How To Photograph Birds In Flight

How To Photograph Birds In Flight

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A number of difficult photography talent is to capture birds flying. Cornell Lab photographer Gerrit Vyn is on hand to benefit with a complete guide to making split-second photos of flights.



Photographing birds flying is thrilling and rewarding However. It requires many patience and there isn’t a single, guaranteed way to do it. If every bird flying was a slow-flying bright-contrast Osprey against a blue-ish sky, the job could be much simpler. Try taking pictures of an Osprey flying at 50mph on a dark rock, in the dark! The lens and camera’s capabilities, bird’s flying styles and speeds as well as the effects of plumage in autofocus. The quality of light, as well as varying backgrounds. All of these elements and more can make taking photos of birds flying difficult. But don’t despair! Use these suggestions and accurate practices to start shooting birds in flight.

First, Set Up Your Shot

Place the Sun and Wind in Your Back: If you are planning to go out for a specific purpose of shooting flight. Make it at a time and place that has both sun and wind behind you. Birds usually fly into the wind. When they fly towards your direction at an angle they’re in the accurate location to capture beautiful photographs of flight: their underwings visible and their heads at the front. Birds fly at a slower speed into the wind, making it easier to track them and the sun behind them will benefit them shine nicely.

Find Predictable Flight Paths: Using your knowledge of bird behavior. Find locations where birds fly usually in large numbers, which gives you plenty of chances to practice making the perfect photo. Photography of flight is usually just a game of numbers, so any more photos you take the more you can get. Is there a specific place that Brown Pelicans are known to frequent? Or Canada Geese frequently visit in their flight to the roost in the evening? Is there a ridgeline Hawks fly over during the autumn migration?

Shoot with clean backgrounds: Your autofocus system is at its desirable. When shooting against clear backgrounds with low contrast, such as skies or water that is still. If it’s not an option be aware that the further away the background is the more effective. A distant forest is superior to trees that are directly in front of the bird.
The difficult shots such as this of the Black Skimmer in Florida flying straight towards. The camera would not be possible without the autofocus technology of today. 500mm, 1/1000 second at 8 fps, ISO 800. Photo by Gerrit Vyn.

Next, Sort Out Your Camera Settings

Focus with the shutter release:Though I would recommend together the back button focus for all situations but don’t use it for flight photography that is solely focused. Since you’ll be constantly focused when photographing birds flying and in flight. It is more comfortable to press half the shutter button for focus and then fully hold to open the shutter instead of having to press two buttons simultaneously.

Utilize to limit the range of focus:Set the focus limiter to be able to deflect objects that are close to it. This will benefit the autofocus system to work quicker. Since it will not be aware of a certain portion of the lens’s range.

Remove Image Stabilization:When shooting flight, you’ll have to be together speed of shutters that eliminate the need for stabilization of images. If you turn it on, it can make it more difficult to locate subjects and can reduce the performance of your lens.

Pre-select camera settings:Typically, this involves shooting wide open with the aperture of your lens’s highest in addition to together an ISO that will allow the best shutter speed. The shutter speed you choose should be fast, like 1/2500, 1/3200 or even more depending on the light. If you don’t have sufficient lighting or you’re photographing slower objects. Reduce the shutter speed to one-quarter of a millisecond or even 1/1250 if required. But you’ll need to accept that you might be less likely to capture sharp pictures. If you’re able make use of the best shutter speed and you have plenty of light available you can reduce the aperture up to f/5.6 or f/8 to rise the depth of field and a greater chances of getting all the vital components of the bird in focus: the body, head, and the forewing. 

In conditions of even lighting taking photos in Manual means that the background of your photographs can change but the bird’s exposure isn’t. Imagine that you’re shooting an Sandhill Crane flying across some farmland and the backdrop shifts from clear sky to a forest shaded. In one of the auto mode of exposure, it could alter your exposure and also increase the shutter speed to an unacceptably low degree. If you set your exposure in Manual mode, nothing will change so the birds will remain exposed to any background so long as it is in the same lighting.

