We were in Beung Boraphet and there were about eight of us in a boat

Canon 1ds Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS  @F8 1/640th  ISO 100

 

Missed Shots

Have you ever noticed that you often might make a few hundred captures and they all look the same, boring?  So you try to mix things up a bit and anticipate what's going to happen but you're just a moment too late?  Don't feel alone.  It happens to everyone.  However, with a bit of thought, patience, and the proper techniques you can greatly improve your odds of making that interesting capture.

In the image above the small bird (3-4" tall) was sitting on top of the pole.  We were in Beung Boraphet and there were about eight of us in a boat and it didn't take long to notice that the birds had an "alarm zone" built in by the conditioning of their experiences with other boats.  As you'd approach they'd let you get right up to the edge of their 'alarm zone' and then take to flight.  Each bird species reacted at different distances.

 

Observe

Watching several of these I noticed that the moment they launched off their perch they'd lose just a tad of altitude, and with wings working hard would take off at a 90 degree angle as quickly as they could.  As our guide cut the motor our boat glided closer to this bird.  By now I'd worked out a few techniques.  I set my lenses memory focus point to the pole (no way will any autofocus system catch a tiny bird at that distance that quickly), held the camera and waited with my finger half pressed on the shutter button so my metering was already set.

 

Think/Act Independently

All around me I could hear the shutters releasing at 8fps as my fellow photographers shot the bird sitting on top of the pole.  I was handicapped with a older camera that could only shoot 3.5fps.  The only way I could achieve a competitive shot was to catch him in flight, properly focused, and properly exposed.

See the distance from the pole to the bird?  This is how long it takes from that state of readiness to react to the birds take-off and press the shutter button.  Less than 1/10th of a second.  Probably milliseconds.

 

Critique Each Capture in Real Time

What if I hadn't anticipated the drop in altitude?  Yep, no shot.  What if I'd not locked focus on the pole?  Yep, a blurry pic.  And if I didn't preset my exposure?  The bird would have been out of the frame by the time the camera went through the automatic process on its own.  It's a simple bird shot, but it took a bit of thought and technique to make it.

 

Wildlife is Everywhere

You don't have to be on a boat in a wetlands preserve to practice shooting wildlife.  Wildlife is everywhere, right in the middle of the city you live in.  I had a great time shooting the monkeys going from window to window in Lampang, fishing cats in Songkran, and of course there's thousands of species at Safari World in the heart of Bangkok.

 

You don't have to be on a boat in a wetlands preserve to practice shooting wildlife.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS  @F5.6 1/200th  200mm  ISO 160

 

In the shot above I was sitting at a window seat in Molly Malone's watching the rain fall and the birds play on the tangled net of power and phone wires outside the window.  I was watching this little sparrow walk along and then suddenly dive.  I observed a few times and surmised that the bird was probably catching flying insects too small to see from my location.  Yet, I noticed each time they looked down and 'locked on' then soon they'd dive.  I picked up my camera, aimed through the front window, and waited.  I had the focus and exposure locked but because it was dark I was at a fairly wide aperture so without any DOF (depth of field) to work with, he jumped towards the camera instead of to the side, and I ended up with a blurry image.  As soon as he stuck his neck down I knew he was going to dive so I put my finger on the shutter release and let it roll at 4fps (yep, a new camera)..  Not the most interesting capture, but not bad for a break from my cheeseburger.

 

All the while I was also observing the pigeons.  They'd hunch down right before flight, poop, and fly.  Did you know birds void their bowels and poop right before taking off?  You'd know if you had a couple of pet parrots...

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS  @F5.6 1/200th  200mm  ISO 320

 

All the while I was also observing the pigeons.  They'd hunch down right before flight, poop, and fly.  Did you know birds void their bowels and poop right before taking off?  You'd know if you had a couple of pet parrots...

From right to left, the pigeon squatted down, pooped, and then flew down the street and I followed along at 4fps.  If I was shooting my 1d series body with this lens (a F2.8 70-200) the F2.8 aperture would have activated the cross type AF sensors and I would have selected a small 9 sensor group, and the superior autofocusing of my five year old 1ds Mark II body would probably have achieved proper focus for this shot.  But.. I was shooting my brand spanking new 5d Mark II which is not a sports of wildlife camera, and it couldn't keep up.  I learned it couldn't keep up by testing it's capabilities this day and a few other days when it was new.  Now I knew I'd need to manual focus for this type of shot and gently pull the focus towards me as the bird flew closer.  Any tool will get the job done if you know how to use it.

