Taking The Guess Work Out of inFlight Shooting

Heading into Saturdays duck photography session at Nevilles pond I was really hoping for some inflight opportunities. From experience I know that the moment I step out of my vehicle with food for the ducks they would be coming from all ends of the pond for the free hand out. The question becomes how do I know what settings to set my camera at to freeze the action? I knew I would be there at first light and that the ducks would be going from blue sky, to colorful bg(from the foliage surrounding the pond), then to the water. So obviously the exposure would be changing a lot. I wouldn't have time to play with my settings much or take a test shot before it would be all over. So what could I do...

Well I started thinking about an article I recently read from one of my readers Monte Comeau. Monte wrote an article about the settings he uses while out in his kayak. One setting that stood out to me was Auto-ISO. I've heard about it before but never really spent any time testing it out. I figured this might be just what I need for a situation like this. 

With many of the new Nikon cameras you have the option to set Auto-ISO. This means the camera will decide what is the best ISO setting for the given scene to capture the proper exposure. You have the option to fine tune this feature by setting a Min and Max ISO. This means you can tell the camera not to go above ISO 800 or 1600 whatever you prefer or feel is the limit in which you want to get a clean image. What is also great is that when using this feature the camera will use smaller increments meaning you might see that the image was captured at ISO720 and not ISO800 which should give you a little less noise.

Continuing with this thought process of taking the guess work out of inflights I decided maybe it was time to use the U1 & U2 modes on my camera. U1 & U2 are User defined settings. What this means is that you can set your camera up the way you want for a specific scene or action and then save those settings under U1 or U2. This way when the specific scene or action happens you can switch over to U1 or U2 and all your settings are ready to go.

So I dialed in my settings for what I felt would work for duck inflights. I put my camera in Manual mode, shutter speed at 1/1600s(which should be enough to freeze the action), F 7.1 because I want enough depth of field to have the whole bird in focus. I then set my ISO to Auto-ISO with a max of ISO800. Anything over ISO800 on my D7100 is just too much noise for my liking. I saved those settings as both my U1 and U2. Why both you might ask? Well this way if in a moments notice a duck was flying my way and I went to switch over to U1 but by mistake I went to U2 I want to make sure their both the same.

So off I went with camera set to U1. As expected the moment I grabbed the bag of food out of my vehicle I could see the ducks take off from the far end of the pond to come get their free hand out. The sun was just peaking over the horizon and barely lighting up the pond...

First attempts were a fail as there was just not enough light for the settings I picked. So I quickly switched my Aperture to F4 instead of F7.1. I didn't want to change my shutter speed as I felt I needed 1/1600 to freeze the action.

With new settings an approaching Wigeon...

Nikon D7100, ISO720, 1/1600s, F4, 500mmF4

Nikon D7100, ISO720, 1/1600s, F4, 500mmF4

Nailed it...Now we're getting somewhere.

Then a Mallard

Nikon D7100, ISO640, 1/1600s, F4, 500mmF4

Nikon D7100, ISO640, 1/1600s, F4, 500mmF4

As you can see in this image since the subject was so close F4 created a very shallow depth of field and only the head of the duck is in focus. I really like the result but felt with the stronger light it was time to go back to F7.1

Another Mallard approached

by now basically all the ducks had flown over from the far end of the pond and my inflight sessions were done. I was happy with the result and learned a lot. I hadn't realized that the sun didn't reach the pond until a little later in the morning so my choose of F7.1 one was too high but you live and learn. For a first trial of Auto-ISO and User Defined Settings U1/U2 I was happy. I think it will come in handy when I'm out searching for subjects and an unexpected situation happens or I'm heading into a situation where I know their might be a very short window to grab an inflight shot.