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Techniques for Photographing Birds in Flight

Wild birds make great photography subjects. But, as you may have guessed, capturing birds in flight can be tricky.

That is why we have put together these useful tips for photographing birds in flight.

Research Bird Behaviour

According to new research, there could be about 18,000 species of birds in the world. Unique in appearance and behaviour, each species is a new photographic challenge.

Researching bird behaviour is crucial to good bird photography. Some birds exist in flocks. Others pair only to mate. Some birds exist in the wilderness, others in urban environments. Some birds are active during the day, while others are awake at night. Some birds glide in flight, and others flap frantically.

Finding the right spot for bird photography needs some research too. Depending on where you are based, bird maps like big data can be a useful resource. They will help you plan the location of your shoot.

Plenty of information can also be found online or through local organisations and clubs. Getting in touch with local bird-watching communities is a great way to get inside info on bird-photography hot spots.

Use a Telephoto Lens For Close-Ups

Having a good telephoto or super-telephoto is more than ideal in wildlife photography.

It is possible to use a lens with less of a reach but your photography will need a lot more legwork. You can also photograph birds that are more accustomed to humans (i.e. seagulls and pigeons). Generally, a long lens allows you to get closer to more birds.

As you will probably be far from your subject, we suggest using a lens with a focal length of at least 200mm. But a lot depends on the animals’ habits and sizes. From the same distance, you will need a longer focal length to capture a hummingbird than to capture an eagle.

You will also want a lens with a fast focusing capability. Birds sometimes fly erratically, and you will want a lens that can keep up.

The use of a teleconverter is another way to extend the reach of a lens. They are cheaper than a dedicated telephoto but there are some significant drawbacks. Reduced maximum aperture, enhanced camera shake, slower focus speed, and increased image degradation are possible. Also, telephoto lenses with fix focal lengths usually provide better image quality.

Avoid Blur

A tripod or monopod with a ball head or gimble is useful for heavier lens configurations. The equipment can help avoid camera shake and eases the strain on your back and neck.

Also, camera shake is an issue with telephoto lenses. Due to the long focal length and narrow field of view, they are more sensitive to movement. This is why wildlife photography often needs the usage of a tripod. You can easily have blurred images if you hold your camera in your hands.