Watch that birdie!
Shooting birds of prey in flight is a great test for the prowess for any camera and any photographer, as Chris George discovers
Pull out your long lens and find a great location to photograph birds in flight
Forget sports, if you want a real test in action photography, try getting a great shot of a bird in flight. Unlike at a stadium or race circuit, you have to track down your feathered subject in the first place, then try to freeze its movements against a distracting background. This is a true challenge for both you as the photographer and for your SLR.
How close you can get will depend on the species, but with almost all birds you will want to get the longest lens that you can sensibly afford – and
The Red Kite is a British conservation success story. It was a common scavenger in towns and cities in Shakespearean times, but had almost disappeared from the UK by the 1990s
due to the crop factor, you will need a bigger focal length with full-frame SLRs than you will with DX models.
Location is probably just as important as the equipment and settings that you use. We chose to shoot Red Kites as they can be found reliably if you go to the right spot (see opposite) in the UK. But finding the birds is not enough, you also need a good vantage point to shoot them from to see them in flight.
You want to avoid shots of the birds feeding on the ground, or against a bland, featureless white cloudscape. To avoid a silhouette, your best bet is to get up on a hill, so that you can shoot these big birds as they ride the thermals – and so that as they dip you can frame them against fields or trees. To avoid these backgrounds becoming distracting you need to use your lens wide open, minimising the depth of field. This is a bonus, as you will need to use a fast shutter speed (we recommend using 1/2000 sec). But the disadvantage of the narrow band of depth of field is that your focusing will need to be even more accurate. A smooth panning technique is needed to track the birds, along with the choice of the right AF settings.