How to capture birds in flight and fast-moving animals

Recording wildlife, specifically fast-moving animals in action, is a skill that one masters through practice. It takes both perseverance and perseverance to get those dramatic and mesmerising images. Ben Hall guides us through whatever you require to learn about recording birds in flight and fast-moving animals.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) diving and catching a rainbow trout, Scotland.

You don’t need to travel to distant, exotic locations, as chances for action photography are all around us– from birds in our back garden and your local park to the sea cliffs up and down the coastline. Similar to any type of wildlife photography, investigating and observing your subjects is vital, and will ultimately help to get you into the right place at the correct time.

There are other essential methods, however, which will assist you on your method to catching amazing action pictures of wildlife.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) diving and catching a rainbow trout, Scotland.
Brilliant however soft easy work wonders here. It offered adequate speed to freeze the moving bullfinch and chaffinch but kept shadows at a minimum, which helped to expose a lot of information. Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, 100-400mm, 1/1750sec at f/8, ISO 1600
A photography bullfinch and chaffinch in movement just above a small tree branch.

How do you photo birds in flight (BIF)?

Mastering the capture of birds in flight is challenging. Success needs plenty of perseverance, not to discuss the tolerance of numerous failures, however practice some simple techniques and you will soon find yourself taking successful action shots of flying birds. Preferably, you will require to shoot in reasonably intense light, given that this will enable you to utilize a fast shutter speed — which is paramount if you hope to freeze the motion of a fast-flying bird.

Nevertheless, you must prevent extreme, midday sunshine, as the resulting images will be ruined by severe shadows and bleached highlights. Shooting during the very first and last hours of sunlight will offer the best outcomes, as the low sun will illuminate the underside of the bird, exposing crucial detail that would otherwise be lost in deep shadow.

Find out more about how to take images in summertime light..

Catching a bird in flight includes more interest and drama to the topic.
A photograph of a seagull in flight.

What shutter speed should I utilize for birds in flight?

Aim for a shutter speed of at least 1/1000sec and select the predictive vehicle focus setting. Broadening your focus points to a group is a helpful way of increasing your margin for mistake when it comes to tracking your topic. You will lose some precision, however, so you might require to stop down to a smaller aperture to increase the depth of field in case the focus point picks out the wing instead of the head.

A great panning method will lead to sharper images, and getting crucial sharpness is possibly the trickiest aspect of flight photography. The secret to successful panning depends on smoothness and anticipation. To embrace the right posture, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and tuck your elbows into your side to increase stability.

As your subject passes, swivel your upper body smoothly, matching the speed of the bird. Wing position can make or break a shot, so fire a burst of frames using the high-speed drive mode to provide you a sequence to pick from.
A heron bringing in nesting material during the first hour of sunlight photographed from a low angle.
I photographed this heron generating nesting material during the first hour of sunlight. The low angle of the sun has produced some subtle backlighting and wonderful background colours. Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, 500mm, 1/60sec at f/4, ISO 320.

Catching courtship displays of fasting-moving birds.

Images that illustrate wildlife behaviour, such as a reproducing pair of birds performing a courtship display screen, bonding, or passing food to each other connect with the viewer on a psychological level. They tell a story and use a glance into the topic’s life process. When taking on a project like this, you need to be prepared to put a long time in.

Investigating and observing your subject’s behaviour will be the secret to success. Choose someplace local, preferably offering simple gain access to, such as a city or nation park. This will allow you to make various visits over an amount of time.
An owl photographed in a beautiful sunset light.
The golden hour and the owl.

Start by simply observing potential topics, and taking down any patterns that you see. Search out possible backgrounds and pay attention to how the light modifications throughout the day. You must quickly have the ability to visualise the type of images that may be possible. Being armed with as much info as possible will pay dividends in the long run.

When photographing birds on water, such as displaying grebes or swans, shooting from a low angle will right away create a more intimate feel. With the help of a large aperture, a low perspective will also make it simpler to blow the background out of focus, separating your topic from any possible diversions.

For ground- or water-level topics, a beanbag is a fantastic option of assistance and must allow you to get down low enough to include a foreground which will right away produce a sense of depth.
A photograph of a kingfisher with prey in its beak.
A very quick shutter speed was required to freeze this kingfisher as it dived for its prey. Small, fast-flying birds such as this will need a minimum of 1/2500sec to ensure sharp focus. Canon EOS-1D X, 70-200mm, 1/4000sec at f/7.1, ISO 2000 (included image).

Birds in flight: Action in movement.

Pin-sharp pictures of wildlife in action certainly hold apprehending effect but revealing the movement of your topic utilizing a sluggish shutter speed can be a terrific way of capturing a sense of movement and energy. Choose an overcast day and select shutter concern to give you control over the shutter speed.

You will need to experiment to discover the best outcomes for your selected topic, however between 1/15 and 1/60 sec is an excellent location to begin. Birds in flight or shaking water from their wings can work well for this technique, their wing beats looking like brush strokes on canvas.

Dropping your shutter speed to over 1 2nd and intentionally moving the camera during the direct exposure can lead to some fascinating and abstract effects. There are no rules here, so don’t hesitate to try out different shutter speeds and electronic camera motion.

Abstract images connect with the creativity, so your subject doesn’t even need to be recognisable for the image to work.

A mammal in full sprint can look similarly excellent, so why not visit your regional deer park to explore panning? By using a similar strategy to flight photography, however using a slower shutter speed, you must find it possible to develop a motion blur effect in the background, whilst keeping the subject reasonably sharp and distinct.
A bird captured in mid air.
The Takeoff– Canon EOS-1D X. 500MM, F/5.0, 1/400s.

Birds in flight in the garden.

With a little bit of preparation work, even your own back garden can end up being a sanctuary for wild birds, supplying unlimited opportunities for action photography all year round. By putting a simple feeding pole in your garden, you must discover it simple to bring in a variety of subjects within variety.

For natural-looking shots, search for some appealing perches and use a spring clamp to attach these to the pole. You ought to find that, after some time, the birds will arrive at the perches temporarily before hopping down to the feeder. Action can be hectic at a feeding station, so watch out for moments when the birds squabble over the food and be prepared to fire at a moment’s notification.

You will require very fast shutter speeds to freeze the motion of little birds, at least 1/2000 sec, so keep your aperture wide and use a suitable ISO. To catch flight shots, attempt pre-focusing on the perch using manual focus, and fire a burst of shots as the bird removes, or comes in to land. You might require to stop your aperture to increase the depth of field but beware with your shutter speed and raise the ISO if needed.

Two swans with the heads bowed facing each other.


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