Canon EOS 7d mark II AF settings for bird & wildlife photography

What are the best AF settings for bird & wildlife photography with the Canon EOS 7d mark II? The new AF system of the Canon 7d mark II is inherited from the Canon EOS 5d mark III and the Canon EOS 1DX. In other words, it is the best AF system available today! Bird & wildlife photography have specific AF setting needs and I am going to walk you through what I personally use 🙂

First off, I mostly shoot in AI servo mode with the AF point expansion points (8 surrounding points). That allows me to place the focus point where I want while having the surrounding points picking up focus when the central point loses my target.

Canon offers six pre-sets cases for you to choose from, and while they are quite alright on their own, I have my own special recipe:

AF settings - Canon 7d mark II

As you may see above, there are three dimensions one my play with when fine-tuning the Canon 7d mark II AF settings:

1. Tracking sensitivity => how fast the AF system reacts to a new object entering the scene. You want to have this one not being very reactive to new subjects entering the frame. Otherwise, a bird flying in between you and your target might trigger the AF to switch and you would lose focus on your target. So, -1 is my recommendation here.
2. Accel./decel. tracking => The higher setting is best as it will be more sensitive to subjects that stop and start quickly. Perfect example is a bird taking off in your direction, going very fast from stopped to flying speed.
3. AF pt auto switching => speed at which the AF system changes from one point to another when having AF point expansion activated. I put this one to 1 as I want to stay focused for quick lateral moves, but not to the max to avoid loosing focus on the head towards focus to the wing while panning with a flying subject. As nobody that I know of can pan at the exact speed of a fast flying subject, it is good to have the focus somewhat locked on the head. If it does not seem to lock where I want, I simply pump the rear button to re-acquire focus.

For full detail on the Canon EOS 7d mark II AF system, you may visit this Canon link: http://www.learn.usa.canon.com/resources/articles/2014/eos7dmk2_afGuidebook.shtml

Nothing is as good of a demonstration as a few action photographs!

Spoonbill in flight - Canon 7d mark ii AF settings

Spoonbill with breeding colors banking in flight – Tampa Bay Spoonbill rookery, Florida
ISO 500 | f/4 | 1/5000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 7D mark II on lowered tripod in the water with a Jobu Design Gimbal Head.

The Spoonbill photograph above is a nice illustration of high performing AF system. Once the AF system is locked on the subject you may maintain excellent tracking throughout the flight.

Spoonbill landing - Canon 7d mark ii AF settings

Spoonbill landing – Tampa Bay Spoonbill rookery, Florida
ISO 1000 | f/4 | 1/2500 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 7D mark II on lowered tripod in the water with a Jobu Design Gimbal Head.

This photograph was created with an overcast weather during one of my Florida Spoonbill tours. It is a very good illustration of an AF system that can keep focus with quickly accelerating or decelerating subjects. And this is why Accel. / Decel. setting is pushed to the maximum sensitivity at +2 🙂

Spoonbill landing - Canon EOS 7d mark II AF settings

Spoonbill landing – Tampa Bay Spoonbill rookery, Florida
ISO 400 | f/5.6 | 1/5000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) with a 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 7D mark II on lowered tripod in the water with a Jobu Design Gimbal Head.

Another landing Spoonbill created during one of the Florida Spoonbill tours. This one came from the side and the quick, but not too abrupt change of focus point from the AF auto PT switching setting at +1 was useful here.

Used Gear for Sale

CANON EOS 5D MARK III => $1,650 in very good condition with battery grip (BG-E11 worth $260 new) included. As you would have noticed, I created some of my very best images with this body!!

CANON EF 300MM F/4 IS USM => $900 in excellent condition. I did a lot of my early bird photography with this undisputed best value for your money in the Canon pro lens lineup.

Florida Spoonbills and Shorebirds photography workshop – $990

Mar 19th-20th 2016 / limit 6 people – FULL

Apr 16th-17th 2016 / limit 6 people – FULL

Mar 25th-26th 2017 / limit 6 people – 6 open

May 5th-6th 2017 / limit 6 people – 5 open

Contact me at steven.blandin@gmail.com to be put on the waiting list for possible cancellations or for 2017. Cancellations do happen, so it is not excluded you might still get to join me in 2016.

Florida Spoonbill photography tour

Support our blog by following our links for your purchases. It comes at no extra cost to you and it helps keeping this photography blog lively!

Steven

The perfect blue background

Lately, achieving a pleasing background has become a growing obsession of mine. A blurred light colored setting is often best. My preferred hue is blue, then green, then something soft. As a consequence, I often do my best to create a blue background when shooting along the beach shore. This is what I call the perfect blue background!

Willet shorebird - Fort Desoto photography tour

Willet stretching its wings – Fort Desoto, Florida
ISO 640 | f/8 | 1/5000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) with 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III wading in the water. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me. Click on the image above to see it at a higher resolution.

