Winging It – Gulls in Flight Part 2


One of my most popular posts, Gulls in Flight – A Photography Learning Experience was when I was really learning to photograph birds in flight. Read on for three tips I since learned to make the shots you see here.


That post has been read over 5000 times, so many people must like “seagulls”. Not as popular as some of my garden posts being viewed over 12,000 times (a new one coming this Wednesday Walks), but that is pretty good for a post on a common bird. Maybe the attraction to seagulls is that which is found in the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Other popular bird posts:


In the story, Jonathan finds himself bored with his life as a flock gull and imagines more for himself. He has a desire to soar and fly to places his flock mates have never been, and for this, becomes an outcast for his unwillingness to conform to the will of the flock. He challenges himself to learn new aerial feats to achieve inner peace and happiness.


Jonathan finds a new community of gulls accepting of his differences, willing to teach him things he only had dreamed.

It makes the reader want to challenge oneself to achieve a higher level of proficiency in some endeavor.


Since that post in November 2011, I have strove to get better at photographing flying birds. Like Jonathan, I learned from others, but also from myself with practice.


Joining a bird watching group, I learned of new birds and where to find them. Gulls have quite a few different species though, 27 species of gull and 18 species of tern. That is a common tern above.


I guess if I had the initiative and enthusiasm of Jonathan, I could buckle down and learn these birds since I do like photographing them. All the gulls in this post are Ring-billed gulls.


This post is entitled Winging It, but that is furthest from the truth when shooting moving subjects. Gulls in Flight – A Photography Learning Experience discussed getting them in the frame for favorable composition. I finally nailed that aspect, no tail shots in this post.


Here, I will tell you three important things that will assure you overall success. Remember though success is relative, in that not all birds will fly as close to you as gulls.


I still find when in the field, hawks remain a challenge. In my garden, they are like photographing gulls, close and convenient. Honestly though, a nicer photograph is had if shooting them in their natural habitat.


Tip one. Use auto-focus with a center focus point. It will be much easier to keep them in the frame and in focus. Let the camera do some of the work.

Gull11-30-13-15Tip two. Keep your shutter speed high, around 1/800 to 1/1200 sec. This will mean in most cases not on a bright sunny day, setting the ISO higher than you would normally.


Tip three, shown below. Set your camera to Continuous. This is what was called motor drive in days of old. Now, it is where you depress the shutter on your DSLR and the camera clicks off continuously for, in my case, 6 frames per second. In a sense, this is “winging it” to a point.

When action is happening fast like in flying birds, it is sometimes hard to follow the action and make a nice composition. There just is no time. So when the camera fires off consecutive shots, you get to choose the best of the batch. Or like below, get a series of the action. You will find this point to be the most important. Not only does the camera follow the action, but it keeps it in focus as well.




Fridays Are For the Birds will have more shots of gulls. I hope you stop back for some pretty photos of this expressive bird and useful tips for shooting in snow.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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51 Responses to Winging It – Gulls in Flight Part 2

  1. kerlund74 says:

    Wow, exellent photos, and great tips! I have to try this:)

  2. thomasgable says:

    That first photo is an absolutely stunning photograph of the gull! Really cool stuff!

  3. Good tips! I’ll give them a try.

  4. alesiablogs says:

    No real winging it here I think! YOU are just a great photographer. I understand the fact you just let the camera do its thing, but it takes patience and time and a lot of creativity to put it all together as you do. The camera is a huge part of it all with the subject, but it is you the eyes behind the whole adventure. As always a great post.

    • Thank you, but it really is as simple as the right camera settings. I think many fear changing their cameras because they are unsure how to change them back. Cameras all have reset buttons which takes it back to simplified factory settings, so there should be no fear in trying something new. Try a few new settings, it opens a world of possibility.

  5. acuriousgal says:

    Beautiful pics….I’m going to try your tips, Donna!!

  6. You do take wonderful gull photos!!

  7. Hope says:

    Hi Donna. Your photography is breathtakingly awesome!!! Question… my point-and-shoot allows me to set my shutter speed to 800, but then it jumps to 1600 or 3200. There’s no manual settings in-between. Should I stick to the 800 with continuous setting of 6, or should I go up to the 1600? (I’m practicing on crows.)