 

Again, from right to left a crane takes of running across the top of the lake before taking flight.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS plus 1.4x TC II @F5.6 1/1600th  420mm  ISO 200

 

Again, from right to left a crane takes of running across the top of the lake before taking flight.  This was the same trip in Beung Boraphet.  All my fellow photographers had new camera bodies with 8fps capability and deep buffers.  Not me, I had a 3.5fps camera and my buffer was only 9 shots deep.  They could afford to be clicking for 10-15 seconds before the bird took off, while I had to resist and wait for just the right moment.  Watching the cranes body language gave me the first clue and holding down my shutter release I followed him into flight.

Notice how the exposure changed frame to frame?  I could easily have adjusted the individual frames and not talked about this, but you can learn a lot from my mistakes.  I didn't lock my exposure with the exposure lock button.  Instead I let the camera adjust the exposure for each individual frame and this is the best it could do.  Really it takes a superb body to be able to focus and meter at 3.5fps with this precision.  Fortunately today we have even more capable bodies like the sports and wildlife Kings, the Canon 1d Mark IV or the Nikon D3s.

 

Here's another example.  The crane sitting with the females (I think, I'm not that great with birds), as the boat approached his 'alarm zone' he took off and I was ready for him.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS plus 1.4x TC II @F4 1/2000th  420mm  ISO 200

 

Here's another example.  The crane sitting with the females (I think, I'm not that great with birds), as the boat approached his 'alarm zone' he took off and I was ready for him.  I'd guess my fellow photographers took over 200 images of this guy during the approach before he moved.  With my 'inferior for the job' camera I had to wait for the last moment and then employ every technique I could muster to make an interesting capture.

 

 A pair of marsh hens.  The female takes off as we reach the limits of her 'alarm zone' and at 3.5fps you can guess the male sat there on the ground thinking about following for a good second

Canon 1ds Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS plus 1.4x TC II @F4 1/800th  420mm  ISO 200

 

Once more from right to left.  A pair of marsh hens.  The female takes off as we reach the limits of her 'alarm zone' and at 3.5fps you can guess the male sat there on the ground thinking about following for a good second.

 

During that second we must have reached his 'alarm zone' and he takes off.  A quality F2.8 lens coupled with a 1d series body really allows for some great captures in these circumstances.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS plus 1.4x TC II @F4 1/800th  420mm  ISO 200

 

During that second we must have reached his 'alarm zone' and he takes off.  A quality F2.8 lens coupled with a 1d series body really allows for some great captures in these circumstances.

 

African Cranes moving along at a very leisurely pace of 2-3mph, barely putting one foot in front of the other.  There was plenty of time to focus and exposure at any point, so what was my point of taking a series of frames?  It's about anticipating.  I knew I'd achieve perfect focus and exposure with most of my shots, so I wanted to go the extra mile and catch them when the natural light hit them just right so their naturally pale blue eye would show it's natural color and not be dark.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F2.8 1/3200th  ISO 100

 

Regular readers might remember this series of frames.  African Cranes moving along at a very leisurely pace of 2-3mph, barely putting one foot in front of the other.  There was plenty of time to focus and exposure at any point, so what was my point of taking a series of frames?  It's about anticipating.  I knew I'd achieve perfect focus and exposure with most of my shots, so I wanted to go the extra mile and catch them when the natural light hit them just right so their naturally pale blue eye would show it's natural color and not be dark.

 

For that to happen the African Crane would have to be at the perfect angle to the direction light (the early morning sun).  This series is the same as the other, but zoomed in so you can better see the eyes.  Notice as the crane turned it's head and walked he was flirting with the perfect angle?  Anticipation.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F2.8 1/3200th  ISO 100

 

For that to happen the African Crane would have to be at the perfect angle to the direction light (the early morning sun).  This series is the same as the other, but zoomed in so you can better see the eyes.  Notice as the crane turned it's head and walked he was flirting with the perfect angle?  Anticipation.

 

Summary

I used birds for examples because they take the most technical skill and we're talking techniques.  The same knowledge, techniques, and anticipation skills can be used for monkeys, tigers, or any sort of animals.  They can even be uses for the human animal!

Yes, this is true.  I ran a studio in Oregon for close to four years and I did many young children, distracted teenagers, nervous brides, and most anything else you can think of.  These techniques will serve you well at events and for portraits.  In a future feature I'll focus on anticipating shots for portraits and events and you might be surprised how effective these techniques are in capturing the perfect smile, the magic moment, or a moment of comedy that would otherwise go unnoticed.