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 🙂

Florida Spoonbills and Shorebirds photography workshop – $990

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

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Waw! All full already… Feel free to contact me at steven.blandin@gmail.com to be put on the waiting list for possible cancellations or for 2017. Cancellations do happen, so it is not excluded you might still get to join me in 2016.
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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Black Skimmers in flight with the Canon EOS 7d mark II

The only one morning I spent at the Indian Shore Black Skimmers breeding ground was very rewarding! On top of the nice chick images I shared in a recent post, I had the pleasure to photograph some pretty good flight stances.

Black Skimmer banking in flight with prey - Indian Shores, Florida

Black Skimmer banking in flight with prey – Indian Shores, Florida
ISO 500 | f/5.6 | 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.

A classical banking shot from the Black Skimmer above, with the fish in the beak as an added bonus. As often, I placed myself in a way to work on only one portion of the sky: the only place where I could reach optimum sun angle. This tends to work better than hunting birds flying left and right. First recognize the good situation, then calmly wait for a subject to enter “the good situation”. While there were birds flying all over, my attention was set on a particular spot where conditions were suitable to my requirements. Every so often, some birds would pass by, giving me all the opportunities I needed 🙂

Note that I took care of keeping the horizon with the sea water to help anchor the image.

Black Skimmer banking in flight - Indian Shores, Florida

Black Skimmer banking in flight with prey – Indian Shores, Florida
ISO 640 | f/5.6 | 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 while kneeling on the ground. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

Another really good banking shot! Keep in mind that banking shots are possible only when the bird turn in flight. With a good eye, it is not that difficult to recognize the pattern and wait for just the right moment.

Black Skimmer landing - Indian Shores, Florida

Black Skimmer banking in flight with prey – Indian Shores, Florida
ISO 640 | f/5.6 | 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 while kneeling on the ground. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

And after a few banks, here is the landing! Actually, having the subject closer to the breeding ground is a bit tricky. The reason is there were a lot of distracting objects to deal with: fence to prevent people from getting to close and other breeding birds amongst others. It took a lot of Photoshop cleanup on the image above. Use your stamp tool to clone on a separate layer above your original layer, then use a layer mask to erase (paint in black) zones where you would have stamped over the subject. See below a before and after view:

Black Skimmer landing - image optimization

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End of a Florida Spoonbill Photography Season

We are now officially at the end of the good season to photograph Spoonbills with either breeding colors or young chicks in Florida. This year was pretty good as the Tampa Bay offered an amazing spectacle of pink feather life.

Roseate Spoonbill landing in the Florida water of Tampa Bay

Spoonbill landing – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 400 | f/6.3 | 1/4000 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. Click on the image above to see it at a higher resolution.

The photograph above is a very nice creation of a Spoonbill with breeding colors landing in the shallow water at Alafia Banks, during one of my photography workshops in the Tampa Bay. I truly enjoy this unique aerial position that Spoonbills display a split moment before landing. The possibility often occurs when I am working on a small group already in the water. I try very hard not to focus all my attention on the subjects on the ground and look around whenever I can to spot possible new incomers. Because the new birds usually want to join the group it gives one a fairly good idea of where they will land. It is then a matter of acquiring focus early on while the bird is approaching 🙂

Spoonbill photography tour in Florida

Spoonbill landing – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 1600 | f/7.1 | 1/2000 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) coupled 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. Click on the image above to see it at a higher resolution.

The landing Spoonbill photograph above was created in the same fashion, under a different angle and while it was overcast at Alafia Banks. Note that I did not hesitate to push the ISO to 1600 to have a shutter speed that would be fast enough to freeze the action. I tend to prefer to push the ISO as much as possible, relying on good post processing techniques. If I were shooting with the Canon 7d I might have lowered the ISO a bit though as this camera is known not to create a lot of noise with high ISO settings.

Young Juvenile Spoonbill in flight - Florida

Young Spoonbill about to land in the mangrove trees – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 400 | f/6.3 | 1/4000 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 handheld. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me. Click on the image above to see it at a higher resolution.

