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"Birds in Flight"

‘Bird in flight’ photography is something that I have been working on over the last few weeks. Don’t get me wrong, bird photography generally can often be frustrating, never mind ‘in flight’ photography. On the other hand when you get it right it can be extremely rewarding.

So where do you start…?

The first thing to consider is your depth of field.

The most important thing is ensuring that the eye and head of your subject is sharp. It’s worth also mentioning at this stage that depending on your chosen depth of field it might not be possible to get the entire bird and its wingspan as sharp as you would like. I find shooting between f/5 and f/8 to be the most affective method depending on the size of the bird you are photographing and the amount of available light.

Shutter speed is the next thing to think about. Clearly your choice of shutter speed depends on the type of image you’re looking for. A slower speed will give a sense of movement to your image but will sacrifice the sharpness, while a faster shutter speed will allow you to freeze the action and create a sharp image. The second is my preferred method as it allows you to capture birds in flight that you’re unable to appreciate with your own eye due to their speed.

For small fast birds like Zebra Finches and Rainbow Bee-eaters, my main tip for photographing birds like these ‘in flight’ would be to look at your photography as predictive rather than reactive.

These birds move at very fast speeds which makes trying to focus, frame your shot, and pan across the sky with them very difficult. Instead I would suggest beginning to understand the bird you are photographing. Learning how they move, how they feed and identifying signs that they are about to leave their perch.

Known feeding areas are perfect locations to setup and look to capture birds in flight where their movements are more predictable.

Available light is also something important to consider which will impact the settings you choose on your camera. Always have the sun to your back where possible so that your subject is lit up and to avoid any unwanted shadows when shooting at fast shutter speeds.

Back Button focus is always my go to for most wildlife photography and this is no different for birds in flight. If this technique is new to you, I would suggest practise with this method is vital to ensure you're comfortable with the dedicated button for auto focus.

At first it can feel a little awkward but after a while you will never look back!

You will also want to ensure you are shooting in continuous focus mode which is called 'Al Servo' on all Canon DSLRs to ensure you track your moving subject. Similarly you will require a continuous shutter mode / burst mode to capture several shots consecutively.

Finally a tripod or monopod is highly recommended to ensure you stay steady when panning across the sky to follow your subject.


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