The best way to Photograph Birds in Air travel with Sharp Results

Lately, you learned on Photography Life what the  best camera settings are usually when photographing birds . Today’s article takes a more in depth look at bird behavior, biology, and environment. The objective is to teach you how foresee what birds will do, and ultimately reach the ultimate goal: to take very sharp, high-quality photos of birds in flight.

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Atlantic Puffin returns from the sea with a catch.
NIKON D500   + Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2. 8G ED VR II @ 200mm, ISO 1250, 1/5000, f/5. 6

Birds have always triggered the human imagination. In some historic cultures, birds have been so privileged that they have even entered the exclusive company of human gods and goddesses. Whether it was the Greek Harpies, the Egyptian Hor, or the Phoenix, birds have been part of peoples’ mythologies across the world.

What is that fascinates humans about these feathered creatures, which inhabit our planet in approximately 11 thousand species? The answer should be sought in the ability associated with birds, which we people can only clumsily imitate: the opportunity to fly.

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Coconut Lorikeet.
NIKON D500 + 70-200mm f/2. 8 @ 200mm, ISO 6400, 1/3200, f/5. 0

Whatever you do as a photographer, it is always useful to find out as much as you can about the issue you are photographing. This all the more important when we are coping with the most agile creatures on our planet, which can easily outmaneuver an unprepared photographer. We highly recommend learning as much as possible regarding birds if you are interested in taking photos of them, especially in birds in flight…

Obtain Familiar with Bird Biology

To be able to predict a bird’s flight path with at least some probability associated with success, you should first learn a few principles that will help you plan your images better.

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The Great Sapphirewing inhabits the greatest forested areas of the Andes.
NIKON D850 + 500mm f/5. 6 @ 500mm, ISO 5000, 1/800, f/6. 3

The first is the principle of the nest. Birds usually take care of their offspring in a home, and the parents frequently keep and return from it in order to feed their chicks. Therefore, you can expect increased activity and many more opportunities for photography in case you are in the vicinity of a bird’s nesting.

When awaiting the bird to arrive in order to its nest, it’s useful to observe the bird from a distance and over the course of a few days to understand its daily rhythm and schedule. Are there still eggs in the nest, or would be the parents already reading their own nestlings? What time of day, and for how long, do the parents tend to leave the nest looking for food? This period of remark is crucial, and it also lets you be considered a better judge of how in order to approach the nest to some photographable distance without troubling its inhabitants, and how lengthy of a lens you may need.

For cavity nesters – woodpeckers, toucans, bee-eaters, parrots and many owl varieties, for example – we can frequently predict from the position of the entrance hole where the mother or father will be coming from. But with birds that build their own nests on top of trees or something similar, it can be harder to predict what direction they will fly from. Thus choosing the best angle for a photo depends somewhat on trial and error.

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Grey Heron gets to the nest with a fill of fish for its nestlings.
NIKON D800E + 300mm f/2. 6 @ 300mm, ISO 3200, 1/1000, f/3. 5

Sometimes, the presence of an individual can trigger a strong response in a bird and lead them to fly away from us within distress. After all, we are the particular apex predators of the planet along with a potential threat to their nests. This especially true if there are a lot of people and dogs around.

Other birds react to humans in a different way. No doubt you’ve seen seagulls and pigeons flock to people with loaf of bread in their hand. But some bird species will actively attack humans! If you’ve ever been near a nesting pair of Great Skuas, for example , you know what I am talking about. They have an invisible border associated with tolerance in the grassy landscape where they live. If you cross it, a nesting pair may rise into the air and launch violent raids upon you like a pair of jet competitors. You’ll face blows from their beaks and sharp talons. An opportunity for photography? Only when you’re crazy.

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Great Skua with rocky Norwegian coast.
NIKON D500 + Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2. 8G ED VR II @ 70mm, ISO 800, 1/8000, f/5. 6

Beware, some bird types are particularly sensitive to disturbance. Especially during nesting building or egg incubation, there is a high risk that they will get out of their nest. Please by no means get too carried away with all the desire to take a photograph. In case you have any doubts, pack up your own goods and leave. In fact, trying to take this photo once may scare the bird away for good, which is poor both for the bird and for your photography in the long run.