    • It does not matter because your point and shoot should compensate for the faster shutter speed with ISO and aperture. You will get a shallower depth of field if you don’t have a bright sunny day though. When I shoot hummingbirds I often use 1/1600 sec. For gulls or crows, 1/800 sec is fine.

  8. It is truly a very expressive bird and your shots, Donna are out of this world!!! 🙂
    Happy Monday, new week and new month, last one of this year too!] 🙂

  9. I am amazed at how you got the white bird to show so well with the light background and on snow!

    • On Friday I tell how to shoot the white bird on snow and in a gray sky. Many don’t even know their point and shoot cameras have a Snow Mode or a Cloudy Mode, never leaving the auto setting to find out. Snow Mode is useful to keep the snow from turning blue. It auto sets the white balance giving snow its white non-color. Cloudy Mode warms up a gray image. Most of my tips are for DSLR cameras, but I have two tips using a point and shoot that really are helpful. My small consumer Nikon P510 is a good camera too. I just don’t use it that much except for travel.

  10. Brian Comeau says:

    I love this! So many of us ignore the common too often and miss a lot of great photographs. Beautiful shots and tips Donna.

  11. Phil Lanoue says:

    Excellent GIF pics!

  12. Oh me oh my, these are nothing short of spectacular Donna! Margie

  13. I think you got some of your practice in Maine visiting me, we certainly have plenty of gulls. Many people odd not like seagulls, but I think they are beautiful.

    • The post on Friday has a Black Back from Maine. I used it as an example how water glare is similar to snow. So yes, I did get lots of practice in Maine with gulls. I have lots of good photos of them, just not sure in what context to post them.

  14. Fergiemoto says:

    Those flight shots are so amazing, and so clear! Fantastic!
    I have a lot of practicing to do.

    • Thank you FM. I need to start practicing on those hawks! Problem with them is that there are so few flying around and they fly at such extreme heights most often. The only time I ever get close enough to them is either when they hunt in the garden in winter or in the fields after they make a kill. They are not the most photogenic when they are eating either.

  15. Thanks for the tips, Donna. I will try some of these. Do you use a tripod for this type of photography? One of these days, I’m going to head to the zoo to practice bird and animal shots.

  16. tyannak says:

    Thanks for the tips! very Inspiring

  17. mariekeates says:

    Seagulls are plentiful around here. Quite often they creep into my photos when I didn’t really need them but I’m not complaining. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull is one of my favourite books but the next one, Illusions, is even better.

  18. Patty says:

    Thanks for the tips – I can sure use them ! Love the landing photos, with the wings curling around the body.

  19. catmint says:

    dear Donna, of all your posts, these kinds, in which you share your techniques for achieving such fantastic shots, are my favourites. Thank you so much. I think I am getting better, but those unpredictable flying birds are still not lining up with my camera. Just because gulls are common, they’re still graceful and wonderful.

    • Thank you. I think many have gotten better over the years with time and practice. I used to feel as you, that I could not get them in the frame. I took tips from Galen in my first post and now it is like the birds just fly in and stop cold. Not really, but I do find it easy to get them in the frame. Now to work on exposure. I find that hard because they keep flying between different shaded backgrounds too fast.

  20. lucindalines says:

    I loved that story Jonathan Livingston Seagull so much that I read more by the author. Richard Bach is a great philosopher and I treasure my copy of Illusions. The pictures are beautiful. I have to have my daughter check on your tips so she can learn a little on how to get more out of her camera.

  21. This was interesting. I do very little of the photography for my blog, as you know, but this makes me want to try my hand at photographing birds.

  22. I remember your initial post which certainly challenged me to keep trying.

    • This post was much different in tips offered. They were meant to make it easier to capture birds in flight with cameras that can be set as such. The P510 is really a bit too slow to focus and does not have a real Continuous setting. It does have a Sports Mode which will fire off three shots, but I found that it is a bit less than advertised. Flying birds was the only subject I did not feel the camera worthy. It was too hit or miss.

  23. Les says:

    Tip Four: Have your son throw Cheez-its that have grown stale in the ocean air on a camping tirp from the back of a ferry to well trained gulls while you take photos before the ferry staff ask you to stop. You will get more pics than you know what to do with.

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