photographing garden birds

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1,411
Name
jason
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We have a good feeding station with 4 hangers with various seed, fat balls etc, and a nesting box that 2 blue tits are definitely using as they keep coming and going every couple of minutes. I have a Nikon D500 and a Nikon 200-500 F5.6.
Im ok with the general set up for capturing the birds coming and going, AF-C, HS Continuous, SS more than 1/1250 etc.
What I struggle with is getting the focus point nailed on. I have the 2 back buttons set for single point (AF-S) and the joystick set to 4 group (AF-C).

I focus on the bird house opening or feeding station, and then when the birds come, click away. However, im aware the birds are damn quick and they are slightly forward of my focus point. I hope this makes sense.

Any tips on getting that focus point spot on ?

Here are a few examples...
_JAY0580 by jason greenwood, on Flickr
_JAY0614 by jason greenwood, on Flickr
_JAY0579 by jason greenwood, on Flickr
 
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Mike
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Jason, if I said you have a 1% chance of getting your gear to AF on these birds leaving the box I'd be being very generous! In reality you won't be able to lock on using AF apart from shots similar to the last one as he/she exits the box, and then only if he /she hesitates for a moment.

Best way - and it will still have a low hit rate - is to set up manually focussed maybe 6-12 inches in front of the hole. As you see the bird exiting, fire a burst on your fastest setting and hope for the best. Eventually, you'll get one in focus to make it worthwhile. Once you get the exit shot to your satisfaction, maybe go for other angles

Mike
 
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Bazza
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I did similar recently with a bird bath. No long lens but wireless radio shutter trigger release like this. I did semi hid the camea behind a pot plant


manual camera settings pre focused on target .



I had the Nikon D810 in quiet mode continuous shooting. spot focus

I was indoors taking the shots.

just another method you might like to try
 
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Name
George.
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Good Advice from pooley. Looking at the shots, the tit can really go only one way, Get someone to hold up a brush handle, on the known path, 6"-12" this will help a little. you will then be in the right ballpark. Also, try opening up your aperture. the distance from the subject to the wall is much to close to worry about depth of field.
 
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jpgreenwood
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jason
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Thanks, I like the brush handle idea. I can open up to F5.6. But I also have a 300mm F4 prime which I might try.
 
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jpgreenwood
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jason
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wow that's stunning. 1/4000 is fasssstttt!!! I never dreamed to go that fast. The birds coming and going seem to follow the same route so im gonna try that if we get a brighter day. I'll probably try the faster 300mm F4 prime.
 
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Dale.
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I'm yet to nail a small bird in flight, it's currently way out of my comfort zone. Look for squabbles, they sometimes spar on the wing and often stay in one spot, mid air for a few short seconds but you still have to be very fast and manually focused, ready to go.
 

ST1

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Name
Peter
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In addition to the manual focus suggestions one other thing you may like to consider using autofocus. Rather than limiting your choice of AF points to the centre/group is to activate all of them. As in reality the only thing that’ll be “moving” through your view is the subject you want to capture.
 
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Mike
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In addition to the manual focus suggestions one other thing you may like to consider using autofocus. Rather than limiting your choice of AF points to the centre/group is to activate all of them. As in reality the only thing that’ll be “moving” through your view is the subject you want to capture.
The problem there though is the AF lag which will be further compounded by having a small bird moving at high speed against a cluttered background.

I honestly cant see any successful outcome without using pre-set manual focus unless you go to the trouble and expense of infra red trigger systems

Mike
 
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Steven
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Other than using zone focus with a deep DOF (what Mike suggested); you could try trap focus.

With a **D500 (D5/D850/etc) you have to set the focus to AF-on only (enable BBF), but also go one step deeper in that menu and disable "out of focus release."
Set the Camera to AF-S (not continuous). You can use CH (max frame rate).
You can select single focus point, or group; not auto (one may be more responsive, IDK).
Prefocus at the right distance using the AF-on button and release the button.
Then recompose and press/hold the shutter release (should be nothing in focus or it will trigger the shutter).

Set this way; the PDAF system is looking for something to come into focus, rather than trying to focus on something moving... kind of like an IR/laser trigger trap. It's much quicker, but it still has a slight lag and may not be quick enough... and small birds can be so fast that they don't even register on the AF system (if you aren't tracking them).

(**These settings are different for different Nikon models)
 
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