Birds in flight

April 23, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Photographing birds in flight can be some of the most difficult photography to undertake. They can fly very fast and erratic making tracking them in the viewfinder very hard. Once you are able to track them in flight the question becomes if your camera's auto focus can lock on and track them. If you are starting out learning this craft I suggest you start with slower, larger birds as that will help you to practice, learn your technique, and get some results. The bonus is that they also tend to be a bit less skittish allowing you closer.

One you have your skills honed try birds that may be more exciting (and difficult to photograph). A common mistake people make when taking images of flying birds, as I mentioned recently in a previous blog, is under-estimating the wing span. We zoom in too close then when the wings open they get clipped because they are wider than we anticipate. So shoot a bit wider, we can always crop a bit later, but there is no fixing a clipped wing.

          Obviously, using a camera with good fast auto focus is what is needed here. You will also need a long lens. The wider aperture the lens has the better because you are going to need to use fast shutter speeds to freeze the birds and to get them sharp. However, please note that we do not have to get the entire bird sharp in order to have pleasing images. Look at this image above. The bird is sharp. Most importantly, the eye is sharp. But notice the wing tips, they are out of focus. This is totally okay because it conveys movement. So focus on the eye. Most modern cameras have eye tracking for this purpose. Shoot at the fastest frame rate your camera offers. Then pick the best ones to keep later. You will be surprise what a difference this can make to getting that right moment.

As usual, good light and composition are important. Typically, you will want to shoot with the sun behind you or behind you at an angle. The birds need space to fly into, so more space in front of the bird than behind it is necessary.

Now I will be honest with you. At times, I am too slow and then I get an image where the bird is too close to the edge. Perhaps a wingtip is too close to the edge or the bird does not have enough space to fly into. As long as you have a reasonably blurred background which is not too busy, it is very easy to "create" more space. Join me for next week's blog where I teach you how.


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