Birds in flight photography tips: Banking shots

Many bird photographers consider banking shots the Graal of Birds in flight photography. On top of acquiring proper focus and all the other steps that make birds in flight photography difficult, we now try to create an image with full view over the upper wing or the under wing. Those situations are not as common as regular flight patterns for one who does not have an eye for it. I will gladly agree that banking views are a real notch harder, but so much more exciting to hunt for.

Spoonbill banking shot - Birds in flight photography

Roseate Spoonbill banking in flight – Tampa Bay rookery, Florida
ISO 500 | f/4 | 1/5000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 7D mark II on tripod with gimbal head. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

The Spoonbill banking photograph above was created during the 2015 Spoonbill photography tour. My number one tip is to look around you and not to keep your head in your viewfinder in front of you. Banking positions happen during a turning motion during flight. So, birds that are likely to turn in front of you while displaying full upper wing detail will be coming from behind you! You literally want to keep a close eye for those and start tracking very early on. If you have paid attention to flight patterns around you and noticed that the birds are turning within your shooting zone with proper sun lighting, then simply wait for the next birds coming from behind you as some of them will turn in front of you as well. If you are waiting to see a bird actually banking to think about acquiring focus, you are most likely already too late.

Brown Pelican banking in flight - birds in flight photography

Brown Pelican in flight – Tampa Bay rookery, Florida
ISO 400 | f/4 | 1/5000 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 7D mark II on tripod with gimbal head. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

The bigger the bird, the harder it is to have a full upper wing view. Stay patient and keep trying as even the bigger birds will offer full banks every now and then. A tip that is true at all time, is to attempt to decipher a flight pattern. Birds behavior is repetitive and seeing one bird flying a certain way is a good hint at what the next bird might do. Based on the direction in which the wind is blowing, you should quickly understand the most likely trajectories.

Spoonbill banking in flight - birds in flight photography

Roseate Spoonbill banking in flight – Tampa Bay rookery, Florida
ISO 1600 | f/4 | 1/1600 sec. | Manual mode | AI servo rear focusing
This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens (Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM review), the Canon EOS 7D mark II on tripod while wading in the water. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

The birds in flight photograph above was also created during the 2015 Spoonbill bird photography workshop. Going vertical or staying horizontal? Most vertical views of full banking shots are crops from vertical captures. The reason is of course that one is ready for everything when shooting horizontally, versus being in vertical mode you are only hoping for a full bank and will most likely not get a good composition for normal flight. While I follow the herd on this, every now and then I do attempt to shoot vertical and just wait for the proper full bank position before firing the shutter.

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Feb 20th-21st 2016 / limit 6 people – 1 open

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Florida Spoonbill photography tour

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January 16th-20th 2017 / limit 5 people – 3 open

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Alaska Bald Eagles photography tour

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