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Tips for Photographing Birds in Flight

Wild birds are beautiful, and they make great photography subjects. But capturing birds in flight can be tricky. Here are 8 tips for photographing birds in flight.

Research the Type of Bird You’re Photographing

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

Researching bird behavior is crucial to good bird photography. Some birds exist in flocks, others pair only briefly 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 slowly in flight, others flap frantically.

Understanding these behaviors allows you to make informed decisions when out in the field.

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

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

Take Photos During the Golden Hour for Softer Light

All photography is about light. But to make a good photograph great, planning for optimum lighting conditions helps.

The golden hours are considered the best times to photograph birds in flight. Birds are most active during these transitional parts of the day, which increases the chance of a successful shot.

That isn’t to say that the golden hours are the only time to photograph birds in flight. Golden hour light has a soft quality that illuminates rather than interrupts the form of the bird.

The ideal lighting position for bird flight photography is front lighting. This means the sun is at your back with birds flying towards you or passing in front of you.

After you’ve chosen a general location for your shoot, have a look at the orientation of the sun and where the ideal spot might be. There are resources online that can help you with your calculations.

Another interesting lighting opportunity is photographing the silhouette of a flying bird. Wait until the sun is rising or setting.

Position yourself so that the sun will be behind the bird, and meter for the brightest part of the scene. Then wait for a bird to fly between you and the sun.

Use a Telephoto Lens to Capture Up-Close Images of Birds

In wildlife photography, having a good, long lens to pair with your DSLR is more than ideal. Birds are living things, and they tend to avoid people (except in magpie swooping season!).

It is possible to use a lens with less of a reach. But your flying bird photography will require a lot more legwork.

You can also focus on distance or photography involving birds that are more accustomed to humans (think seagulls and pigeons).

A long lens allows you to get closer to more birds. You’ll capture them in flight in much finer detail.