The photograph above is a Willet stretching its wings after a bath in the shallow water at Fort Desoto Park, Florida. For shorebirds, one thing is almost always true, stay as close to the ground as possible to create nice blurs around the subject. The birds were originally scattered across the sand with a few subjects going in and out of the shallow water either looking for food and for a quick bath. The situation might have looked a bit difficult to the untrained eye. When dealing with a big group of birds, it is often best to work with subjects on the edges, where your chances of isolating the bird are much greater. Every now and then, the Willets would stretch their wings after a bath. Recognizing the situation, I patiently positioned myself for success with one bird that seemed to be entering in that part of the cycle. After a couple of tries, I was able to capture the stretch in its full extent 🙂

Marbled Godwit - Florida photo workshops

Marbled Godwit ruffling its feathers – Fort Desoto, Florida
ISO 640 | f/8 | 1/5000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) with 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III laying low in the water. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me. Click on the image above to see it at a higher resolution.

The photograph above is a Marbled Godwit ruffling its feathers. This is another common variant after a bath. If you like action shot, you need to have a good understanding of your subject’s behavior and be ready for the right situation. Most importantly, it is much better to anticipate on the behavior when recognized versus pressing the shutter after something has already happened: this is 99% of the time too late!! Don’t be afraid to start taking sequential shots before you actually see the action. You will not have the time to react and with digital this is so costless.

Dowitcher - Fort Desoto photography

Short-billed Dowitcher hunting – Fort Desoto, Florida
ISO 640 | f/8 | 1/5000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) with 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III wading in the water. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me. Click on the image above to see it at a higher resolution.

The Short-billed Dowitcher above is looking for food in the shallow water at Fort Desoto, Florida. Another very nice blue background! The three creations above were done in less than 5 minutes apart from each other. It is usually more beneficial for me to move around in quest of different subjects or behaviors versus stalking like a cat for hours to get one shot.

Botswana and the Victoria Falls instructional photography tour / $7,900 / limit 6 people / September 10th-20th 2015:

This African safari is a very nice combination between the Okavango Delta, the big cats in the Chobe national park and a finish at the Victoria Falls. Keep in mind, Botswana’s trails are a lot less crowded with vehicles as it is in Kenya…
Wildlife photography tour - Botswana African safari

Florida Spoonbills and Shorebirds instructional photography tour / $890 / limit 5 people / March 7th-8th 2015:

We all love those pink-feathered friends! This is the best spot in the state of Florida, at the right time of the year.
Bird photography workshop - Florida Spoonbills & Shorebirds

Support our blog by following our links for your purchases. It comes at no extra cost to you and it helps keeping this photography blog lively!

Steven

2013 Florida Top Ten Photographer & 1st Place Wild Animals Awards

It is my great pleasure to announce that I won two awards and four merits at the 2013 Florida Professional Photographers (FPP) competition!! The first one is a first place winner in the Wild Animals category and the second one is the 2013 Florida Top Ten Professional Photographer award.

The photograph below received the 1st place Wild Animals Award:

Willet landing - Fort Desoto - Steven Blandin

Willet landing. This photograph was created at Fort Desoto, Florida.
ISO 400 | f/7.1 | 1/2000 | Manual Mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld while sitting on the sand. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

I had the opportunity to hear the judges discussing about the scoring and they very much appreciated the pose, the sharpness and the tilt of the wings. Such a shot while requiring patience, requires technique! There is a way to position yourself to maximize your chances.

Red-billed Tropicbird flight - Galapagos Islands

Red-billed Tropicbird banking in flight. This photograph was created at South Plaza, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
ISO 400 | f/7.1 | 1/3200 | Manual Mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) coupled with the 1.4x Extender III, the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld.

This Red-billed Tropicbird banking in flight photograph was possible thanks to the angle obtained while shooting from the top of a cliff. It is otherwise extremely difficult to achieve such a perfect banking pose.

Sally light foot crab on the lava rocks - Galapagos islands

Sally Lightfoot Crab on the lava rocks. This photograph was created at Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
ISO 1000 | f/6.3 | 1/250 | Manual Mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) coupled with the 1.4x Extender III, the Canon EOS 5D mark III on a gimbal head and tripod.

And the forth one that received a merit below:

Roseate Spoonbill landing at Alafia Banks, Tampa Florida

Roseate Spoonbill landing on the mudflat. This photograph was created at Alafia Banks, Tampa, Florida.
ISO 400 | f/7.1 | 1/1600 | Manual Mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) coupled with the 1.4x Extender III, the Canon EOS 5D mark III on a gimbal head and tripod while wading in the water.

The photograph above is one of many great creations from Alafia Banks. Join me next year to the Fort Desoto and Alafia Banks photography workshop in Tampa, Florida, if you wish to learn how to achieve such creations! 🙂

Support our blog by following our links for your purchases. It comes at no extra cost to you and it helps keeping this photography blog lively!

