Birds In Flight

A large number of people in every country enjoy looking at birds in flight and a large number try and take photos of them – sadly, often with little success!

Whilst this ‘useful tips’ section is not intended to turn you into a master overnight, it will provide you with straight forward setting and composition advice, so here are some useful tips:

  • – It doesn’t matter if you are using either a Bridge, CSC or Compact camera as many will come equipped with a much more powerful zoom lens than is available with an initial basic DSLR model
  • DSLR models can require a large financial outlay to obtain high quality images and especially for the more powerful telephoto lenses, so for some, this is worth the cost. But for others who are unable to afford such items, and for everyone with any camera, they will need to better manage and control the settings used on their cameras
  • Firstly, you need to appreciate the bird will be moving and sometimes slowly (gliding) other times much faster (hunting). Therefore, the setting to help achieve greater control of how your image is captured will be Shutter priority (Tv on Canon and S on most other makes)
  • I suggest, depending on the amount of available light (sunny/cloudy) a shutter speed of around 1/800 sec may be required. This is designed to ensure you reduce the chance for any movement – in you or the bird! This figure may need to be higher for quicker or close-up birds
  • I also advise that you activate the ‘servo’ or ‘tracking’ setting within your focus settings as this will greatly assist in following the birds in flight. Also. activate the ‘Image Stabiliser’ system and a wider range of focus points too (if available)
  • Depending on the amount of available light, and in particular when photographing against a bright sky, it’s likely the bird will be silhouetted against the sky. To assist with this, many cameras come equipped with an ‘Exposure Compensation’ (EC) adjustment
  • The EC setting will allow you to increase (+) or reduce (-) the exposure for a given scene. With birds against a bright sky I suggest increasing the exposure compensation by around 1 stop (3 clicks). Then check the scene, if this has sufficiently lightened under the birds wings then fine, if not or too much, adjust the EC accordingly
  • If you’re photographing a bird with a darker background such as trees, hedges etc then you may well need to adjust the EC setting here (and possibly the ISO too)
  • When tracking the bird in flight I suggest you keep pace with it, not too fast a movement or too slow just keep the bird in the same area of the frame, ensuring you are focussed on it before taking the photo
  • If possible try and consider the actual position of the bird within the frame of the photo (although it’s possible to crop later in software)
  • The ideal result will show the bird nice & sharp and evenly lit underneath (see below)
  • I have not mentioned using software to lighten any darker areas although this is often possible, but to better improve your chance of success I advocate ‘getting it right in camera’ first, or as near as can be achieved
  • Finally, practice, practice, practice this technique and where necessary make slight adjustments to the settings to better capture the particular bird you are trying to photograph

I do offer feedback on photos so please try the ‘Photo Evaluation’ section to have your image(s) judged and receive constructive feedback 🙂

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