How to capture birds in flight – Wildlife Photography Tutorial

Hi! In this video, I’ve come out and about to
show you how to capture birds in flight. Hi! I’m Adam and welcome to First Man Photography
the channel that will help you take your photography the next level. If you haven’t done so yet, head over to,
fill in your details to join the email list and I’ll send you a free copy of the ebook
on how to capture perfect exposure every time. Okay, lets get into this. Wildlife photography is an extremely popular
area of photography and capturing birds in flight is one of the most challenging and
rewarding pictures you can ever capture, particularly, because, usually, there’s no second chance. In this video, we’re going to look at some
of the gear you’re going to need, we’re going to talk about the camera settings you
want to use and we’ll also go through a couple of techniques that will maximise your
chances of capturing those beautiful shots. Any modern DSLR is capable of capturing birds
in flight and people talk about crop factor. That gets you close to the birds but I really
don’t think that’s the limiting factor when it comes to capturing the great shots. More appropriate will be to find a camera
that has a great autofocus system whether that’s full frame or cropped, it doesn’t
really doesn’t matter because getting close to your subject, if you can, is going to have
a much bigger effect. So don’t worry about the crop factor. If you’ve got a full frame camera, you’re
good to go. Having a good long lens is an absolute must
for capturing birds in flight. These can get expensive, which is not always
great, but they are very good quality, they focus fast and often they have tracking image
stabilisation which will help you keep that bird in your frame where you want it. Cheap kit type lenses like the 70-300mm often
just don’t have the fast focusing capability to be able to capture those birds in flight
on a consistent basis. Something like this Canon 400mm will be absolutely
perfect. It’s light is not going to break the bank
entirely and you can check out my review in the link down below for this lens. This, actually, doesn’t have image stabilisation
but that isn’t, actually, massively important because when we go through the setting we’re
going to use a really high shutter speed which will freeze the action anyway. So any sort of shake in your camera won’t
make a massive difference. If you have a bigger or heavier lens, you
can use a tripod, monopod or a beanbag something like that to take the strain off your arms. I, personally, prefer to handhold and that’s
what this 400mm let’s me do because it just gives you a bit more versatility to get out,
get into the location where you’re going to capture those birds flying and then, when
we come to talk about technique, it’s easier when you’re handholding. Let’s talk about the settings we’re going
to use. The first thing you need to do is to go in
to the autofocus setting and change it to continuous autofocus. In the Canon camera, this is called the Servo
AF mode and it’s something like AFC on the Nikon. So go ahead and set as that and that will
continually track the focus on the focus point that you select rather than locking it in
like you do on one shot focus. Some people will use the AF button on the
back to use the autofocus and that takes the focus away from the shutter button which then,
basically, let’s you have the best of both worlds, one-shot and the servo AF because
as you focus with the back button you can then release that and the focus will lock
just as it does in the one shot. For me, I don’t like that, I don’t know
why, because, when I’m handholding, tracking the birds, it’s just the way I grip the
camera because when I’m pressing that, I’m pressing the shutter button at the same time. I feel like I lose a little bit of smoothness
in my arm so I find it more difficult to track. That’s just a personal thing but that works
for a lot of people. When you’re tracking the bird, you need to
keep the bird over the focus point you have selected. I, generally, just use the very centre point
but that’s personal preference. Play around with your autofocus system. Some people use the five centre autofocus
points. It really depends on your camera and how many
autofocus points and settings it has. Have a play around. Start off with full auto, if you want to,
and then narrow it down to the focus point that works for you. Go ahead and try for yourself. The next thing we’ll do is switch to manual
mode and this may sound scary but it’s really not as bad as it seems once we start talking
about some of the settings we’re going to use. The most important thing to set first is shutter
speed. You want to have a shutter speed of at least
1/1000 of a second or faster because that’s what’s going to allow you to really freeze
the action of the birds. Any slower than, you might that start to get
blurring and it’s going to get much harder to capture those sharp shots. For the aperture, when you’re capturing
birds in flight, you probably want to stop down to something like 7.1 or F8 because that
just increases the chances of capturing sharp shots because of increasing the depth of field
a little bit. If you are in dark conditions, that can be
you will have to balance that out with ISO. If you’re on a nice bright day, you might
be able to keep your ISO lower but the last thing, obviously, is the ISO and we’re going
to use that to balance our exposure in certain situations. I’m very often going to ISO1000 something
like that. I really try not to go over that but in a
lot of conditions that will work for you just fine. Especially with the good noise handling of
modern cameras. So ISO1000 is the maximum and try anything
underneath that depending on your light conditions. So let’s now talk about the technique. Like I said, I’m a big fan of handholding
and that’s what this lens and camera lets me do. So, when I’m tracking, I will try and watch
where the birds are going, plant my feet nice and firm, with slightly bent knees and bring
the camera up to my face and then it’s just a case of twisting at the hip. A little bit like capturing a panoramic landscape. So you’re going to start and then just pan
around as you’er shooting. The camera is up to your face, looking through
the viewfinder, you can then just track the bird around nice and smooth because you want
to be able to keep that bird on the focus point, like I said. This is where IS can help, image stabilisation,
because it lets you track the bird a little bit easier taking some of that movement out
of your pan. So again, you bend your knees, look through
the viewfinder and then pan around and then start pulling the shutter as soon as you get
the bird under that focus point. Have it on continuous shooting so you can
capture a few frames at once. Don’t go too crazy because when you come to
post-processing you will just have too many shots to go through but do use continuous
firing because there is somewhat of an element of luck. you’re not going to be able to see exactly
if you’ve got a great shot at the time. Another technique you can use is to use a
tripod. I’ve got this tripod here and this is just
a standard travel tripod, in fact, but I find that it is good enough to hold this lens if
I have hold of it as well. Just lock your lens onto your tripod like
this. Then once that’s done, you can then just
leave it, if you’ve got a ball joint like this one does, just leave it loose and then
you can just use it to pan around. That’s an option, if you don’t want to be
hand holding your camera all day long. You can also use a monopod like this one here. Again, you’re going to track around with
that as well. It’s going to take the weight. You can also, if you don’t have a monopod
and you don’t want to invest in one separately, just use your tripod in the same way and bring
the legs together like this. You can track around as you would with a monopod
and then you don’t have to go to the extra expense of buying that monopod. The premium option, when it comes to tripods,
is to use a gimbal head like this one attached to a nice big tripod to have that firm base. You’ve got lots of movement, in that tripod,
to then to go up and down, left and right, to track those birds. Again though, I really recommend first trying
handheld. I have had the most success and the best images
that I’ve captured have come from handholding. If you get a lens like this one it isn’t too
heavy and it gives you the ability to go out and be bit more mobile and really get into
some much more interesting locations not have to faff about putting a tripod up before you
start shooting. It’s not always easy because you’ve got
to get into the right places. That sometimes takes some local knowledge,
a bit of research to find out where those birds are going to be especially if you want
to shoot some really interesting birds like birds of prey. You’re going to have to do your research
work or, like me, find a friend who does that for you and then go out shooting with him
or her. I hope you enjoyed that. Please leave a comment down below and let
me know what you thought of the video. Have you tried it yourself? Are you now going out to try it? I’d really like to hear from you. If you haven’t subscribed to the channel already,
please do so. There are videos going up on a Wednesday and
a Sunday. I’ll see you on another video very soon. I’m Adam! This is First Man Photography… Out!!!