The landing image above is very different in its creation. Maintaining the whites while having a somewhat dark background on a sunny day will lead to a low key picture: dark background, almost black. It is a different mood that can be done quite nicely when well handled. My guess is next year will be even better!! Join me on one of my workshop to get your chance at creating such memorable photographs 🙂

Botswana and the Victoria Falls instructional photography tour / $9,800 / limit 6 people / September 10th-20th 2015:

Join me and Robert O-Toole for a true photographic adventure in Africa.
Wildlife photography tour - Botswana African safari

Florida Spoonbills and Shorebirds instructional photography tour / $880 / limit 5 people / March 7th-8th 2015:

The best place to photograph Spoonbills with breeding colors, no questions asked.
Bird photography workshop - Florida Spoonbills & Shorebirds

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Brown Pelican Photography Tour in Florida, where to go?

If you are planning a Brown Pelican Photography Tour in Florida, there are many good spots, but my favorite two picks are in the Tampa Bay area. First off, it depends what you are looking for… If you are looking for diving and fishing action, I would recommend Fort Desoto Park in St Petersburg. If you are interested in full breeding color Pelicans with good flight opportunities, Alafia Banks is the place to go to!!

Brown Pelican photography tour - Alafia Banks, Florida

Brown Pelican flying with nesting material – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 400 | f/7.1 | 1/3200 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. Click on the image above to see it at a higher resolution.

The photograph above was created during a photography tour I organized at Alafia Banks. I was explaining to one of my students that Pelicans make for excellent practice for flight photography. It is a fairly slow bird in the air, which will give you a good chance at earning your flight photography skills. The Brown Pelican above was bringing a branch back to its nest as nesting material. The huge advantage of Alafia Banks is that Pelicans are nesting there, allowing the viewer to admire them with their full breeding colors. Adults have a white head, with a vibrant brown around the neck during mating season. They also come back and forth to their nests, allowing for many flight opportunities.

Brown Pelican diving - Fort Desoto, Florida

Brown Pelican diving – Fort Desoto, Florida
ISO 640 | f/8 | 1/2500 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 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. Click on the image above to see it at a higher resolution.

When it comes to diving, Fort Desoto tends to be a better place when the conditions are right. The Brown Pelican above is somewhat young and surely does not display breeding colors, but that is quite a nice diving pose! If you know where to position yourself, you might get a good chance at a nice dive photograph.

Brown Pelican photography tour in Florida

Brown Pelican blur – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 320 | f/4 | 1/15 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. Click on the image above to see it at a higher resolution.

Both Fort Desoto and Alafia Banks are good for pre-dawn blurs, but Alafia Banks is a tad better as many Pelicans leave their nests early in the morning to have their first flight of the day, which creates more opportunities. Blurs are typically harder to control and it takes a few tries before getting something that really stands out. However, one does come out with a photograph that is often quite unique. Try to pan with nice early morning colors in the background and you are in for nice results. 🙂

Botswana and the Victoria Falls instructional photography tour / $9,800 / limit 6 people / September 10th-20th 2015:

Join me and Robert O-Toole for an African wildlife safari to remember for years to come!
Wildlife photography tour - Botswana African safari

Florida Spoonbills and Shorebirds instructional photography tour / $880 / limit 5 people / March 7th-8th 2015:

If you would like to get a chance to photograph at Alafia Banks, this is it…
Bird photography workshop - Florida Spoonbills & Shorebirds

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Successful Spoonbill photography workshop in Alafia Banks, Florida!

I just lead a very successful Spoonbill photography workshop at Alafia Banks, Florida! With three boat rides over the weekend, including one to Dit Dot Dash rookery, everybody went back home with amazing Spoonbill with breeding colors photographs. Alafia Banks is currently hosting a very sizeable colony of Roseate Spoonbills nesting in the mangrove trees. One of the biggest gathering of this kind makes the place a heaven for Spoonbill photography! You are welcome to contact me for a private tour on site 😉

Roseate Spoonbill photography workshop - Alafia Banks, Florida

Roseate Spoonbill flapping its wings – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 640 | 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) with the 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld while seated on the sand. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

Now this Spoonbill photograph is something special! Mark my word. It was created during the 2014 Spoonbill photography workshop at Alafia Banks during breeding season. The only way to create this stance is to wait for the bird to flap its wings after bathing. While it is common to see shorebirds bathing in the shallow water, bathing Spoonbills are not as common. Recognizing the potential for greatness, I quickly moved the group from a corner that was more suitable for banks in flight, to this little cove full of algea. The green background came as an added bonus. We did not make it on time for the bathing itself, but I made sure my students did not miss the spectacular flap that followed. Recognizing behaviors in the field goes a long way towards award-winning picture creation. 🙂

Spoonbill photography tour - Florida

Spoonbill banking in flight – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 400 | f/7.1 | 1/3200 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 handheld while seated on the sand. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

Banking shots are amongst the hardest flight photographs to create. The recipe is to understand flight trajectories, some patience and voila! I wished this Spoonbill was banking a bit more though. Something to go after for the next tour I guess…

Roseate Spoonbill photography tour - Alafia Banks, Florida

Spoonbill calling with wings up – Alafia Banks, Florida
ISO 500 | 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) with the 1.4x extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III handheld while seated on the sand. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

During breeding season, besides the beautiful feathers, Spoonbills display some very interesting behaviors. They will often lift their head to call to others for instance. This Spoonbill was calling while running and having its wings up, nice combination!