If you are shooting birds in the backdrop of a light or white sky. Think about with your sky for the foundation to determine your exposure. Try making your exposure as gentle as possible without exposing too much or parts of the bird. I typically measure the sky and then make sure to open two or two 1/3 stops.

Set Your Autofocus SettingsFor bird species that appear bigger on the screen. You can use only one autofocus point to ensure you can place it precisely the place you’d like it to be to be on your bird. If this isn’t enough change onto one of your focus point patterns on your camera. For Nikon cameras Group-Area AF (GrP) is an excellent all-around feature for birds in flight. For Canon cameras, I go beyond one autofocus point to nine-point patterns or Zone AF.

Another extra modification for present Canon cameras would be to modify Autofocus parameters. I would suggest creating a customized setting for birds flying Set the tracking sensitivity to the level of -2 (-1 or 0 is more effective in clear backgrounds) and Accel/Decel Tracking to +2 and AF Pt Auto switching to +2.

If you are having trouble keeping your subjects in focus that fly against background noise. Then the most effective option to test can be Tracking Sensitivity (called Blocked Shot AF response for Nikon cameras). The more busy and difficult the background the less (more delayed) you need to set the AF Tracking Sensitivity.


Finally, Keep The Bird In Frame And In Focus As You Shoot

Finally, Keep The Bird In Frame And In Focus As You Shoot

prefocusWhen it is possible, you should prefocus the lens on a distance within the distance of the location you’re expecting to spot the flying bird. If not, it’ll be difficult to find your object in the viewfinder and autofocus may be unable to locate it by itself. For prefocusing, point the camera at a plant or the ground, roughly the distance you believe you’ll see the bird. Then set the focus point there. Then, raise the camera, and let the bird be in the range of autofocus before triggering it.

Flip to the Lens foot:Flip the lens’s foot in the upward direction, in the event that it has one. In order to place the lens in a cradle and not the lens foot using your hands.

Follow the bird with your entire body:Use an athletic posture with legs a little spread and knees bent slightly. Grab the camera tightly with your right hand. Extend your left hand as far as is you are comfortable supporting the lens. Then, fold your elbows in your body, and then follow the bird using your whole body instead of your head or arms.

Bump focus:Once there is an moving bird in your viewfinder. You stand greater chance of capturing the bird’s focus by using “bump focus.” When you focus on something you don’t press the autofocus key (whether it’s the rear button or shutter button) for a long time while you follow the object. Instead you hold it in a series of presses when your subject is approaching to keep the bird in close focus. This reduces the possibility that your focus point could drift away from the subject and drift to another location. Make sure that the bird is within the area, then push and hold your focus button.

Start and Continue:It is easy to lose your subject once you begin firing the shutter. Do your desirable to ignore all other things aside from keeping your subject in the frame and following it through.

Training:It takes a great amount of time to get proficient in flying photography. Take advantage of opportunities to practice as you can with common things around the house. Regardless of whether the images are ones you’d like to shoot or not. Practice gives you the chance to not only improve your technique. But also become more familiar with the various autofocus settings such as focus points, patterns and focus points as well as the outcome you can achieve with the various settings.


How do I find best? What is the desirable photography setting to photograph birds flying?

A aperture of 8mm is also the most sharp setting for most lenses, and can be a good point of reference. However, you may need to shoot wide when it is cloudy or your background appears dark. Set your ISO at the maximum required to attain an aperture speed that is at minimum one-thousandth of a second.

What is a slow shutter speed for birds in flight?

1/60 of a second for your bird in flight panning. Double your focal length in speed for a crisp clear image. 1/2500 if you have enough light for that go-to setting and fast birds or to freeze water.

How many focus points for birds in flight?

Autofocus Area

I seemed to have really good luck using 9-point dynamic-area AF (d9). This will use the selected focus point and all the points immediately around it. For really fast moving birds, or small birds, you could try 25 points or more and see if you get better luck.

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