Steven

Spoonbills & shorebirds photography workshop at Alafia Banks & Fort Desoto

I will be leading an instructional photography workshop for Roseate Spoonbills and shorebirds at Alafia Banks and Fort Desoto, in the Tampa Bay area, Florida. From February 28th to March 2nd of 2014, this tour will include three boat rides to rookeries, three half days at Fort Desoto and three photo critiques and Photoshop tutorial sessions during lunch time. We will go twice to Alafia Banks and once to Dit Dot Dash rookeries. Both of those rookeries are only accessible by boat. The price is $980 for the three days or $500 for one day. Maximum 5 people. It is possible to add an extension before or after the workshop. Contact me directly for a quote please.

Roseate Spoonbills in flight at Alafia Banks

Alafia Banks is the prime spot in the state of Florida to photograph Roseate Spoonbills in flight. Comprised of two islands, Sunken Island and Bird Island, the rookery sees about 20,000 nesting pairs of birds across 20 species every year. The concentration of Roseate Spoonbills is quite noticeable, and somewhat predictable flight patterns offer fantastic opportunities for photographing Spoonbills with breeding feathers.

Roseate Spoonbill landing - Alafia Banks

Roseate Spoonbill landing on the shallow water. This photograph was created at Alafia Banks, Florida.

ISO 400 | f/7.1 | 1/1600 | Manual Mode | AI servo rear focusing

This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) coupled with the 1.4x Extender III, the Canon EOS 5D mark III, on a gimbal head over a tripod. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

What a landing for this Roseate Spoonbill! I am amazed at the pose with wings completely upward. Creating those kind of photographs requires accurate tracking of the subject: a technique I will gladly teach you during any of my workshops.

Roseate Spoonbill banking - Alafia Banks

Roseate Spoonbill banking before landing. This photograph was created at Alafia Banks, Florida.

ISO 500 | f/7.1 | 1/3200 | Manual Mode | AI servo rear focusing

This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review) coupled with the 1.4x Extender III, the Canon EOS 5D mark III, on a gimbal head over a tripod. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

I consider banking images as amongst the hardest ones in flight photography. You need to track patiently your subject and wait for that exact moment when it is going to turn towards, flipping its wings vertically. The best angles are often when the bird is flying slightly away, then turning towards the camera. There is a specific spot in Alafia banks where those shots are more likely to happen. Of course, we will spend more time in that area.

Many shorebirds at Fort Desoto

You will often hear me saying this: Fort Desoto is the Yellowstone of West Florida! There are lots of shorebirds and many migrating birds rest in the area for a while. If you want a chance to photograph Marbled Godwits, Long-billed Curlews, Skimmers, Royal Terns, Sandwich Terns, Sanderlings, Rudy Turnstones and many more, this is the place. I do not know any nature reserve anywhere close that sees that diversity of shorebird species. The usual suspects will be present: Great Blue Herons, Great White Egrets, Spoonbills, White Ibises, Pelicans, etc… More importantly, Fort Desoto is one of the rare spots where I very often come across Reddish Egrets. If you get lucky, you might even have a chance to photograph a white morph Reddish Egret: quite the sight!

White morph Reddish Egret - Fort Desoto

White morph Reddish Egret portrait with breeding colors. This photograph was created at Fort Desoto, Florida.

ISO 400 | f/6.3 | 1/4000 | Manual Mode | AI servo rear focusing

This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III, handheld. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

Waw!! I was amazed when I spotted that White morph Reddish Egret with such stunning breeding colors. I went for a headshot to capture the beautiful colors.

Willet - Fort Desoto

Willet landing portrait. This photograph was created at Fort Desoto, Florida.

ISO 400 | f/7.1 | 1/2000 | Manual Mode | AI servo rear focusing

This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 5D mark III, handheld.

There is a great technique to take pictures of shorebirds in flight, or about to land. First, spot a flock on the ground, then wait for new comers and then … come along with me to know more!

Overall, the Spoonbill & shorebird instructional photography workshop is a fantastic opportunity for beginners and professionals to capture unique photographs of some of Florida iconic birds.

Support our blog by following our links for your purchases. It comes at no extra cost to you and it helps keeping this photography blog lively!

Steven

Create space in front of the Willet!

Try to have space in front of your subject to give more movement. If you did not frame properly in the field, one can often add canvas during the digital processing.

Marbled Godwit wings up - Fort Desoto

Willet with wings up after bathing – Fort Desoto, Florida.

ISO 400 | f/7.1 | 1/2000 | Manual Mode w/ evaluative metering 0 EV | AI servo focus

This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens, the Canon EOS 5D mark III, mounted on a Jobu Design Gimbal head, over the Manfrotto 190CX carbon fiber tripod. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

 

The original capture of this Willet was framed with the bird too close to the left border. Not so good… One way to move the bird back is to add canvas with Photoshop. There are a few different ways to do this. In the current example, I selected part of the background from the right side to add to the left, then used the patch tool to stitch both pieces. I also applied a couple of filters from the Color Efex Pro 4 plug-in of Nik Softwares. Follow our link to enjoy a 15% discount on the latter! 🙂

See below the photograph as captured.

Willet with wings up - Original capture

Willet with wings up – Original capture

Support our blog by following our links for your purchases. It comes at no extra cost to you and it helps keeping this photography blog lively!

Steven