Photographing Birds Using Slower Shutter Speeds

Making a change to one’s camera kit is always a good reason to go out to get some practice using it outside and indoors. I went out to Bird Kingdom in Niagara Falls Ontario a few days ago with my Nikon 1 V3 and CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens to practice my hand-holding technique photographing birds using slower shutter speeds.

NIKON 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, ISO 1000, 1/30, f/5.6

Slower is a relative term of course and to me it means anything less than 1/60 of a second when photographing birds or other animals hand-held.

NIKON 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 162.4mm, efov 438.5mm, ISO 220, 1/13, f/5.3

Most of the birds at Bird Kingdom are free flying so it isn’t like a typical zoo environment. While some birds are more skittish than others, many of the individual birds are used to being around people and they will tolerate you getting close to them, within reason.

NIKON 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, ISO 3200, 1/20, f/5.6

I knew from doing a review of the Nikon 1 V3 some time ago that the auto focus performance isn’t quite as snappy as that of my V2s in lower light conditions. I arrived at Bird Kingdom after 3PM on an overcast, Canadian winter day which ensured that the shooting conditions would be a bit challenging. I shot the image above at 4:25 PM in the afternoon. By this time of day the light was getting quite difficult but my V3 was still able to acquire focus, albeit with a fair amount of focus lag involved.

NIKON 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 172.7mm, efov 466.3mm, ISO 3200, 1/30, f/5.3

Photographing birds using slower shutter speeds is a great way to not only get to know your gear, but also test your hand-holding technique. Practicing your breathing and using a smooth shutter release are especially important. It is also a very good way to hone your observation skills, patience, and shot discipline.

NIKON 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 261mm, efov 704.7mm, ISO 450, 1/50, f/5.6

I often attempt to take photographs of the Egyptian Fruit Bats during a visit to Bird Kingdom. While I didn’t purposely try to shoot at very slow shutter speeds (i.e. less than 1/15) I did capture the image above hand-held at 1/10 of a second. My slowest shutter speed for birds was 1/13 and I did get some usable images at that speed.

If you’ve never done this kind of practice photography before I’d encourage you to give it a try. As I mentioned earlier, it is a great way to learn more about the capability of your camera gear, assess your hand-holding technique, extend the shooting potential of your gear, as well as increase your powers of observation, patience and shot discipline. Most importantly is can simply be a ton of fun to challenge yourself!

Technical Note:
All images in this article were captured hand-held in available light using a Nikon 1 V3 and 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens (equivalent field of view 189-810mm). In all cases the photographs were produced from RAW files using my standard process of OpticsPro 11, CS6 and Nik Suite.

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