Some species of birds have regular roosts that they claim and rarely leave from that spot. Cows egrets, cormorants, and some types of parrots and ravens get to my mind. In these spots, you don’t need to rush your photography and can wait with some consideration. In the case of nocturnal species, you can even continue right after sunset, and the bird will often remain in the same spot.

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Common Potoo on its night perch, from where it hunts flying insects.
NIKON D850 + Nikon AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR @ 300mm, ISO 2k, 1/160, f/7. 1

Another standard of photographing birds is food. Birds can be seen wherever they find appropriate food in the right environment.

For waterbirds, watch where they give food to or where they lurk for their prey. In woodland, try to find trees and shrubs that catch the attention of hungry birds from everywhere. Steppe species of insectivorous plus predatory birds seek elevated perches from which they pursuit their prey.

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Magnificent Frigatebirds play with a taken fish on the Pacific shore of Ecuador.
NIKON D850 + 500mm f/5. 6 @ 500mm, ISO 1600, 1/2500, f/5. 6

Many avian species, of course , are happy to eat food that we prepare for them. The prevalence of bird feeders and little old ladies on benches feeding the particular pigeons are proof of that. For better or even worse, feeders can offer opportunities to photograph birds that may be difficult to find otherwise. I bet about 99% of all hummingbird photos are usually taken at a manmade feeder, and most of the remaining 1% are taken at bouquets that attract these hummingbirds (which is itself a kind of feeder).

Whatever the particular source of food, in case there’s one that you look out, you’ll quickly learn to anticipate the birds’ movements and patterns. For example , hummingbirds often visit individual plants facing in the same path every time. Hummingbirds also often hover near a plant for a few moments, then journey back a short distance in order to dip their long tongues into the sweet nectar again the next second. Try to capture both moments, in which these types of speedy little guys are usually relatively still.

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White-whiskered Hermit and Green Thorntail.
NIKON D500 + 400mm f/2. 8 @ 400mm, ISO 2200, 1/800, f/4. 0

Although sources of meals – whether manmade or natural – often allow for static shots as the parrot is eating, it’s also a good opportunity to photograph wild birds in flight as they strategy the food. This often the best way to picture small songbirds that are otherwise difficult to capture in flight.

To be particular, birds often like to perch somewhere nearby before arriving at the food source (potentially a good time to photograph them on a branch, but that’s not the topic of this article)! With this perch, the bird will check the situation for a few occasions, then take the shortest path to the food.

If you watch them fly like this over a period of time, you’ll obtain a very good sense of the anticipated flight path for the inbound bird. You’ll have a (comparatively) easy time tracking the particular bird with your composition plus autofocus system. You may even be able to pre-compose and pre-focus along with manual concentrate , then take the image at the moment the bird crosses where you want it to be.

Later in this article, I’ll talk about the camera settings I recommend for situations such as this.

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A pre-composed photo photographed in organic backlight as the birds flew toward a food resource

The ultimate principle of bird actions I’ll discuss is airline flight path.   A brief glance at the sky gives us the impression that birds journey in all directions and that predicting their flight direction is about because reliable as an April weather conditions forecast. But thisn’t completely true.

Actually the two most photographically attractive phases of flight – i. e. take off plus landing – are guided by certain rules. Parrots like to perform both of these air travel phases against the wind. Therefore , if you have the wind at your back, you can hope for appealing photographs of landing parrots from a frontal view.

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Harris’s Hawk.
Sony a9 + FE 600mm F4 GM OSS @ 600mm, ISO 3200, 1/2000, f/5. 0

In addition to wind direction, birds use a magnetic compass for their navigation. Unless this fundamentally conflicts with the wind flow direction, waterfowl prefer to land in a north-south direction. This particular makes it relatively easy to figure out where you can stand to get the best possible angles for your shot.

Photographers always mention that it’s important to understand your own subject, but these are some from the concrete things that refers to whenever photographing birds in air travel. You can also go more in depth by reading about chickens and spending time in the field, especially if there are some specific species you are trying to photograph.

But as crucial as it is to know a bird’s behavior, as a photographer, you should also have familiar with your gear. That’s what I’ll cover over the next page of this guidebook.

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