Camera techniques Come fly with us
Discover James Paterson’s top tricks for photographing raptors in flight and lift your bird photography to new heights
Getting great shots of birds in flight requires a combination of sound camera skills, good knowledge of the subject, and a healthy dose of luck. The action often happens so quickly that you’re shooting almost blind, relying on your camera and instinctive technique to bag the perfect shot.
The subject provokes furious debate on the best camera settings and gear to use (in wildlife circles ‘birds in flight’ even has its own acronym: BIF). But if you know how to set your camera up to respond to the action, you can increase your chances of a tack-sharp bird photo, which is a feather in the cap for any aspiring wildlife photographer.
One of the easiest ways to get up close to birds in flight is to visit a sanctuary or zoo that has displays. We went to the excellent Hawk Conservancy Trust in Hampshire to photograph these majestic birds of prey. At places like this you’ll see scheduled aerial demonstrations through the day, and many also host tailored photography days and private sessions where the falconers can set up shots especially for you.
The right kit can make all the difference to your pictures. A long telephoto lens is essential if you want
The subject of bird photography provokes furious debate on the best camera settings and gear to use. In wildlife circles ‘birds in flight’ even has its own acronym: BIF
to fill the frame with a distant subject. We used a Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 for our photographs here. However, it’s not all about the gear, as knowledge of bird behaviour is just as important. That’s another reason why shooting at a display is useful while you’re learning: our bird handler, Cedric, was on hand to offer advice as well as control the flight path so that we could shoot from the best position.
Even the most experienced wildlife pros will come away from a shoot like this with plenty of unusable shots, so don’t lose heart if you find you have a lots of soft photos. The two biggest challenges here are framing and focusing. We’ll show you how to push your D-SLR’s autofocus to its limits, and offer tips on how to anticipate the action. And the best advice we can give? Shoot lots and lots of frames!