a starting point, 50% is just awesome, and more than that and it's hard to get a good composition without clipped anatomy I find. I still try and get as close as possible without disturbing the bird(s). I'm at a point where I get so close, that I often have to use shorter lenses! But I prefer this, less atmospheric distortion.

Also note, shooting over water on a sunny day, or over any surface on the ground that radiates heat or evaporates water vapor, can have some consequence to your image, giving a weird haze that you cannot do anything about. Location does matter, temperature of the air does matter.

For me, my biggest issue with birding is always the focus speed of my glass, and the accuracy & aggressiveness of my AF. I use old or lesser gear. They're sharp as all get out when it lands, but when I'm doing birds in flight, the sharpness drops a lot because the focus is slightly off, and there's micro-blur from the overall movement (subject, my own forward/backward, the lens up/down/left/right, etc). Even at 1/4000s I can get blur if I'm not careful. Technique does matter quite a bit! I use an old 1D2, and now a 7D (I), and while the AF is great, I still find that my lenses focus slower than I'd like. So that's my next step is to get lenses that will focus as fast as my AF can keep push them.

IMAGE: https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1709/25528119140_3991a961e5_c.jpg
[IMAGE'S LINK: https://flic.kr/p/ETQh​rb] (external link)IMG_1227 (external link) by Martin Wise (external link), on Flickr

IMAGE: https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1621/25029026613_8282329488_c.jpg
[IMAGE'S LINK: https://flic.kr/p/E8Ji​BB] (external link)IMG_1028 (external link) by Martin Wise (external link), on Flickr

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neacail
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Apr 24, 2016 10:46 |  #4

In looking at the two photographs, the one taken with the 7D2 looks quite a bit sharper to me.

I was using a 70D for indoor ice hockey. I was culling around 50% of my on-ice photographs for soft focus. The 70D is certainly a very capable body, and I never had focus concerns with anything else. I honestly couldn't figure out what the problem was, and over the course of three seasons I just couldn't improve beyond that 50% cull rate. I was become very demoralized. I didn't think I could shoot a forth season.

In switching to a 5D3 for ice hockey, my cull rate due to poor focus (soft, missed, etc.) went down to less than 5%. In every case now it is clearly my errors that brought about the poor focus. Now I'm looking forward to next season.

For birds in flight I would stick to the 7D2, which has a much more advanced autofocus system than the 70D. And, I'd follow Sgt.'s advice. :) Once you get things dialled in with the 7D2, try the 70D again as an experiment. I suspect the 70D still won't perform as reliably as the 7D2, even after your technique is improved.


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DionM
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Post has been last edited over 1 year ago by DionM. 4 edits done in total.
Apr 24, 2016 23:19 |  #5

Thanks for the feedback.

I will add in more exposure comp (probably closer to 2/3 stop at least, if not a full stop) and raise the shutter speed to 1/2000th at least. I typically use evaluative metering.

I usually have both bodies in use - the 7D2 is usually attached to the 600 on a gimbal and tripod, so if I am doing BIF with the 400 handheld it is with the 70D strapped to it while I leave the 600 alone on the tripod. Not easy to swap bodies when a raptor pops into view and I guess ideally I would love a better second body but $$$. I debated long and hard about whether to get a used 7D instead of a 70D as the second body, the 70D won out. Perhaps I should revisit the 7D instead of a 70D? The second body and lens also serves as my shooting rig when I have the 600 and teleconverter attached and birds are too close for that!

The first shot was OOC, the second has had some cropping. I just noticed the slight halo around the first image too - side effect of the PP.


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Duane ­ N
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Apr 25, 2016 04:45 |  #6

This is a technique I employ for my in-flight photography and it comes from a professional photographer that has mastered birds in flight.

Bump Focus Technique: To quickly focus or let off and refocus. There are three uses for the bump focus technique:

2. When I am tracking a BIF against a varied bg and I miss and focus on the bg I will bump the focus to quickly return focus to the bird. Bumping the focus overrides the delay set by the tracking sensitivity custom function. I set tracking sensitivity to slow to get the longest delay possible. This helps when you are focused on the bird and want to avoid focusing on the bg, but it hurts when focused on the bg and you want to return focus to the bird. Bumping the focus overrides the delay allowing you to use the long delay when it helps and override the delay entirely when it would hurt, thus getting the best of both worlds.

