Birds are found in every imaginable shape, size and colour, all over the world. Photographing them is a delight but capturing pin-sharp images of moving birds such as flying, diving into water or displaying, can be a challenge. Below are some tips and techniques that I have been teaching my photography workshop participants for the past 15 years.
1. Fast Shutter Speed
One of the most important things when trying to capture bird behavior is to make sure your camera’s shutter speed is high enough to capture the movement. For SLR or Mirrorless camera users, when shooting at a focal length of around 400mm, I generally suggest a minimum of 1/1500th or 1/2000th of second, so as to capture the movement without blur. For fast-flying bird, even higher speeds are recommended.
2. Back-button Focus
Back-button Focus is a feature on many various camera models that works really well when taking action shots. With back-button focus, you use your thumb to focus and your index finger to press the shutter button. Once focus is locked on a moving subject, when used in conjunction with continuous focus, it won’t leave the subject and try and focus on the background, especially if the subject has moved faster than you can track it. Many pro photographers use back-button focus to great effect and I have been encouraging my photography workshop participants to use this method for many years now.
3. Using Continuous Focus
To keep focus on a moving bird, it is imperative that you switch your focus mode to ‘Continuous’, so as to achieve greater focus accurately. Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax etc call their moving subject focus style ‘Continuous’, while Canon call their focus style ‘AI Servo’. It is important to lock focus on the moving bird by half depressing the focus button and keeping it that while following the subject. You can then take the shots whelp not the subject is in the best position. I always recommend using ‘Continuous Focus’ with continuous shutter mode or ‘burst’.
4. Best Focusing Method
If you are new to photographing bird behaviour, especially birds in flight, I suggest using a single focus point in the center of the frame. That way, no matter which direction the bird is flying from, you have a much better chance of capturing the perfect moment. Also, if the sky is blue and there are no distractions in the background, using 3D tracking or similar can be advantageous in helping with the focus locking onto the bird.
5. Preempting Bird Behaviour
One very important aspect of capturing that exact ‘split-second’ bird behaviour moment is to wait patiently until something happens. Recently, while presenting a photo expedition to Antarctica, we had dozens of penguins standing on the rocks near the shoreline. My group waited patiently for that exact moment when they started jumping into the water, then clicked away like crazy!! Carefully observing the penguins and preempting when they were about to jump, helped our photography group in getting great action shots.
If you have a passion for wildlife, nature or travel photography and would love to go on a small-number, professional photography adventure, please get in touch with Michael Snedic at WildNature Photo Expeditions. You can call him on 0408 941 965 or fill in this Contact Form and he will get back to you ASAP.