Flight sequence of birds

October 15, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Getting good birds in flight photographs are difficult. They move fast. Camera autofocus systems sometimes struggle to keep up. These systems perform well if the bird is photographed with a blank sky behind them. But cameras struggle more if the bird is in front of messy backgrounds. Then the bird does not stand out and the autofocus has to hunt to find the bird. So what can we do to maximize our success rate?

  • Start to track the bird with the camera's autofocus system long before they come near. The further away the bird is from the camera the slower the bird moves across the frame of the camera giving the camera more time to acquire focus. Once focus is acquired it is easier for the camera to keep focus. Once the camera tracks the bird you just have to follow the bird in the viewfinder. Then fire when the bird gets close enough.

  • Since the key is to acquire focus and since this appears to be more difficult for the camera than tracking it once focus has been acquired (in most cases) why not start with a stationary bird? Lock focus on the bird sitting on the perch. Make sure that autofocus tracking is turned on. Then just wait for the bird to fly off and fire away.

  • Pan with the bird as it flies. This give you more time with the bird in the viewfinder giving you more opportunity for in focus images.

  • Shoot at a high frame rate. Even if a few images are out of focus as the camera seeks to gain focus you may still end up with a few images in focus because you shot many images.

Let's look at a sequence of a bird in flight. The bird was close to me, sitting on a perch.

Even though the bird is sitting still, the camera is setup for fast action. The moment the bird flies off, the camera is ready and focus is already locked onto the bird. Now we just wait. We watch the bird's behavior. The goal is to look for cues that the bird is going to take off. Then we fire away in a burst, hoping that we were right and that the bird indeed flies off. Without knowing what these clues are and finding them, your success rate will be greatly diminished. Our reaction time is just too slow. When we see the bird take off it takes us a second to realize it and another moment before we press the shutter. By then the bird is gone.

          Some signs that the bird is about to take off are:

  • Another bird flying in fast. Bird hassle each other. When another bird comes storming in, our bird is probably going to take off.

  • Poop. Birds often take off right after heading nature's call.

  • Birds use their legs to jolt them upwards as the first step of catching flight. When you see them going down on their legs, shoot because they might take off.

  • When they look around nervously.

When you see any of these actions shoot.

Most people under-estimate a bird's wingspan. Thus they zoom in too tightly on the bird. When the bird opens its wings and flies off the wings are often clipped. Rather allow a bit more space than you think you are going to need and crop later than clip a bird.

          Good luck while you go shoot some bird in flight sequences.


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