2. This is the most important use of the bump technique. Most photogs will aquire focus on a bif and then try to continously maintain foucs while they are tracking and watching the bif in the viewfinder. They tend to focus continuosly waiting for the moment they wish to make a photograph. Often while watching, tracking, and waiting for the moment, the photographer will miss and focus on the bg. This is extremely easy to do when the bif is flying against a varied bg. This is the reason it is so much more difficult to photograph BIF against a varied bg as opposed to smooth sky bg. When the focus grabs the bg, then the photographer needs to re-aquire focus on the bif. This may take too much time causing the photog to miss the critical moment. I try to avoid this by only focusing on the BIF when I'm sure I'm on target and during the critical moments when I'm actualy making images. So, what I will typicaly do is aquire the bif initialy and focus on it. Then I will let off the focus and just watch it in the viewfinder while tracking it visualy only. As the distance changes, the BIF will start to go out of focus. When that happens I bring it back in focus by quickly making sure the AF point is on the bird and then I bump the focus to get it in focus again. I do this repeatedly as I'm visualy tracking the bird. When the BIF gets to the spot I want to start making pictures, I will focus and shoot all at once. I shoot in short controlled bursts trying to time the critical moments with the best wing positions, etc. Because I have bumped the focus along, the focus is very close to where it needs to be when the moment to make pictures arrives. Then when I focus and trip the shutter it happens very quickly. If I tried to focus constantly while the bif approached I would likely miss, focus on the bg, and miss the critical moment. My goal is to keep the bird close to in focus and in the viewfinder without focusing on the bg and to do this up until the critical moment arrives. Then I try to maintain the focus while making great pictures. Bumping takes lots of practice, but if you develop this skill, it will make your keeper rate go way up.

3. The third reason to bump the focus is to prefocus. The first task when photographing a BIF is to aquire it in the viewfinder and focus on it. (see tutorial #3) It is beneficial to be able to do this as quickly as possible. When using long focal lengths, the bird may be so out of focus that you can't see it in the viewfinder even if it's there. Then when you do get it in the viewfinder it may take much longer to focus on it if the focus is set to a drastically different distance. To overcome these issues, I will prefocus at the approximate distance that I anticipate for my subject. Then when the subject arrives, I can find it and focus on it quickly. I prefocus the camera by pointing the camera at something at the desired distance and then I focus on it. Now I'm ready for a BIF at a similar distance. If I need to switch the distance I will simply point the camera at something at the new distance and bump the focus. This will prefocus the camera at the new distance. Photogs that use a tripod will often prefocus manualy. Since manual focus is difficult hand held with big glass, I use the bump to prefocus.



One of my favorite in-flights to date was taken using this technique and I managed 16 sharp images as this eagle left a tree and flew towards me then banked to my left. Although many photographers prefer to hand hold their camera/lens for mobility I'm a firm believer in using a tripod even for in-flights. Although I may miss some opportunities using a tripod the majority of my in-flights are sharp. If they aren't I blame myself not my camera gear or settings. This image was taken using a Canon 50D and the older 500mm f/4L wide open at 1/800" shutter speed. It's personal preference but I like the hint of motion (blur) in the wings in this image because of the slower shutter speed.

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I hope you figure out what is causing your issues with in-flights because I know how disappointing it is thinking you have keepers only to realize something was amiss when you look at them at home.

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casteel
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Apr 25, 2016 07:32 as a reply to MalVeauX's post |  #7

Excellent post, thank you for sharing.




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neacail
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Apr 25, 2016 08:45 |  #8

DionM wrote in post #17983929 (external link)
Perhaps I should revisit the 7D instead of a 70D? The second body and lens also serves as my shooting rig when I have the 600 and teleconverter attached and birds are too close for that!

Hmm. I understand your conundrum. The 70D has a couple of really useful features: the articulating screen and Wi-Fi. The articulating screen is great if you have the body on a tripod and it is positioned in such a way that you're having a hard time seeing through the view finder or can't see the screen in its regular position (either due to an awkward camera position or glare from the sun). The Wi-Fi is helpful for tethered shooting with a tablet or cellphone in the event you can't, or don't want to, stand right by the camera.

I would probably opt for the body combo you have, with the understanding that the 70D will under-deliver at times in AIservo.


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Sgt.
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Apr 28, 2016 10:17 |  #9

IMAGE: https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1470/26695305635_fc862713fd_b.jpg
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Snydremark
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Apr 28, 2016 11:18 |  #10

Mal and Duane have already chimed in a lot of valuable info; I'll throw a couple of tweaks to those processes I use. When I get to my location, I will do as Mal states and move around to get the sun to my back (assuming the day is not overcast), but I shoot full manual and preset my exposure on any number of subjects that are already there (trees, sky, grass, etc) and also take some mental notes on what sots of backgrounds I'm likely to be tracking against; so I have some idea of when/where I may need to bump focus like Duane mentions.

I also take another meter reading behind me for a mental bookmark; sometimes the little buggers fly straight overhead and you have to spin to the less ideal lighting, but I can adjust the exposure as I spin because I know how many clicks of the dial I need to adjust now.

Getting the light at the right angle, exposure correct and as much of the bird filling the frame as you can are the keys.

I, also, keep my shutter around 1/800 because I don't mind (actually prefer) a tiny bit of motion on the wings, as long as I can keep the face/eyes sharp. When the get really close, I don't worry TOO much about clipping wing tips as long as I can get a good profile or eye contact; your mind can "fill in" that sort of thing if the rest of the image is strong.


