How To Photograph Birds In Flight

If you are looking to test your camera skills, then you may wish to try photographing a bird in flight. To be able to achieve this you need to be in the right location and have your camera set up correctly.

How To Photograph Birds In Flight?

In addition to this you will need to be patient and ready to quickly take an image. A bird in flight is a tricky age to take, and it will take a while for you to be able to achieve an image that you are happy with.

However, by following these simple steps, you will pull off a glorious image in no time. In this article, we will discuss how you can photograph birds in flight.

1. Setting Up

Setting up is crucial as you need to ensure you have set up the shot properly. This will then reduce the need to edit any shots afterward. Also, it will help you to be in the right place at the right time.

Discover Flight Paths

Determine areas where birds fly, particularly in large numbers, using any understanding of bird behavior that you know. This will provide you plenty of chances to practice and create the ideal image.

The more photos you can take, the better because flight photography is frequently a numbers game. Consider any areas where birds like to migrate to.

Wind And Sun Stays Behind

If you take pictures of birds in flight, attempt to do it at a time and place when the wind and sun are both at your back. Birds typically fly towards the wind, so when they are flying at an angle toward you, their heads are in the front and their underwing is showing.

This helps to make the most visually appealing flight shots. When the sun is at your back, it is easier to see birds since they fly much more slowly against the wind.

Simple Background

You can get the finest results from your camera by shooting against a plain background with low contrast, such as the sky or calm water (see also “How To Use Reflections To Enhance Your Water Photos“). 

If this isn’t an option, keep in mind that the background should be as far away as possible. The trees directly behind a bird are considerably worse than a forest in the distance.

2. Prepare Your Camera

Once you have found the right location, then you can set your camera up to get the perfect image.

Image Stabilization

You will use shutter speeds when shooting in flight that do not require picture stabilization. Having it on could hinder lens performance and make it more difficult to track subjects.

Focus Limiter

Your focus limiter should be configured to ignore nearby objects. As a result, your autofocus system can overlook a portion of your lens’s field of view and function more quickly.

This will be helpful when a bird suddenly enters the frame, and you want your camera to focus immediately (see also “How To Photograph Hummingbirds“).

Shutter Speed

If the light permits, you should choose a shutter speed of 1/2500, 1/3200, or higher. Reduce to 1/1600 or 1/1250 if there is insufficient light or if you are photographing slower moving subjects.

However, be prepared to accept that you might have a smaller percentage of sharper shots. It is also worth noting that you should set the camera you are using to the largest frame rate it has.


How To Photograph Birds In Flight?

In most situations, you should use Manual exposure mode when photographing a bird in flight and pre-set your aperture. Typically, you want to be shooting wide open at the lens’ maximum aperture with the highest shutter speed possible.

Close your aperture from wide to f/5.6 for extra depth of field if you are able to use the best shutter speed and there is more light available.

When shooting in Manual mode, the background of your photographs can change while the exposure of the bird remains constant.

As long as the bird is in the same light and your exposure is set to Manual, the bird will continue to be accurately exposed against any background.

Consider utilizing the sky as the basis for your exposure when photographing birds against a white or extremely light sky. Make the sky as light as possible while avoiding overexposing any of the bird’s components.

Tracking Sensitivity

If you are having issues with keeping the focus on your bird while in flight due to a busy background, then you need to play around with the tracking sensitivity on your camera.

Your AF Tracking Sensitivity should be set lower (more delayed) depending on how busy it is and the more problematic the background is. Depending on your camera, it can take a bit of trial and error to get right, but should allow you to stay locked onto your bird.

3. Focusing The Camera

After your camera is set up you can begin taking images of a bird in flight. Pre-focus your lens as close to where you anticipate picking up the flying bird as you can.

Otherwise, it will be challenging to identify your subject in the viewfinder and autofocus will have trouble finding it swiftly on its own.

Pre-focus by aiming the camera at some nearby vegetation or the ground, about where you anticipate picking up the bird, and setting focus. Then raise your camera and hold it there until the bird enters the frame before turning on autofocus.

4. Taking An Image

Keep your knees slightly bent and adopt an athletic stance, when standing. Take a firm hold of the camera in your right hand, extend your left hand as far as is comfortable to stabilize the lens.

When you see a bird, tuck your elbows into your sides, and move your body instead of moving your arms or head to follow the bird. As soon as a bird enters your frame, begin taking images and follow the bird until it is out of sight.

It is better to take various images as it gives you more options, rather than waiting to take one sole image and missing the right moment.

5. Be Patient

It may take some time for you to get that shot you are after, hence it is important to be patient. In addition to this, it is also worth getting a number of shots while everything is set up.

This way you can then go home and look through and filter out the images that are no good. As long as you have set your camera correctly, then you should have the perfect birds in flight images that don’t require any editing.

However, don’t be discouraged if you don’t get that perfect shot the first time. Capturing birds in flight is a challenge, and takes practice to get it right.


It can seem like a daunting task to try to photograph a bird in flight. Yet, by following all the steps we have outlined above you will be able to achieve those perfect shots. It is essential that all your camera settings are correct before you begin shooting.

Also, you need to have a clear understanding of the bird you want to photograph. This includes knowing their flight paths. In addition to any signs they show when they are about to move.

This will make taking a picture much easier. We hope you have found this article helpful, now you should be able to photograph birds in flight.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Do You Need To Keep In Mind When Photographing Birds Of Prey?

When photographing birds of prey, you need to choose a quiet mode and restrict your camera to either short bursts or a single shot.

This won’t draw attention or scare the birds away. Also, you want to stay out of view and not make any sudden movements, otherwise this will drive the birds away.

Do You Need To Use A Tripod For Photographing Birds In Flight?

A tripod can help to make your shots and camera more stable. In addition to this, if you set your camera up in the right spot on the tripod, then you are already in place when a bird flies past. You don’t have to fumble with your camera to get it in the correct spot.

What Kind Of Lens Is Needed For Bird Photography?

It is known birds are quite nervous and sky creatures, thus it can be difficult to get very close to them. Thus, you need a lens which has a minimum focal distance of 300 mm.

While this is a little short, it is minimum, so a greater lens than 300 mm will be much more beneficial. A lot of professionals will use a telephoto zoom lens, as you can get right up to the action while keeping a distance. They usually have a focal length of 500 mm.

Laura McNeill
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