Best artistic blur techniques for bird photography

If you are more on the creative side than the documentary side, you surely have tried to create some artistic blurs along your bird photography adventure. Here are a few tips that I found most useful in this endeavor!

Which shutter speed for blurs in bird photography?

While the answer to this depends on the speed of your subject, I would advise anywhere between anywhere from 1/15s to 1/60s for birds in flight photography. Use a slower shutter speed when the light is very low or when the subject is fairly slow. The slower you go and the stronger the blur will be, making it harder to render anything sharp. Typically, I will work in shutter speed priority during low light conditions, whether a bit before sunrise or a bit after sunset.

Pan Blur_Florida Bird Photography

“Twiligt Blur” or Florida Birds in flight – Sarasota Bay, Florida
ISO 640 | f/4 | 1/20 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens and the Canon EOS 5D mark III.

The image above was created a couple of minutes before sunrise, during one of those rare times when the pink from the near sunrise reflects beautifully in the water. I am still not sure why the reflection on the water gave out a more orange tone, but I love the result! In fact, this is my best selling creation 🙂

Which panning technique to use?

Yes, that is right… You need to pan your camera at the same speed that the subject is flying by in order to have a chance of having some body parts more sharply rendered. It is all about practice here… And this how you may have a decently sharp head with blurry wings!

Artistic Blur_Bald Eagle Photography

Bald Eagle fishing during a snow storm – South of Anchorage, Alaska
ISO 100 | f/8 | 1/25 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM lens at 200mm and the Canon EOS 1DX mark II.

The Bald Eagle with a fish in its talents above was created during the 2017 Alaska Bald Eagle Tour. You may want to pan in the direction in which your subject is going. In this case, it is a slightly upward diagonal panning motion. I am really proud of the sharp head here!! It was heavily snowing and I had been trying to create an image with streaks of snow for a strongly movement oriented composition.

Other blurs?

Zoom Blur_Bird photography

Tricolored in breeding plumage – Orlando, Florida
ISO 50 | f/29 | 1/30 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM lens coupled with a 1.4x extender at 250mm and the Canon EOS 5D mark III.

The idea is to stay motionless (no panning!), and create the blur effect while zooming in or zooming out. I find this easier to do while zooming out. Make sure your point of focus is dead center in your image though. The blur streaks will mechanically go out or towards the center. If you want the point of focus of center, as in the image above, you will need to crop appropriately in post production.

Ah yes… another type of blur is to keep your camera still, while having the birds passing by. This looks especially good if you have non moving environmental elements in your composition.

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Steven

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