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Photography Workshops by Christopher Dodds


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« Sony Alpha a9 High ISO Birds in Flight Performance | Main | Sony a9 and Sony G Master 100-400mm lens ready for bird photography »

Sony a9 for birds in flight photography

Atlantic Puffin with Capelin (Fratercula arctica, Macareux moine, ATPU) Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada, Réserve de parc national du Canada de l'Archipel-de-Mingan, Quebec, Canada. Image Copyright ©Christopher Dodds. Sony Alpha a9 Mirrorless Camera & Sony FE100-400 F4.5-5.6 G Master OSS @ 400mm. Full frame image. ISO 640, f/5.6 @ 1/5,000s Manual exposure mode. PURCHASE A PRINT or LICENSE IMAGE FOR PUBLICATION HERE.

Sony a9 for birds in flight photography

Well, here it is; the first Puffin image I made with the Sony a9 and Sony FE100-400 F4.5-5.6 G Master Lens. After getting everyone in my first group for my Deluxe Puffin Workshop settled into their rooms in the lighthouse, and with a delicious lunch in our bellies on July 29, we headed down to the beach and started working on birds in flight. It was around four when I first lifted the new Sony rig to my eye for the first time. I didn’t take any pictures while tracking the first few Puffins, instead I tried to understand the autofocus system and what the autofocus settings were all about. I headed into this a little blind, as no one that I spoke to at Sony had much insight into where to start; using mirrorless cameras for birds-in-flight was uncharted territory (for the most part). I needed to quickly understand what choices I had to tweak the autofocus system to best track these little erratic bullets as quickly as possible.

I had seen a few blog posts with sample images from the a9 where the autofocus had failed; A Robin flying from its perch in a tree surrounded by a clutter of branches and a Turkey Vulture sticking its head out from long grass. Both sequences of images were out of focus, and the author left out some critical information about which AF settings he had used. Both sequences were out of focus because of user error (in my opinion); the AF point cluster that the photographer had likely chosen was set to large, so the camera didn’t have a chance, given the situation. I would have chosen single point to ensure the camera knew what to focus on. We need to know how our cameras work, what settings are available and when and how to choose them! BTW, those sample images I mentioned; neither one of them would have been sharp with any camera that had pretty-much all of their AF sensors active.

Before leaving for the trip, I downloaded the instruction manual and autofocus guide to iBooks, which made it available (and searchable) from my iPhone, iPad and MacBook; something I highly recommend everyone do this for every piece of equipment they own.

Download the a9 Instruction manual HERE

Download the Sony AF Guide HERE

Back to the Puffin image above; given the contrasty light and blue sky, this was a relatively easy image (for a practiced birds-in-flight photographer). I’ll be back shortly with more about my time with the Sony a9 soon, and will post more images of birds-in-flight and some high ISO images in the coming days. I will share my thoughts on adding, or switching to Sony, and more likes and dislikes. Stay tuned!


My teenage son (an avid youth nature photographer) and I just came back from Chris' Puffin trip. We had a day of pouring rain, a day of cloud cover and a day of sunshine and Chris gave practical advice on how to get great images no matter what the weather. Chris is skilled at meeting each photographer where they are as he gives individual customized attention out in the field. Chris uses a variety of teaching strategies (including great metaphors!) to make complex information concrete and understandable. My son came back with incredible images - puffin portraits in beautiful golden light, puffins and razorbills with fish in flight, beautiful groupings, single puffins in grass, flowers and rocky cliffs. He also came back with a wealth of tips, tools and strategies. And amidst all of the superb photography instruction and individualized attention, there was also lots of camaraderie and great stories. Chris is not only an excellent teacher but an outstanding host. Can't wait for our next Chris Dodds adventure!

Deborah & Christopher Graham Ontario | Canada

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