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Bsmooth
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Apr 29, 2016 09:15 |  #11

This one really strikes home as it seems I've begun to specialize in shooting BIF and it can be a very humbling experience. Great advice here and I've copied it all down. The best thing I can say is not to get discouraged.
I've been trying to capture Barn swallows in flight and sometimes I go home and cull all the images only to find there are no god shots at all. I was using the older canon older 100-400 and it would give some really good shots. But within the last 2 weeks I upgraded to the newer version and while on Swallows its not much better, its in in general a lens I get many more keepers.
On faster subjects where trying to track them is next to impossible there are other methods as well using manual focus, but I'm still working on technique, but its a work inprogress..
GL and you will get the images with lots of patience.


Bruce

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Tom ­ Reichner
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Post has been edited over 1 year ago by Tom Reichner.
Apr 29, 2016 12:38 |  #12

It's not about settings. It is about light. In that first image, most of the hawk in in its own shadow. You are never going to get a great, dynamic image of a bird when the light is all wrong like that.

The best advice I have for you is to learn to look for the better opportunities, and pass on everything else. If a bird is high overhead, and you have to aim the lens at a pretty steep upward angle, then it is just not a good opportunity, because the light will be wrong. Don't even bother lifting the camera when the birds are up at an angle like that; there's most likely nothing you can capture that will be worthwhile.

When the light is at your back, shining on a bird, and the bird is flying fairly low to the ground, so that you are somewhat on a level with it, then that is the time to take your pictures. In these situations, I recommend that you find the bird in the viewfinder, achieve focus, then pan with the bird, watching it closely in the viewfinder. As it flies, watch the way the light falls upon the bird's plumage as it goes thru its wingbeat cycle. At certain points in the cycle, or at times when the bird turns and banks at a certain angle, the light will be most complementary. This is when you want to snap the shutter and take your pictures. You really don't want images in which a bird's wing is casting a shadow on its breast, and being very picky about when to take the photo will help you to avoid such pitfalls.

.


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Richard ­ G
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May 04, 2016 06:30 |  #13

In addition to Duane's excellent post, you could also try "back button focusing". Since I moved to this technique with my 7D & 100-400L I find it so much easier. Not sure if the technique Duane is referring to is the same.

Richard


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Duane ­ N
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May 05, 2016 04:59 |  #14

Richard G wrote in post #17995425 (external link)
In addition to Duane's excellent post, you could also try "back button focusing". Since I moved to this technique with my 7D & 100-400L I find it so much easier. Not sure if the technique Duane is referring to is the same.

Richard

I've used BBF (back button focus) for nearly 6 years but I will assume it'll work in other set ups as well. I find BBF a lot easier for in-flights and it comes in handy when composing an image where the subject fills most of the frame.


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brassfootball66
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May 11, 2016 10:55 |  #15

Back-button and shutter-button AF work equally well. I use front-button with great success and friends using BBF with equally good results.

Great advice so far. In general, I recommend Manual Mode for BIF because of changing backgrounds that are often encountered. One bird can easily go from blue sky, to white cloud, to grey cloud to a BG of reeds in one series of shots. The AF or TF mode, or any other Auto mode will get the exposure wrong in every circumstance but one, depending on how much + or - EV that you dialed in.

Realize that the AF tracking of the 70D and even the 7D MkII is not 100% reliable. The "bumping" technique mentioned and explained well earlier in the thread, is what I do and recommend, to maximize your AF accuracy. Take plenty of shots, realizing that the camera is making errors, even when you're 100% accurate with placing your AF point. Make sure that you have a fast enough card so that your camera is operating at its maximum fps. (I'm amazed at how many people I meet using slow cards).

I use a default ISO of 800 and f/8 aperture, aiming for a shutter speed in excess of 1/1200-sec, but preferably in the 1/2000 to 1/3200-sec. In bright light, I'll lower ISO to 400, in grey light I'll raise ISO to 1600 and start opening the aperture. I'll go to ISO 3200, but your AF problems will multiply in bad light and even skilled photographers will only "keep" these images if it's something really rare or an exciting action.

Shoot hand held, if you can. A tripod will cause you to miss many shots, particularly when a bird flies over, or you need to spin 180-degrees.

Here's a hawk swooping down on a pheasant (missing, of course) from last weekend. Av or Tv mode would have worked in this situation, because the BG roughly matches the bird. I was shooting Manual mode and later shot this same bird against the sky without changing settings. Using a 7D2 and a 500/f4 II, the shot before and after this one were OOF! Part of that is due to somewhat crappy light, requiring me to shoot at ISO 1600 and lowering my SS to rock bottom at 1/1000-sec. The BG didn't help either. This is where 10-fps of the 7D2 comes in handy. I "bumped" AF and got this in-focus shot:

IMAGE: https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7640/26608527200_567a9fea57_b.jpg
[IMAGE'S LINK: https://flic.kr/p/GxiE​7m] (external link)Hawk Swoops Down On Pheasant (external link) by David Stephens (external link), on Flickr

You're off to a decent start. Take thousands of shots and constantly improve.

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