I had the opportunity to go on the James River in Virginia where osprey and bald eagles are frequent visitors. I wanted to be sure I’d catch them in flight, so before we got on the boat, I had my camera settings locked in. Most cameras allow specific settings to be mapped to a custom button enabling an effortless change of settings. My shutter speed was 1/2500. (It should be at least 1/1600 to 1/2000 for most birds in flight). Aperture was set at f/8.0 for a good depth of field on the bird but less detail in the background. ISO was set at 800 since we had good morning light. I also made sure my camera was set to Continuous AF, wide-area tracking, and its highest frame rate.
Photographing birds in flight is always a challenge. I was surprised at just how fast these amazing creatures really are. When they spot a fish and tuck their wings to drop to the water, it’s a challenge to even keep them in the frame. The key is to lock focus and start tracking the birds as soon as possible. I use back button focus, so I would pick a target bird, hold focus, and track them until I saw a flight position I liked. Then I would start to shoot and follow the action.
Often multiple birds are making hunting passes and there really isn’t any time to fuss with settings. It helps to know your camera, be able to change settings without looking, know how its AF system works, understand the behavior of your species, and just practice. If you’re interested in osprey, Mark Smith has a YouTube channel with some fantastic videos.
Barred Owl In Flight by David Roberts (324mm, f 5.6, 1/2000, auto ISO 2500)
One of the primary activities practiced at the Colleyville Nature Center (CNC) is photography, and the primary subject being photographed is wildlife, particularly birds. By far the most popular birds at CNC are the Barred Owls, with the spring mating season and subsequent arrival of the baby owls (owlets) being the peak time of activity for the year.
I was fortunate on a recent visit to find the ‘West Side’ female owl sunning herself in the
opening of the iconic ‘Owl Tree.’ After posing for some static shots in great light with awesome catchlights in her eyes, she decided to stretch her wings and take flight. I had witnessed this exact scenario many times before, as this is my third owl season at CNC. I knew there was a good chance she would fly instead of returning to inside the tree, so I was prepared with the proper camera settings. As with many things, timing is everything. Even though you know its coming, its amazing how easy it is to be distracted by conversation with a fellow photographer or simply removing the camera from your eye to scratch your nose. There is certainly an element of luck involved here, and luck was on my side.
This image was captured on March 5, 2020, at 10:10 a.m. with a Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 contemporary lens.
This great heron was photographed at the Colleyville Nature Center as it flew above Angler’s Pond.
I had been watching this particular heron for quite a while and using it as practice for birds-in-flight photography.
I had come to recognize the signs that it would take flight, and I felt that it would fly over this pond and toward another one. That helped me anticipate where it would go.
Sure enough, almost on cue, it lifted off. With my shutter release set to continuous high-speed, 1/1600s, f/6.3 and ISO 1000, the camera clicked away, and I was able to capture the beauty of this heron’s flight as the wing tip barely grazed the surface of the pond.
I’m still practicing and learning how to capture birds in flight, and this is my favorite image so far in that quest.