Search This Blog

Loading...

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Photographing Birds in Flight, Tips

Pileated Woodpecker

Roseate Spoonbill

Bald Eagle, larger birds are easier to photograph in flight.

Groups of birds, such as these Black Skimmers, are fun to photograph in flight. When photographing them, increase your depth of field.

American Robin. Zero in on one bird in a flock.

Snow Bunting

Upland Sandpiper flying over Kennebunk Plains WMA, Maine

Tree Sparrow. Focus on your bird feeder and anticipate when a bird will leave.

Red-shouldered Hawk, juv.

Great Shearwater, a pelagic species you need to go out on a boat to see. It's challenging taking flight photos from a moving, rocking boat, so it helps to brace yourself against the boat.

Tree Swallow in flight over our fields. Swallows, with their erratic flight, are a challenge to photograph.

Cedar Waxwing. Pick up a bird when it is quite distant and track it with your camera's auto focus and start shooting as it gets a little closer. If you wait until it's upon you, you will never get the photo.

Roseate Spoonbill, coming in for a landing.

My favorite type of bird photography is photographing birds in flight. Above are a few of my photos and here are some tips.

How do photographers get such photos? Here's what you need:

- High speed digital SLR cameras like the Canon 7D, or 1D Mark IV (which I have). The faster, and the more continuous frames per second your camera will shoot, the better. Get a camera the shoots at least 5 frames per second, preferably more. Know your camera dials and settings very well. For most flight photos you need to have at least 1/500th of a second shutter speed, preferably 1/1000th or more. Set the ISO high enough to attain this shutter speed.
Set the camera on continuous shooting mode. Most people use auto focus for birds in flight. Set the camera focus mode to AI Servo AF. This allows you to focus and lock on the bird as it moves, by depressing the shutter half-way. Put the camera dial on AV (aperture priority) to give enough depth of field to have the whole birds in focus. Most people use an aperture of f/8 in good light, but may go to an aperature of f/5.6 in duller light. To take the photo, depress the shutter all the way.

- A good telephoto lens that is at least 300mm long, or preferably 400mm or more (some add a 1.4 teleconverter to a 300 mm lens.) Some photographers use longer lenses, such as the Canon 500mm or 600mm IS lenses for flight photos. If you have those, you need a good tripod with a smooth moving head, such as those made by Whimberly, Bogen or Kirk Enterprises. A few strong photographers can actually hand hold the 500mm lens. If you are using a tripod you lack some mobility, so it helps to shoot at a good location, such as that at Ding Darling NWR or other national wildlife refuges, where a lot of birds fly in, in a predictible flight route. Set the lens AF/MF switch to AF (auto focus.) Some recommend setting the minimum focusing distance of the lens to its furthest setting.

- Good situations for photographing birds in flight, such as open areas of water or open sky where you see birds coming from a distance and can get on them early with your auto focus, plus you will have a clear blue background. Keep the sun at your back. Try to shoot with the birds moving along a predictable flight path that is perpendicular to the front of your lens.

- Good eye-hand coordination and fast reflexes. Find the bird by spotting the bird when it is at a distance, and I mean very distant. Do not wait until the bird is close, because by then it will be moving too fast for your to get on it. After you spot it, raise your camera to your eye and lock the auto focus on the bird. Most photographers set the camera's auto focus selection point (AF point) on the center point because it is the most sensitive of the points and allows you to keep focused on the bird. Also your camera will be less likely to lock onto the background as you try and stay on the moving bird.

- A willingness to practice lots and take lots and lots of photos, only some of which will turn out. (At least with digital you are not paying for film.)

- A strong motivation and desire to take flight photos.

- The expertise and programs to process your digital photo to make it look its best. Most photographers use programs like Adobe Photoshop.


My advice is even if you don't have all or some of the above, try anyway. You might find it addictive like I do.

Most importantly, have fun!!!

11 comments:

Chloe said...

I have recently photographed 3 Sandhill Cranes in flight. It sure is easier to photograph larger birds in flight. My tip is to try to aim at the spot you think the birds will be at. Thanks for the tips Stokes! -the Young Birder

LNMP298 said...

You do take outstanding photographs of birds in flight!

Scott Simmons said...

Great advice and fantastic photos! I particularly like the Pileated Woodpecker.

Marilyn Kircus said...

Thanks for your sharing your expertise. I use your pictures as the standard I hope to attain some day.

I'll use this information the next time I go out on the refuge. I have lots of ducks, geese and raptors to practice on in the skys over Sacramento NWR where I'm currently volunteering.

idbirds said...

Thanks for the tips!! What focus point or points do you use? I use center but it's hard to keep just the center point on the bird. I need help with this one.

idbirds said...

Thanks for the tips!! What focus point or points do you use? I use center but it's hard to keep just the center point on the bird. I need help with this one.

Lillian and Don Stokes said...

It depends on your camera. In Canon the center focus spot is the most sensitive, so I usually use that one, or sometimes the two spots together just above center. There is also a custom function for a smaller ring of spots.
It is hard to keep the center focus on the bird, but if you have too many focus spots in play, they may grab something else and you loose focus on the bird.
Just keep practicing.

Ron aka TheOldGeezer said...

Beautiful Photos! :-)

Kevin said...

Love those Spoonbill and Skimmer shots!

Chatterbirds said...

Thanks for the tips! Those images are nothing short of incredible!

Lisa said...

Awesome tips! I just adore your photos!