100 thoughts on “How to capture birds in flight – Wildlife Photography Tutorial

  1. Adam, it is great to see somebody being realist about the settings of the camera. Anything below F8 (I don't normally go below F9 photographing eagles in flight) is just asking for the bird to fly right out of your depth of field as you press the shutter. I praise you because there are other "bird photographers" that will stop down to f5.6, but most of their photos are of birds sitting on branches. There is nothing like photographing a bird in flight, since it is very dynamic to get the wildlife in action. Sitting there is just way too dull!!!

    As for lenses I wouldn't bother with the cheaper lenses that go for around $200 or less. You get one, and you might think it is great until you can see what a $1000.00 lens can do. This goes for printing as well.

    I use a Sony A7 with everything in manual, including the focus. I can't keep a tiny little square on a bird in flight to allow the auto focus to work properly. Sony uses what is called the "peeking mode" which works very well to keep that eagle in flight in focus, and I have sold these photos as large as 20 X 30 for people to hang up in their living rooms.

    Adam, best advice so far keep it up.

  2. Hi Adam I live in the middle of the Norfolk Boards and actually have been doing portrait photography what a twit, with all this wildlife around me and so many birds. Following you tutorial to the letter and also taking a boat ride so here's hoping. Going out on Ranworth Broard just hope the weather holds

  3. Great video, I am new to photography and would love to see a video for beginner Birds in Flight shooting and how the Apeture, shutter speed and ISO correlate with each other.

  4. This video is excellent, Adam, and has really encouraged me to improve my bird photography.Thank you so much.

  5. Great video, thanks!
    Can't find the link to the newsletter anymore though. And that e-book sounds interesting 🙂

  6. I have a Canon 70d with the base lens which we get when we buy the camera can I be able to shoot the photo of birds but anyway great video I subbed your channel

  7. Misleading title. This was not about capturing birds and wildlife but rather how you would set your camera to take the shots. It was a camera settings tutorial. At the end you said find a friend with local knowledge. That was the only advice you gave on tactics to capture birds in flight.

  8. I don't want to be negative, but I had to lower the volume of the video to nearly off because your music was way too loud as compared to your speaking voice.

  9. 400mm lens price not going break bank as he said what do you tell someone not breaking bank when they don't have good paying job when they barely make over 100 each week

  10. i only have a 75-300mm f3.5 lens , on my canon d1300 but i am going to have a go with what i have for now, but i will save for the 400mm lens if you say its better. i am going to have a go using te advice you have just given , thank you

  11. If you're a nikon user, try using 3D tracking in the AF-F options. It will automatically find your subject and track focus. The Nikon 70-300mm Kit lens isn't the best but Nikon as a low cost 55-300mm alternative with VR that is simply stellar for wildlife photography for someone more casual or on a budget.

