Birds in flight photography tips: general tips

There are lots of tips for birds in flight photography out there. Let me present you the ones that have made me successful with my birds in flight photographs. Those tips are not all must do, but they definitely help from my perspective. Enjoy!

– shoot in manual mode
The biggest advantage of shooting in manual mode when doing birds in flight photography is that you will expose properly no matter what the background is. In Av or Tv modes, your camera will compute a different ideal exposure whether there is a dark background or a light color background. In other words, you might properly expose when the bird is in the sky and then suddenly under expose as soon as the bird crosses a tree line.

Black Skimmer in flight - Florida photography tour

Black Skimmer in flight – Indian Shores, Florida
ISO 500 | f/5 | 1/6400 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.

– shutter speed above 1/1000 (the faster the better given balanced noise)
I have no issue raising the ISO in a significant way in order to have a shutter speed of 1/1000 or above. Though it is possible to shoot birds in flight at 1/500, it is often with some degree on blurring around the wing tips and I tend to prefer the perfect freezer action. In fact, I will often be shooting faster then 1/2500. You never know what kind of crazy wing movement you might be able to capture and it is better to be ready then to miss to play safe. High ISO noise can easily be dealt with given proper optimization technique.

– AF single point expansion zone & AI servo mode
The advantage of the single point zone expansion, is that if you loose focus with the central single point, one of the eight peripheral focus point can pick up the tracking. You may then decide where to focus, while keeping a reasonable area covered in your view finder.

– Gimbal head on tripod for smooth panning
While it is easier to track your subject in the air while handholding, with a proper good quality very fluid gimbal head, you should be able to track fairly well with a big telephoto lens. The key is to pick a head that is fluid and gives you true weightless assistance.

– Handhold if you can
The best way to handhold a heavy telephoto lens is to tuck your left elbow against your left ribs (if you are a righty) with your feet apart at a shoulder length distance. Picture the typical stance used by a rifleman, this is the most stable stance and the least tiring one you may adopt.

Brown Pelican taking off - Fort Desoto, Florida

Brown Pelican taking off – Fort Desoto, Florida
ISO 800 | f/7.1 | 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) with the 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III on tripod with gimbal head. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

– Composition: twice as much space in front / pan faster
Ideal composition to give movement to your creation would be to have twice as much space in front of the bird versus in the back. What that means though, is that you really to keep up with panning with your subject by being having your focus point slightly ahead of the bird’s trajectory if possible.

– burst of 3/4 images times 2
I typically take a couple of burst of 4/5 images within the shooting zone. Re-focusing from one burst to the other increases your chances of having at least one burst with proper focus for a sharp image around the eye.

Young Spoonbill landing - Florida photography tour

Young Spoonbill landing – Tampa Bay Spoonbill rookery, Florida
ISO 250 | f/5.6 | 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 5D mark III on tripod with gimbal head. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

– Pump AF button
When you start tracking the bird, lock focus once in AI servo mode but do not keep the focus button locked the whole time. My advice is to “pump” or re-acquire focus just before going for your fist burst.

– Pre-focus
If you have prefocused on something at a distance fairly comparable to where your subject is likely to show up, the lens will take a lot less time to acquire focus. Also, make sure you are shooting with the focus range set to the preset in which the longest range is infinity and the shorter focus range is as far as possible. That option is available in long telephoto lenses and it helps the lens having less focal lens to go through to acquire focus. It will help having your less not spend as much time “hunt focusing”.

– look behind you for banking shots
See this post => http://bird-wildlifephotographyblog.com/2015/08/04/birds-in-flight-photography-tips-bif-banking-shots/

– understand wind direction
See this post => http://bird-wildlifephotographyblog.com/2015/06/01/birds-in-flight-photography-tips-bif-wind-direction-shooting-zone/

– Exercise on big slow birds first like Pelicans. They make for perfect practice 🙂

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1 Comment

  1. Great post Stephen

    Reply

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