I have been trying to take photos off a cliff edge of seagulls flying around.

I am relatively new to this, and on a sunny day when I go to take these photos, the seagull I'm trying to capture always ends up like a white blob.

I'm using manual focus and I wanted to know the best shutter, iso, f number and what ever else I should know in order to achieve what I'm trying to do. I can focus on them when they are flying above me, but not when they are below under the cliffs, and it's always a sunny day when I do it, so not sure if it's the light.

  • search for 'Sunny 16'. Then, manual focus with a moving object is going to be tough for anyone..try your camera's autofocus, perhaps in AI or Servo mode. – cmason Jul 23 '12 at 22:14
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    Can you post a sample? – mattdm Jul 23 '12 at 23:57
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    Are you looking for a magic camera setting? bythom.com/magicsettings.htm – dpollitt Jul 24 '12 at 1:09

Counter-intuitively, shutter priority mode is often not the best way to go when photographing birds in flight. The auto and semi-auto modes often get confused and meter for the sky.

A good solution is to set your camera to Manual, point it at the grass at your feet (preferably sunlit grass, not shady) and set the camera to expose that correctly. Adjust the aperture and ISO so that you get a good fast shutter speed, at least 1/500 (keeping the ISO as low as possible - open the aperture first).

You should find that the birds will now be correctly exposed - you can always tweak the settings a little (you might overexpose a little shooting white birds). The point is that using Manual mode takes away the possibility for the camera to incorrectly expose the shot.

Focusing is the tricky part. If you have a fairly run-of-the-mill lens, AF may not be quick enough to cope. If you have dynamic focusing mode, try using that as it will attempt to track the subject from one focus point to the next. Use Continuous AF so it constantly adapts to the subject. Otherwise it is probably just a case of using manual focus and being persistent; digital photography makes things like this much easier (not to mention cheaper).

  • Thank you very much this all seems a lot more helpful to me as i have been strugling to do this all by my self with it being trial and error most of the time.. :) – nicky Jul 24 '12 at 21:11
  • @nicky: If this is the correct answer, click on the check below the voting controls to accept it. This way, we know that your problem has been solved. – bwDraco Jul 24 '12 at 23:30

It's very difficult to manually focus on such a fast-moving, unpredictable subject; try using AI Servo AF using all AF points instead. Exposure settings are independent of the autofocus/manual focus setting, but make sure your shutter speed is high enough so that motion blur isn't the problem.


Assuming you're shooting around mid-day with no or few clouds, Sunny 16 is as good a place to start as any - go to Manual, set the aperture to f/16 and the shutter speed to < 1/ISO (e.g., if your ISO setting is 400, shutter speed should be 1/500).

If that's still not doing the trick, follow ElendilTheTall's advice.

  • Or, 'do the math' and use f8 to get a faster shutter speed. – ElendilTheTall Jul 26 '12 at 11:48

I would use "Shutter-Priority mode" (S or Tv mode) and set a high shutter speed (in the 1/1000 to 1/1600 range).

This should stop the motion enough to see the birds. From there, you may also need to use exposure compensation to ensure that you don't over or under-expose the birds.

  • Negative exposure compensation? My K-5 often underexposes (sometimes by as much as 2-3 stops) when I'm doing birds in flight... – bwDraco Jul 24 '12 at 15:29
  • I forgot this was shooting against a sunny sky, so you're right it would probably be the other way. – chills42 Jul 24 '12 at 15:58

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