  12. Ok guys here is the settings! Widest aperature possible like f4 and a high shutter speed like 1000 and maybe if its cloudy change this iso from 100 to 400

  13. is it possible to capture birds with the canon 77d..? ? 1/4000 it's not as good as the canon 80d with 1/8000.. thx for your help

  14. Why is the music so much louder than your voice? Tried to watch in a quiet room and it was really annoying. Good info but lose the louder music.

  15. hello Adam ,
    EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM &
    EF300mm f/4L IS USM

    i want to buy a telephoto lens and the above 2 are my choices . i want to know that which lens i should buy ?
    basically i need a lens with which i can capture birds , landscapes and portraits too . so which is a better choice b/w these two lenses ?

    plz help me out . i am really confused b/w these two . which is a better option according to my needs in long run .


  16. This was an excellent introduction to capturing birds in flight. I took notes and will be passing your video on to my daughter because we will be going to West Coast Falconry in the Spring and get a close up tour of birds of prey they keep there.

  17. With Canon, in AI Servo, and using BBF, the camera tracks focus while you hold the AF-ON button down. When you press shutter release, the camera is ready to fire without delay. If you release the AF-ON button, then you must acquire focus again. On those Canon cameras without the AF-ON button, you can reassign the AE button in the settings.

  18. Hudson Henry, in his channel, describes using a video head for wildlife photography the one he's using is quite cheap.

  19. For a newcomer to photography this really helped me grasp shutter speed and how it's translated to the exposure, so thanks

  20. With regards to Canon 'Back Button Focus' I set my camera on AI Servo as you have done and configure BBF to lock the focus as in 'One Shot' in case I'm waiting for something to land in a certain spot etc. This works better for Wildlife Photography.

  21. Don't agree with you regarding balancing shutter speed and Aperture with ISO. In my experience, if the animal is anything smaller than filling half the frame then ISO will ruin the shot because you can't crop in as it just extenuates the noise and reduces sharpness and quality. I shoot ISO 100, Aperture Priority and control the shutter speed with aperture if required and as the aperture is wide open, I get the fastest possible shutter at the ISO 100 setting. I only ever raise ISO if the subject is big enough in the frame and I know that I will not have to crop into the shot much. Of course this means that sometimes, I'm down to 1/160th of a second or less and that takes practice but, with a modern stabilised lens it can be done and I do that regularly.

  22. I like your video, but could you do big favour to all us just set your speach to same level as music. Is annoying to move slider up and down. Please read it in good. I dont want to be a asshole or something. Lol … thank you .. keep it, your work is realy good.

  23. Hey do you have any video on what are the different settings and elements in an average camera
    If not please upload one
    Because your videos are a final destination to me.

  24. Good video with helpful tips. If shooting manual do you have tips for how to meter? e.g. how to select the best iso? Do you meter on the sky or the ground?

  25. Good video for the most part. No offense. But your tripod is pathetic. Invest in a better one. And don't raisev the center post unless you totally need to. They are very unstable. You are better off hand holding it than using that tripod.

  26. Thanks. Do you ever worry about getting in the way of the sun which can damage the camera. (I ask that, where I photograph herons, they are almost between the morning sun and the photographer and inevitably fly past the morning sun.)

  27. I didn't hear you talk about focus points. I find these the most confusing thing, can you comment? I have a Canon 7D2 and there are about 12 options. Many thanks

  28. Hi Adam! Have you experimented with auto iso? Just curious on your thoughts with it. I’ve been shooting with auto iso and have had great results, especially with tracking birds as they fly between sunny skies and dark backgrounds such a hills and forests.
    Great videos brotha! Cheers!

  29. Adam, No comments about zooming 'out' initially to find the birds in your viewfinder and then zooming in to isolate them for the photo.

  30. It's time I bought a new lens I think. Very hard with an older nikon lens with manual focus. Thanks for video good tips

  31. Can you give me advice on the canon 80d with the efs 100-400mm L USM MK1.
    How do I get sharp shots with this lens, I have been shooting 2000 shutter speed, f5.6 – f8, auto iso (limited to no greater than 3200) single spot focus and servo af.

    I have been practicing on gulls.
    Is there any way I could send you a couple of images to help show what I mean.

  32. Hi great video!!! But what exposure do you use as I’m getting a lot of my shots that is a silhouette

  33. Nice tutorial. Your tips apply to getting better pictures of perched birds if you're stuck with a kit lens as well. Thanks.

  34. THANK YOU. Informative and directly to the point. (Some people just don’t need to post tutorial videos).Thanks Adam.

  35. Do I have to buy a long lense to buy in order to get and "A" for Creative Photography?
    Will this let me get extra credit. ??

  36. Would this 400 mm be good for the canon m50 ? I have the 75-300mm and it does not seem to be getting very good bird shots

  37. Great information! Saw you first with Morten in the Vans traveling in Scotland. Great fun. I am just wondering if you have Bald Eagles in GB? Or were those taken in US or Canada? What I did not know is that the white headed versions are also around in Europe, me now living in Canada for the last 20 years. Gonna try out your technic tomorrow here on the West Coast, Vancouver Island. Thanks again.

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