How to Photograph Birds in Flight.

How to Photograph Birds in Flight.

As I’m sure you know, freezing that bird whizzing past you can be one of the most satisfying things in wildlife photography.

So today I’m here in Bristol City Centre to practise my techniques on some of our more common birds, and if I’m really lucky I might even spot one of our fastest and most ferocious species.

So the first thing that you’re going to want is a nice, sturdy tripod and a smooth Gimbal head.

These are really useful when you’re panning using slow shutter speeds or staying in one place for a long time.

Decent birds in flight shots are achievable with most DSLR cameras, but you really want to buy those with the best autofocus abilities.

A nice, prime telephoto lens helps your camera with its focus, but I tend to go for a zoom lens, especially when the birds aren’t photographing, for at different distances.

Lastly, teleconverters are an absolute no-go.

They simply interfere with the autofocus too much.

So let’s take that away.

Whilst some decent kit like I’m using today will help your hit rate, most of it just comes down to good ol’ practise and patience.

Now, when photographic birds in flight, it almost goes without saying that shutter speed will be a most important setting.

As a general rule of thumb, you want to be aiming for about 1/1000 of a second for slower birds, and about 4/1000 for quicker birds.

Usually for fast shutter speeds, you’d look to high ISOs and low f-numbers, but for birds in flight, you want to be aiming for about f/9.

This gives the chance for the whole bird to be in focus, and if you miss the focus slightly, it gives you that little bit of leeway.

So there’s this constant struggle between getting a fast enough shutter speed and keeping that f-number nice and high.

Often, a good solution of catering for both of these desired settings is underexposing and shooting silhouettes of birds in flight at sunset or sunrise.

But often, there’s not even enough light for far shutter speeds at low f-numers.

And if you don’t want to crank up that ISO too much, you can embrace the slow shutter speed and pan with the motion to create one of my favourite effects.

A smooth Gimbal head is crucial for this, and make sure your posture is relaxed and comfortable to help with a nice, controlled movement.

So you’ve got your settings decided upon.

Now it’s time to pick your viewpoint.

I try and be as elevated as possible, to get myself closer to the bird’s eye level, and to spice up the background a bit with some land.

Also, try and position yourself so the bird will be front-lit, bringing out as much detail as possible.

Then you have the age-old question.

Do you go with the tripod,or do you go handheld?

If I’m setting up shop like I am today, or if I’m panning at slow shutter speeds, I tend to use one.

If it’s a bright day and I’m walking around the nature reserve looking for subjects, I won’t need any camera support.

Now, you see your subject perched some distance away.

You shouldn’t have to stand poised with your camera ready for it to take off at any point.

Instead, learn to read the species’ body language.

In the case of Bristol’s Peregrine Falcons, they give you a very clear warning before they’re about to take off.

Then, suddenly it happens.

The bird takes to the air and starts flying toward you.

Make sure that both of your eyes are open the whole time so one of them can keep track of the bird, whilst the other is stuck in the viewfinder.

And as it’s flying toward you, it’s always tempting to start focusing on the bird when it’s miles away in anticipation.

However, as they get closer, it’s easy to lose focus just as they get into that perfect spot.

So instead, I’d recommend waiting until the bird is a few seconds away, then left, aim, and fire.

Focusing can be one of the most depressing things in wildlife photography.

There’s nothing worse than ruining a top action shot just because you missed the focus slightly.

Holding that focus can be one of the most challenging things when photographing birds in flight.

With most DSLRs, you can switch between a single or multiple focus points, and with a decent enough camera body, multiple points can do a good job of tracking the bird through the frame.

However, its ability really depends on the camera body you use, and I highly recommend you stick to the single focus point if your camera isn’t tracking your subject as you’d like.

One way to help improve your focus tracking is to limit the focusing distance of your lens.

This helps make your lens’ job as easy as possible.

Another way to help your lens out is by limiting its frame rate.

I, of all people, know that it’s one of the funnest things to do with your new camera body, which shoots at 10 frames a second.

If your camera’s spending most of its time with the shutter open, it gives it less time to hold focus on the subject.

Well today, it’s been here for my viewpoint in Bristol.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this video, and please don’t forget to subscribe to Nature TTL’s YouTube channel for more videos like this every week.

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