PHOTOGRAPH BIRDS IN FLIGHT
If you are up for a challenge, try capturing dynamic images of birds in flight
Flight is arguably the aspect of bird behaviour that offers the most potential for creative photography. But before you can express your artistic flair it is important to master the skills required to capture sharp images of birds. These days it is not unrealistic to expect to be able to see feather detail – even individual barbs – in a flying bird.
At first glance the skills required to capture birds in flight appear to echo those needed in sports photography. However, there are significant differences that make this branch of wildlife photography more problematic. Firstly, flying birds tend to move unpredictably with more three-dimensional challenges than their human counterparts. Secondly, and more importantly, their movement through space is much faster, with blurringly speedy wingbeats.
Back in the days of film, flight photography was the realm of specialist imagery, or reliant on luck. Today, however, modern digital cameras and lenses are up for the challenge. In most circumstances, a shutter speed of at least 1/2,500th second is needed to ‘freeze’ movement and in an ideal world 1/4,000th second is better. Depth of field is also crucial. Although soaring birds of prey occasionally present their wings in an even plane of focus, generally flying birds require the depth of field associated with an aperture of at least f11 for satisfactory results. A combination of fast shutter speed and good depth of field may seem unrealistic at first, but you can use your ISO settings to achieve this goal.
Right FEATHER DETAIL Birds of prey are fast fliers and so a fast shutter speed and good depth of field (f11) was needed to capture this kestrel
Above top KITTIWAKE AT SEA Being pale birds, gulls add another level of complication with the background changing from blue sea to pale sky in an instant
Above PREDICTIVE PHOTOGRAPHY Predictive (i.e. best guess) focusing rather than autofocus was used to capture this flying cuckoo coming in to land