I’m on location in southwest Florida leading some private bird photo workshops. One of the first things new students realize is just how hard it is to capture a bird in flight. Remember these little critters are flying past pretty quickly and as a photographer you have very limited time to make split decisions in order to get the shot. Here are some tips that might help beginners.
1. Study your subject. The more you know about birds the better your flight shots will be.
2. Practice with larger birds such as pelicans, gulls and herons. This will leave you less frustrated.
3. Shoot shutter priority. A fast shutter speed is essential to capturing birds in flight. Unless you want to blur the subject for creative reasons, a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second should be your preferred shutter speed.
4. Use the lowest ISO you can and still get a fast shutter speed.
5. Make your aperture wide open for small birds and stop down by one stop for larger birds.
6. Shoot hand held. It’s too hard to make a tripod work in a flight situation.
7. Spread your feet shoulder width apart.
8. Aim slightly ahead of the bird and estimate his trajectory.
9. Use high speed continuous shooting mode.
10. Select a lens in the 300-400mm range. These are typically hand-holdable and will get you close enough to fill the frame in most cases.
11. Try to make sure the subject is front lit. Point your shadow at the bird. Keep the sun behind you.
12. Practice, practice and practice some more. Don’t get frustrated and don’t give up. If I can do it you can do it.
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