The 2019 Big Garden Birdwatch is taking place this weekend, so we thought we’d give you some tips on photographing those wonderful feathered visitors to our gardens when they are at their most spectacular – in flight!
“I can’t even get the bird in the picture” is something we hear a lot. Birds are relatively small, often quite far away, and usually moving fast so it can be a bit tricky! But with a few tips on technique, a bit of practice, and a lot of determination you can get some truly wonderful images of birds in flight – definitely worth the effort!
Equipment & Settings
You’ll need a telephoto lens, ideally between 200mm and 400mm, and your camera is best set to shutter priority. Set your focus to single point and the focus mode to continuous (or AI servo). This will enable you to maintain focus on the bird as it travels through the sky. If you want to freeze the action then a fast shutter speed will be required – around 1/1600sec will work with most birds. Hummingbirds need an even faster shutter speed, and a flash is useful to freeze the super-fast wings. Choosing a slower speed of around 1/80 second can create an interesting effect as the background will blur. This highlights how the bird is racing through the sky and results in a very dynamic image.
Once a bird comes along that you want to photograph, press the shutter release halfway as it crosses the focus point. Continue to track the bird as it flies and you should hear the focus mechanism making adjustments as the bird moves.
Taking the shot
When the bird in the right part of the frame you press the shutter release button all the way down to take the shot. If you are using continuous shooting mode then you can take a burst while continuing to track the bird, giving you a better chance of getting a strong image
Birds offer incredible opportunities for stimulating your creativity and refining your skills. It can take hours or even days to get a shot that you are really proud of, but it is wonderfully rewarding when you do.
As with all things photography, the best way to improve is simply to practice, practice and practice some more! Find a spot near your home that attracts birds such as a pond, lake or park and keep going out whenever you get the chance. It’s a good idea to start off with large, slow birds such as geese and ducks. As you get the hang of if move on to smaller and faster ones that present more of a challenge.
Different vantage points can be useful for creating unusual bird photos. For instance, from a cliff you can often photograph sea birds with the sea as the background. If you are lucky with the conditions then you can capture a truly impactful image!
If you have particularly spectacular weather conditions or an interesting environment you may want to include this in your pictures. Dark skies and the coastal scenes can add drama and a sense of place.
In some parts of the world the most outstanding aspect can be the sheer number of birds as they congregate in huge colonies. To add dynamism try showing the mass of moving birds with a slower shutter speed. Choose one that allows us to distinguish the shape of the birds but that also gives a little motion blur. You’ll need a tripod for this technique so that the background remains sharp.
All images courtesy Renato Granieri