Of all the different kinds of wildlife you can train your camera on, bird photography is one of the most challenging. If you’re hoping to actually capture one of those expressive nick-of-the-moment pictures, you’ll have to really learn all about their behavior habits.
You’ll need to learn to be very quiet, patient and very stealthy. And above all, when the moment comes, bird photography is all about having the reflexes for it.
When you say a person is birdlike, what you mean is that she’s somewhat shy and easily startled. Well, that is entirely an appropriate kind of usage – as you’ll find from spending any length of time at all with birds.
They tend to be so easily startled and put off that you’ll never have a second chance with them. You have to have the right gear to be successful at bird photography, the right lens and the right setting – all set up completely ready to go at a moment’s notice.
How to capture birds in flight – Wildlife Photography Tutorial
Hi! In this video, I’ve come out and about to show you how to capture birds in flight. Hi! I’m Adam and welcome to First Man Photography the channel that will help you take your photography the next level.
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Wildlife photography is an extremely popular area of photography
And capturing birds in flight is one of the most challenging and rewarding pictures you can ever capture. Particularly and because, usually, there’s no second chance.
In this video, we’re going to look at some of the gear you’re going to need, we’re going to talk about the camera settings you want to use and we’ll also go through a couple of bird photography techniques that will maximise your chances of capturing those beautiful shots.
Any modern DSLR is capable of capturing birds in flight and people talk about crop factor. That gets you close to the birds but I really don’t think that’s the limiting factor when it comes to capturing the great shots.
With bird photography, before you can eventually send out snapping shots off, you need to spend some time just studying your subject and familiarizing yourself with how birds of the sort you’re looking at behave. You need to learn what their behavior pattern is.
This way, when are actually trying to snap pictures, you’ll have some kind of idea what they’re about to do next. If you could develop this kind of instinct for a particular species of bird, you’d be able to keep up with them.
More appropriate will be to find a camera that has a great autofocus system
Whether that’s full frame or cropped, it doesn’t really doesn’t matter because getting close to your subject, if you can, is going to have a much bigger effect. So don’t worry about the crop factor. If you’ve got a full frame camera, you’re good to go.
Having a good long lens is an absolute must for capturing birds in flight. These can get expensive, which is not always great, but they are very good quality, they focus fast and often they have tracking image stabilisation which will help you keep that bird in your frame where you want it.
Cheap kit type lenses like the 70-300mm often just don’t have the fast focusing capability to be able to capture those birds in flight on a consistent basis. Something like this Canon 400mm will be absolutely perfect.
It’s light is not going to break the bank entirely and you can check out my review in the link down below for this lens. This, actually, doesn’t have image stabilisation but that isn’t, actually, massively important because when we go through the setting we’re going to use a really high shutter speed which will freeze the action anyway.
So any sort of shake in your camera won’t make a massive difference. If you have a bigger or heavier lens, you can use a tripod, monopod or a beanbag something like that to take the strain off your arms.
I, personally, prefer to handhold and that’s what this 400mm let’s me do
Because it just gives you a bit more versatility to get out, get into the location where you’re going to capture those birds flying. And then, when we come to talk about technique, it’s easier when you’re handholding.
Let’s talk about the settings we’re going to use. The first thing you need to do is to go in to the autofocus setting and change it to continuous autofocus.
In the Canon camera, this is called the Servo AF mode and it’s something like AFC on the Nikon. So go ahead and set as that and that will continually track the focus on the focus point that you select rather than locking it in like you do on one shot focus.
Usually, you’ll need a DSLR that is capable of a high-speed burst mode, and an advanced focusing system that goes to at least nine points, Those cameras are not known for their speed. By the time your camera gets around actually taking a picture, your moment will be long gone.
An advanced focusing system is necessary
Because whatever is happening before you, your autofocus needs to be right on the job. A regular camera is never that fast. A fast 300mm lens would be essential equipment too. Anything you get that is smaller than that, and you’ll never be able to get close enough to the action. Since birds can flutter about lot, a fast f/2.8 lens would be perfect.
Some people will use the AF button on the back to use the autofocus and that takes the focus away from the shutter button which then, basically, let’s you have the best of both worlds, one-shot and the servo AF because as you focus with the back button you can then release that and the focus will lock just as it does in the one shot.
For me, I don’t like that, I don’t know why, because, when I’m hand holding, tracking the birds, it’s just the way I grip the camera because when I’m pressing that, I’m pressing the shutter button at the same time.
I feel like I lose a little bit of smoothness in my arm so I find it more difficult to track. That’s just a personal thing but that works for a lot of people. When you’re tracking the bird, you need to keep the bird over the focus point you have selected.
