REMEMBER: Tips are the bare minimum amount of knowledge for a particular task. It is not intended to include anything other than a starting point for your photographs. In most cases, this will be enough to get you started.

A full discussion for all tips will come with time.

TIP: How to Photograph Birds in Flight — Basics


1. I shoot in Shutter Priority most of the time.
2. Optimal camera settings (under perfect conditions)

Shutter speed: 1/2000 or higher
Aperture: f/8
ISO: 200
Focus: Group or 9 points (as close as you can get to that)
Metering: Center-weighted
Release: Fastest setting (controls how fast your shutter will take shots when
you hold down the shutter button – not all cameras have this feature)

The problem is that we rarely have optimal conditions. I tend to shoot birds in flight in the early mornings when the light may be less than desirable. The optimal settings above would not give us an image at all under those conditions.

So, here is how I adjust. These are minimum settings
Shutter speed: no less than 1/1000
Aperture: wide open – the smallest number on your aperture dial which is 5.6 for my big lens.
ISO: 1600 (see note below “ISO Considerations”)

3. Take test shots.

  • Find an object at the edge of the sky, like a pine cone, tree branch, or leaf.
  • Focus on it with either the Optimal Settings or the Minimum Settings depending upon the conditions. (Don’t worry if your conditions are in between the two – we
    will be adjusting).
  • Review your test shot.
    • Is it too dark? Raise your ISO to a higher number and take another shot and repeat until the image on your screen is acceptable.

NOTE: High ISO settings are not likely to give you acceptable shots, depending
upon your camera and your post-processing. You want to keep lowering your ISO
as the light gets brighter.

    • Is it too light? You are in luck. Lower your ISO to a lower number and take another shot. Continue until you get to an ISO of 400.
    • If you are still too light, I would raise my shutter speed until I get a well-exposed shot.

4. Be aware of where the sun is.

  • You want it behind you. It doesn’t have to be directly behind you but it should
    be so your targets are directly lit by the sun and not in shadow.

5. If you cannot get the sun behind you and cannot move into a better location, adjust
your Exposure Compensation or your target will be in silhouette.

  • You will have to use trial and error for the proper setting but expect to need at least +2, if not +4.

NOTE: On cloudy days or before the sun is up, you will have a similar problem
and should also adjust your AE. Under those circumstances, +2 if usually enough
but take test shots to make sure.

ISO CONSIDERATIONS – the higher the ISO, the more likely you are to have “noise” in the
photo. This can render results that will not be acceptable at all but a little
noise is no big deal. Some cameras handle noise better than others. You will
have to determine what the max setting is for your camera.


1. Use good techniques.

  • 3 point camera steadying posture
  • Arms at your sides, bracing your shoulders slightly
  • Move slowly, evenly tracking your target
  • Slowly press the shutter button

2. The larger the bird, the closer you can zoom in

  • A Pelican is relatively slow-moving so you can zoom in and fill the frame
    without much danger of cutting off part of his body
  • Smaller and fast moving birds, such as Terns, songbirds, etc, move rapidly
    and change direction without warning. It is best not to zoom in too tightly
    but rather pull back on your zoom a bit to give more room for their changes
    in direction without falling out of frame.

3. Don’t just take one or two shots.

  • Keep pushing that shutter (or hold it down if you have continuous shutter release.
  • The more shots you take, the more likely it is you will have the wings in a great location.
  • Digital “film” is free. Shoot.

LASTLY – Keep reviewing your shots. Make adjustments based on the images you are
getting. Try to get as close to the Optimal Settings as the light and conditions
will allow.

I try to get to 1/1600 as quickly as I can; then to an ISO 320 or smaller; and most of the time don’t really care that much about aperture.

Higher shutter speed and lower ISO are my preferences.

When I am at or near Optimal Settings with those two, then I adjust my aperture.

These are just the very basics. Every item has more details and information. Plus, there are a lot of other considerations that we cover in the class.