This page is a chapter in the book Techniques and Educational.
Most of the time when photographing birds we tend to use the central focus point with servo/continuous focusing activated. Mostly because its the most accurate of the focus points but also because it is the easiest to keep on target when tracking a bird. This is normally a good idea when the bird is fairly small in the frame and you plan on cropping and recomposing in post production. Getting as close as possible before you compose the image is always the preferred option as this will ensure the maximum amount of detail in your image and getting the composition right full frame should be your goal too (if possible).

Here are a few examples of the focus points I use in different situations. Your camera may have differing focus point placements but the following examples will give you the general idea.

As this Egret was moving from left to right I decided on using an upper right focus point. As soon as it turned around and went the opposite way I quickly changed to the opposite focus point as well. Practicing changing your focus points is a great idea and will come in handy when the action is happening in front of you. Using a lower left/right focus point is sometimes a good idea as well (especially if you are having trouble focusing on an Egrets skinny neck/head) and I often use this on the birds chest as this is normally on the same plane as the head when Egrets/Herons are hunting.

Its always best to try and focus on a birds head/eye as this is normally the focal point in most bird images. I've used the top focus point in this image so I can focus on the head of the bird but still keep some room below the bird so as to include a bit more of the lovely perch in the image.

Again, using the top focus point has allowed me to keep some room under the bird to allow me to have some breathing space between the bird and the bottom frame edge.

Both of these birds were pretty much on the same focal plane so it was just a matter of choosing a focus point that could capture one of them. I just happened to use the far left focus point because that bird was being a little more active.

With effective focal lengths of over 400mm you will find that the depth of field in front of and behind your focus point is about equal so anticipating this and selecting a point slightly in front of what you want in focus (in this case I have selected the neck/shoulder of the bird) will often mean that you have used every bit of your DOF effectively.

Using the bottom focus point has allowed me to keep some room above the birds tail. If I had been using the central focus point the tail would nearly have been severed by the frame edge.

As you can see, the 5D that I use does not have a focus point anywhere near the birds head in this image so I had to use a point on the bird that corresponded with the same plane as the birds head. In this case I used the birds breast.

To keep from clipping the wings in this image I had to use a lower right focus point. Moving back a bit and using the central focus point would be a good option as well but would have meant cropping in post production, thus losing a little bit of detail.

In this image I was going for a portrait shot so it was perfectly fine to use the central focus point at this time as I knew I was going to crop the image anyway. I would have perhaps changed focus point if I had gotten much closer but it wasn't to be on this particular day

On this occasion I had to bite the bullet and just use the very top focus point on the front of the birds neck because I was trying to include the reflection as well (which wasn't possible with a lower focus point). Unfortunately I have clipped the wings which is a shame, an alternative may have been to use a lower focus point (perhaps even the central point) and try focusing on the birds legs which will on most occasions be on the same plane as the birds head when hunting.

I hope these examples have been helpful to you. It is most important that you do not become too reliant on the central focus point on your camera when using servo/continuous will impact on your compositions and lead to clipped tails, wings and legs.

Good luck everyone

Paul :)

Article originally by Paul Randall.

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