Botswana and the Victoria Falls instructional photography tour / $9,800 / limit 6 people / Sep 10-20 2015:

Live the ultimate African safari.
African safari in Botswana

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Creation of birds banking in flight

While flight photography tends to be considered challenging by many, creating photographs of birds banking in flight raises the bar one more heavy notch. By banking, I mean when the bird is turning during flight, displaying the full length of its wings whether from under or above. How should one go about capturing this very specific position? It is not as simple as predicting a straight trajectory in the air…

Brown Pelican banking in flight

Brown Pelican in flight – Fort Desoto, Florida.
ISO 800 | f/7.1 | 1/4000 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 a gimbal head over tripod. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

The Brown Pelican banking in flight photograph above was created at my very favorite spot in Florida: Fort Desoto. Pelicans often join other members already floating on the water. In this case, this pelican was flying a bit towards me while another one was swimming in the water. I knew that there would be some chance that the flying one would join for a swim. So, I was pleased when it started descending towards the water, shifting direction to land and hence banking in flight! If you know of a spot where your subject is more likely to land, position yourself for it and wait for a flying subject to turn around to position itself for a landing. Those maneuvers often provide fantastic banking shot opportunities.

Red-billed Tropicbird banking in flight

Red-billed Tropicbird banking in flight – South Plaza, Galapagos Islands.
ISO 400 | f/7.1 | 1/3200 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 handheld. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

This Red-billed Tropicbird photograph received a Merritt at the 2013 Florida Professional Photographers Association competition. Another good strategy to maximize your chances for banking positions is to be located above your subject… Above?? That is right, in this case the photograph was created from a cliff overseeing the ocean. Reaching a higher altitude perspective goes a long way into getting a full view of the wings span from above! 🙂

Botswana and the Victoria Falls instructional photography tour / $9,800 / limit 6 people / Sep 2014:

I am working on bringing in another talented co-leader to this wildlife photography workshop. More to come on the topic soon…
African safari in Botswana

Spoonbills and shorebirds instructional photography tour / $980 / limit 5 people / Mar 2014:

By following the blog, you now know that Fort Desoto is a fantastic hotspot with countless opportunities for award-winning photography.
Wildlife Photography Tour - Spoonbills & shorebirds

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Waved Albatross Airport in the Galapagos: part II

A few more shots of Albatrosses from the beautiful Espanola Island.

The photograph below is a Waved Albatross.

Waved Albatross in flight Galapagos

Waved Albatross in flight above the ocean.

ISO 640 | f/5.6 | 1/1600 | Manual Mode | AI servo focus

This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens with a 1.4x III Extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III, handheld. Have a look at the equipment I typically carry with me.

This Waved Albatross in flight with wings up is a creation resulting from capturing the image from a cliff, in the midst of Albatross Airport. Those kind of shots can only be done while photographing from above the bird. Few situations will allow this to happen, especially for high planers like Albatrosses. Keep your eye open for cliffs that give to the ocean, as those are perfect spots for such situations. There is maybe only one other location where a Waved Albatross in flight capture can be done like this: Isla de la Plata, in Ecuador.

The photograph below is a pair of Waved Albatross preening each other during their courtship ritual.

Waved Albatross courting

Pair of Waved Albatrosses courting.

ISO 640 | f/5.6 | 1/6400 | Manual Mode | AI servo focus

This photograph was created with the Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens with a 1.4x III Extender, the Canon EOS 5D mark III, handheld. Handholding the 600mm with proper technique is possible!

This pair of Waved Albatrosses was gently preening each other, which is part of their courtship ritual. Waved Albatrosses are amongst the few birds that mate together for life. Only when one of the partner dies, will the other one look for a new mate. Do you know why they are called “Waved” Albatrosses?

The name comes from the wavy pattern of the plumage!

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Steven