I, generally, just use the very centre point but that’s personal preference. Play around with your autofocus system. Some people use the five centre autofocus points.
It really depends on your camera, have a play around
and how many autofocus points and settings it has. Start off with full auto, if you want to. And then narrow it down to the focus point that works for you. Go ahead and try for yourself.
The next thing we’ll do is switch to manual mode and this may sound scary but it’s really not as bad as it seems once we start talking about some of the settings we’re going to use.
The most important thing to set first is shutter speed. You want to have a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 of a second or faster because that’s what’s going to allow you to really freeze the action of the birds.
Any slower than, you might that start to get blurring and it’s going to get much harder to capture those sharp shots. For the aperture, when you’re capturing birds in flight, you probably want to stop down to something like or F8 because that just increases the chances of capturing sharp shots because of increasing the depth of field a little bit.
If you are in dark conditions, that can be you will have to balance that out with ISO
If you’re on a nice bright day, you might be able to keep your ISO lower but the last thing, obviously, is the ISO and we’re going to use that to balance our exposure in certain situations. I’m very often going to ISO1000 something like that.
I really try not to go over that but in a lot of conditions that will work for you just fine. Especially with the good noise handling of modern cameras. So ISO1000 is the maximum and try anything underneath that depending on your light conditions.
So let’s now talk about the bird photography technique
Like I said, I’m a big fan of handholding and that’s what this lens and camera lets me do.
So, when I’m tracking, I will try and watch where the birds are going, plant my feet nice and firm, with slightly bent knees and bring the camera up to my face and then it’s just a case of twisting at the hip. A little bit like capturing a panoramic landscape.
So you’re going to start and then just pan around as you’er shooting. The camera is up to your face, looking through the viewfinder, you can then just track the bird around nice and smooth because you want to be able to keep that bird on the focus point, like I said.
This is where IS can help, image stabilisation, because it lets you track the bird a little bit easier taking some of that movement out of your pan. So again, you bend your knees, look through the viewfinder and then pan around and then start pulling the shutter as soon as you get the bird under that focus point.
Have it on continuous shooting so you can capture a few frames at once
Don’t go too crazy because when you come to post-processing you will just have too many shots to go through but do use continuous firing because there is somewhat of an element of luck.
You’re not going to be able to see exactly if you’ve got a great shot at the time. Another technique you can use is to use a tripod. I’ve got this tripod here and this is just a standard travel tripod, in fact, but I find that it is good enough to hold this lens if I have hold of it as well.
Just lock your lens onto your tripod like this. Then once that’s done, you can then just leave it, if you’ve got a ball joint like this one does, just leave it loose and then you can just use it to pan around.
That’s an option, if you don’t want to be hand holding your camera all day long. You can also use a monopod like this one here. Again, you’re going to track around with that as well.
It’s going to take the weight. You can also, if you don’t have a monopod and you don’t want to invest in one separately. Just use your tripod in the same way and bring the legs together like this.
You can track around as you would with a monopod. That way you don’t have to go to the extra expense of buying that monopod. The premium option, when it comes to tripods, is to use a gimbal head like this one attached to a nice big tripod to have that firm base.
You’ve got lots of movement, in that tripod
This has movements to then to go up and down, left and right, to track those birds. Again though, I really recommend first trying handheld. I have had the most success and the best images that I’ve captured have come from handholding.
If you get a lens like this one it isn’t too heavy and it gives you the ability to go out and be bit more mobile. And really get into some much more interesting locations not have to faff about putting a tripod up before you start shooting.
Bird photography is not always easy because you’ve got to get into the right places. That sometimes takes some local knowledge. However, you can do a bit of research to find out where those birds are going to be. Especially, if you want to shoot some really interesting birds like birds of prey.
You’re going to have to do your research work. Or, like me, find a friend who does that for you and then go out shooting with him or her. I hope you enjoyed that. Please leave a comment down below and let me know what you thought of the video. Have you tried it yourself? Are you now going out to try it? I’d really like to hear from you.
If you haven’t subscribed to the channel already, please do so. There are videos going up on a Wednesday and a Sunday. I’ll see you on another video very soon. I’m Adam! This is First Man Photography… Out!!!.
As found on Youtube
In closing, the more you are around a bird, the closer it will allow you to get. Every kind of bird has an area of personal space that it tends to be comfortable with. It’s different for every kind of bird. With the kestrel, you can’t come closer than 100 feet. You’ll scare it away. Some birds like the robin will let you get to within 10 feet.
Sometimes, you can win a vote of confidence when you put food out before a bird photography shooting. Basically, they need to see you around for long enough to know that you aren’t anyone to be scared of.