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Page 6 David G Hemmings

Written By onci on Monday, October 19, 2009 | 6:07 AM

Photographing Birds in Flight (Part 1 of 2) by David G Hemmings

Why do I love to photograph birds in flight?

Could it be that I always have had dreams that I can fly?

Could it be that out in the field I am at peace with myself and the world?

Could it be the thrill of capturing images of birds doing what they do best?

Could it be the infinite possibilities in each new photograph?


Every form of nature photography has challenges that make it difficult to achieve really great images consistently. The macro shooter must learn to master depth of field at 1:1 range. Landscape photographers are forced to deal with complex compositions and lighting conditions. For bird photographers, learning the art and science of flight shooting can prove to be the greatest challenge of them all. Nothing is more frustrating than attempting to track small, fast moving subjects through the viewfinder of a camera body with a large telephoto lens attached at the business end. I am hoping that through the images and information contained in this article that I can inspire and educate all of you avian photographers to become better and enjoy this wonderful pastime to its full potential.

Learn the fundamentals: Photographing birds while in flight has often been compared to shooting trap or skeet with a shotgun. Whether you choose to hand hold or fire from a tripod, proper stance and form are key to achieving good images. Panning technique is relatively simple to learn. Always try to remain loose and relaxed. Do not grip the camera or lens like a vice. Avoid jerky motion, and always follow through rather than halting motion the moment the shutter is pressed. You usually have to aim a little bit ahead of your subject in accordance with the speed of the bird. You might as well get used to the fact that a high percentage of your images will be headed for the garbage bin for many different reasons. Eye and hand coordination is important when shooting birds in flight. This will likely improve with time and practice. It is important to maintain correct technique whether you are getting keepers or not. Position your camera/tripod so that you are facing the subject on approach, and in nearly all cases, it is more desirable to make your images before the bird breaks the plane and is flying away from you.

Start small: If you are new to flight shooting, I highly recommend finding a nearby landfill, shore or lake where there are gulls present. Begin with medium range telephoto lens such as a 70-200mm or 300mm lens. Use an assistant with popcorn or other food to feed the birds - they will often hover at close range, and you can fire away while honing your newfound skills. Do not try small, fast moving birds using long telephotos until you are adept at the game of gull shooting. The importance of practice cannot be over-stressed. I often practice on birds coming in to my feeder in my back yard, with no intent of keeping the images. Lock onto the subject as early as possible, as if it were an enemy aircraft coming in to shoot you down.

Part 2 coming soon!

David G Hemmings

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