29 Oct 5 tips for photographing birds in flight
Capturing the beauty of birds
I photograph a lot of birds while vacationing and exploring our parks and wildlife refuges. Plenty of my images miss the mark: blurry, too bright or too dark or my subject half out of the frame. But over the last few years, I’ve improved my photography of birds, especially those in flight.
I own modest camera equipment and consider myself a hobby photographer. When asked, I always describe myself as a hiker first and a photographer second, meaning those are my priorities when out in nature.
In this article, I offer the following tips for capturing images of birds in flight. If you’re not a hobby photographer, I hope you still enjoy these amazing feathered creatures and their environments.
Five Tips for Photographing Birds:
1. Many cameras feature pre-set shooting modes, which take some of the thinking out of photography. When I expect to be around birds in motion, I use my camera’s “Sport” or “Action” mode. Your camera might call it something else.
2. If your camera doesn’t have that function, take photos using “Shutter Speed” priority and select 1600 or 2000, if that’s possible with the lighting you have that day. And bump up your ISO somewhere between 1000-2000, depending upon your comfort level with a higher ISO, knowing it might decrease your image quality.
3. If you don’t have a telephoto lens, get one for your camera. Many hobby shutterbugs use a “point and shoot” camera with a good zoom function. For many of my photos shown here, I used a 300 mm lens. But I also recently added a 600 mm lens to my equipment cadre because it’s a fun addition, albeit a heavy one.
4. During your hike, stop and listen for 10 minutes or longer. Some of my best photos happen when I’m patient and surrounded with silence. A bird or animal will often reveal itself when I’m blending in and standing still.
5. While hiking a trail or walking a nature preserve where I might see birds, I’m ready for action. My camera is always turned on, knowing I have a back-up battery in my pack. My lens cap is off and my camera is in hand. With some destinations, when I anticipate not seeing much wildlife, my equipment might be in standby while I enjoy the walk. But that’s usually when a pterodactyl flies across the trail and I miss my photo-of-the-year opp.
In addition, I take a lot of photos of my bird subjects. And often one of the last shots is my favorite. If you’re looking for more resources about birds, I’d recommend my three favorites: 1) the daily two-minute podcast Bird Notes; 2) www.AllAboutBirds.com of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 3) the Merlin Bird ID app. Enjoy your next walk in the Great Outdoors.