Shutter Speed Part 3 – Happy Accidents

This is the third post in a series on migrating away from my comfort zone – shooting in Aperture Mode – to exploring the wonders of shooting in Shutter Mode. In Part 1 I talked about the trade offs of Shutter vs Aperture Modes and the search for the structure of a hummingbird’s wings. In Part 2 I discussed some simple setting changes that let me get more shots off and have more keepers in a series on a visit from a bluejay. Today I want to discuss an unexpected byproduct of shooting in Shutter Mode – Happy Accidents.

In my typical Aperture mode I might have gotten an inflight shot by accident once a month that was useable. Now sometimes I got lucky when there was so much action that all I had to do was keep snapping and hope for focus like this. Apart from this flurry of activity those times when a bird launches into the air were mostly just unreadable blurs.

Now most of these shots are not really useable, but they are readable and I think I am learning more about the way a bird flies. That information will help me take better shots of birds as they launch themselves into the air – knowing the process helps me to make better guesses of where the action will be in a split second.

I have always imagined that birds launch themselves into the air by flapping their wings and lifting off – but no – they take a leap of faith, hopping or stepping off to catch the air before they even spread their wings…

Alley oop!

Alley oop! f6.7 1/1000 second ISO 1600


Geronimo! f6.7 1/800 second ISO 3200

Cowabunga dude!

Cowabunga dude!Β f6.7 1/800 second ISO 3200

To infinity and beyond!f8 1/800 second ISO 2500

To infinity and beyond! f8 1/800 second ISO 2500

Like I said – not great photos, but they do give me a better feel for where to look for the action on take offs, but what about landings? I am learning that wings are much more open when a bird is landing – they flutter to catch their balance. Sometimes they even overshoot their target – it all happens in a split second and I always missed it in Aperture Mode…


Incoming! f6.7 1/800 second ISO 3200

Overshot the landing!

A real nail-biter! f6.7 1/800 second ISO 1600

All a flutter!

All a flutter! f6.7 1/1000 second ISO 1600

Knowing that the landing is the prime time to catch wing action was a huge advantage to shooting. I also noticed that certain feeders with narrower foot holds tended to require more wing flaps to land on, so this weekend I set out to try to make one good capture. I knew what was needed – bright light, fairly high ISO, fast shutter speed, a bird landing on a Β tricky perch – not much to ask for – right?

A focused landing! f9 1/1000 second ISO 3200

A focused landing! f9 1/1000 second ISO 3200

I found this feeder a couple of weeks ago at Lowes and wondered if the birds would use it because of the narrow edge. It turns out that they do use it and if you can get into place before noon on a sunny day with the right camera settings you just might capture some wing action.

39 thoughts on “Shutter Speed Part 3 – Happy Accidents

  1. Pingback: Shutter Speed – on the Road | the eff stop

  2. Pingback: Shutter Speed – A Month of Hummers | the eff stop

    • I have been pretty excited about what I’m capturing – I wish that one jetting off from the swing were in better focus – but then again he would have had to hold still πŸ™‚

  3. Pingback: Photo Diary: Week 2 | Photograby By Akili

  4. Alley Ooop looks like a Jet fighter trying to catch the arresting line on a Carrier landing. You have some wonderful tips and illustrations in this article, Lorrie.


  5. The backlit wing action could not have been posed any better! I find it fascinating to think of those birds hopping off the perch without wings a-flapping — photos do reveal details we’d never assume or think of otherwise.

    • I can’t tell you how many hopping nuthatch shots I have taken lately – it’s so far from what I expected. That last shot was a mix of planning and luck. I put that feeder in just the right spot to catch the light – I just had to wait for the bird to make an appearance πŸ™‚

    • Thanks so much Elyse. I seem to tackle things intuitively and then go back and deconstruct to better understand it. Funny that it took me a year to get to the technical part.

  6. Thanks for sharing all this info, Lorri. I never would have thought to study their take off and landing techniques.
    Like Honie, I most rely on happy accidents or the ‘sports’ mode to capture the action. Having said that, I DO feel that one eventually knows when to get the best shot with enough observation (like you do).
    You’ve captured some amazing shots. It almost looks like the birds are falling off their perch instead of landing in some of them.

    • I have never even used the scene modes on my camera, except for a couple of sunsets. I’ll have to try the sports mode sometime. I think that shooting manual film cameras occasionally has made me more aware of the basics.

  7. I love those leaps of faith! There is so much to learn about behaviour that is helpful to get better shots. Once all that is taken care of, then we are good shape to get the lucky shots. Good post.

  8. I’d like to do some experimenting with this, but don’t have anywhere near this skill. In fact this is totally out of my wheelhouse. I mostly rely on happy accidents. HA! Wonderful set, Lorri. They look like angels.

    • You got skillz with that camera – don’t tell me you don’t πŸ™‚ I tend to learn by doing, and it’s been fun to explore a new way of shooting. I just need to figure out where the limits are, it makes me think of keeping a log in the old days. Luckily my iPad keeps all the photo info for me πŸ™‚

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