Shutter Speed and Take-off Shots

Just a single image today, to illustrate a lesson I’ve learned before but “relearned” yesterday.

I shoot lots of birds at take-off, particularly raptors.  For those larger subjects relatively slow shutter speeds will usually freeze the motion, even in the wings.  Typically, 1/1200 or 1/1600 will do just that.



1/3200, f/5.6, ISO 500, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, cloned out an OOF sunflower stalk to the right of the bird 

So yesterday after I’d taken a few perched shots of this shrike I set up for a take-off since it was facing to my right and I figured it would take off in that direction, giving me both good light and a take-off posture that would require relatively little depth of field so f/5.6 would suffice.  Then I noticed that I had a shutter speed of 1/3200 and I remember thinking that might be a little excessive and I should dial back to f/ 6.1 for slightly more DOF and less shutter speed.  But I knew that if I took a moment to change my settings the bird would choose that instant to launch and I’d miss the shot.  So I stuck with my settings.

I’m glad I did.  Wing motion in these little birds is incredibly fast!  Here, even 1/3200 didn’t completely freeze the wings.

Don’t get me wrong – a little motion blur in wings of birds in flight isn’t an issue with me and I’m perfectly happy with this image the way it is.  But for my tastes I’m glad there’s no more motion blur than there is.


6 comments to Shutter Speed and Take-off Shots

  • Good that you stayed with your initial settings, your instinct about the moment of flight payed off here Ron. Great image and good lesson.

  • Hi Ron, I agree with your thinking and with Ingrids. If I can keep the body and the eyes pretty sharp, I really don’t mind a little wing blur. It implies movement. The same way, you wouldn’t want the propeller frozen on a picture of an aircraft. Great shot, and I love the position of the feet.

  • Ron, great post and photo! I don’t like to push the ISO too much with my current sensor, and given the tough light conditions in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve come to accept and appreciate blur in wings. (My rationalization and workaround.) I also love deliberately blurred shots, and recognize the skill required to pull those. I’m actually amazed that there’s still a bit of wing blur at 1/3200, and I like it. Combined with the foot posture, it sure implies movement.