How To Photograph Flying Birds


1/1250 f8 ISO 400

Each year I offer more information to those just starting out photographing birds. It may look easy but not so without a few tips on setting your camera for the greatest success.

Bird photography is addicting. It is a continual learning process where each new species and weather condition presents its own set of things to consider. I recently learned a few new things while photographing eagles.


1/1250 f8 ISO 400

The first tip is having the right equipment. If you are just shooting perched birds, most cameras work fine. Photographing eagles I learned just how important having the right equipment is for success.


1/1600 f8 ISO 400

If going for fast flying birds, equipment matters.


1/1250 f5.6 ISO 250

And if you shoot raptors, it matters even more.


1/2000 f8 ISO 1000

You need advanced autofocus for both camera and lenses. Otherwise, the camera will not key in on your subject. Vibration Reduction on the lens can be helpful as well. I did not really use it much before I was shooting eagles handheld. It did make for better focused pictures.


1/1250 f5.6 ISO 250

I am working on getting a faster, longer lens, but 300mm and up is a good place to start for many bird subjects. The equipment can often make the difference between getting a shot or not.

Shoot in Aperture or Shutter Priority Modes when first learning to shoot birds in flight. It helps you get the hang of optimal exposure settings. It is also useful for action too. But you will find it does not work for all species of birds equally as well. Speed matters, so make sure the shutter speed is 1/1000 and above depending on the species. Eagles should have 1/2000, but Great Blue Herons can be 1/1000, even a tad less.


1/1000 f9 ISO 320

Find the sweet spot of your lenses. You will have your sharpest image. I use f8 on my telephoto lens because it keeps birds sharp and usually has sufficient DOF.


1/1600 f8 ISO 400

Use single point focus to focus on the eye of the bird. If blurry, it throws off the whole image.


1/250 f5.6 ISO 320 Too slow a shutter speed for action shots for a 300mm lens.

Shutter speed should be the equivalent or greater to the focal length of your lens. This is really important and where many make their mistakes. If you have a 400mm like me, make sure the shutter speed is higher than that number. I almost always have it higher for birds in flight, and I even keep it fast when birds are just swimming around, just in case they take off.

Shutter speed can be increased by increasing the ISO. Famous wildlife photographers will increase ISO because they often shoot flying birds early in the morning or late in the afternoon for the prettiest light. Adjusting the exposure compensation down or up works on the fly too. I overexposed the eagles so I could bring up the shadows in their dark plumage. The problem then becomes the white head. It is a balancing act for sure.

When learning, start with plentiful birds like gulls, or with big birds like herons.


1/1600 f8 ISO 400

I know this is one of opportunity, but shoot with the sun at your back. When shooting eagles the place was sited perfectly with the sun at our backs. Blue skies are a nice background. Birds tend to take off and land into the wind, so having the wind at your back is also preferable.


1/80 f10 ISO 200 Handheld

Take lots and lots of photos, especially when photographing a bird in flight. Set the camera to Continuous to click off multiple frames per second. The more photos you take, the likelihood of keepers increases.


1/1600 f8 ISO 640

When reviewing your images, delete the ones that you don’t like immediately so you are not revisiting them later.

Don’t be timid, ask for assistance. I learned so much from the helpful pro photographers in Maryland. I changed a few things on my camera settings at their suggestion.


1/320 f5.6 ISO 320 The shutter speed was just barely enough for the 300mm lens. 1/400 sec. would have been better.

Repost – I am away from blogging at this time. See, Why I Am Taking Off From Blogging to know why. See you when I return.

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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