skip to Main Content
Menu
9 Amazing “Bird In Flight” (BIF) Shots That You Should Try Today!

9 Amazing “Bird in Flight” (BIF) Shots That You Should Try Today!

There are typically 9 different types of birds in flight shots:

  1. Bird Taking Off
  2. Bird Landing
  3. Flying Sideways or Parallel to the Camera
  4. Approaching
  5. Upper Wings
  6. Underwings
  7. A flock of birds in flight
  8. Motion Blur
  9. Panning

While there could be multiple variations of the above nine types but the idea remains the same. In this article, you’ll learn about all these nine different types of bird in flight shots and some field techniques.

But first I’ll recommend you to also read How to Get Tack Sharp Photos of Birds in Flight to learn the top-notch professional field techniques. You’ll also learn about the lesser-known settings for birds in flight shots.

There are specific settings and special considerations to be made for slow-moving birds (the bigger birds) and fast-moving birds (the medium and the smaller birds) in flight. Here we’ll be dealing with the general case without going too much into detail.

Download this beautifully designed Infographic where I have highlighted these 9 types in a simple and easy-to-remember format with different images.

Birds in flight or bird in flight (BIF) tips and tutorial for beginners, amateurs, novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.

Birds In Flight Shot #1: Bird Taking Off

Birds in flight or bird in flight (BIF) tips and tutorial for beginners, amateurs, novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
It was a peculiar case where luck, preparation, anticipation, understanding the birds’ behavior, and skill worked in tandem! There were two Northern Shovelers swimming in a calm pond. While I was taking their eye-level shot lying on my belly, I noticed that there was a guy crossing the road that divided this small pond. I instantly knew that they’ll take off. It was the second duck that I was able to nail the exposure and sharpness as it took off just seconds after the first one.

Most big birds give some kind of a clue—defecating or shaking off loose feathers or stretching, etc.—before flying. So, it’s very important for you to learn the birds’ behavior to be able to pull off great shots of birds taking off. 

The medium-sized and smaller birds are quite tricky to understand. So, your best bet is to go to a great location where you can aim to get more chances.

Pro Tip

The focus-lock technique (described in my Bonus eBook) works wonder for take-off shots. Once the focus is achieved on the bird, lock the focus in place and wait for the bird to take off. When it does, just fire off as many shots as you can, without reengaging the focus. This’ll ensure that you get the tack sharp shots. This is where the back-button focusing technique helps as you just have to release the focus to lock it, once the focus is achieved.

Bird Photography Settings Field Pack. The professional field tips and techniques on bird photography for beginners, amateurs, and novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
One-of-its-kind FIELD PACK — Bird Photography SETTINGS Field Pack–50 Professional Field Techniques for Bird Photographers.
(Includes 3 BONUS eBooks: 1. Back Button Focusing 2. The Tricks of the Trade, & 3. Bird Photography Nuggets)

A Word of Advice

If you want to increase your chances of getting better and sharper images of the bird taking off, try to aim for the bird that might take off sideways or parallel to your camera sensor. This way you’ll have plenty of time to take multiple shots and also you’ll not lose the focus.

Birds in flight or bird in flight (BIF) tips and tutorial for beginners, amateurs, novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
I was able to pull this once-in-a-lifetime shot of a Pied Kingfisher taking off bang inside the setting sun disk because the bird took off parallel to the camera (or sideways). Since it was a silhouette, it’s a mandatory requirement to have the bird’s shape clearly defined. I was fortunate enough to not only get the perfect wing position and the head angle, but also the legs! While it’s undeniable that luck plays a major role in such shots, you must be well prepared for the chance too. You got to anticipate when the bird is going to fly, if at all. Because the tolerance for error is almost nil. In this case, I had only one shot and it turned out to be perfect!

Birds In Flight Shot #2: Bird Landing

Birds in flight or bird in flight (BIF) tips and tutorial for beginners, amateurs, novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
Landing shots of the bigger birds are far easier to take as they normally land into the wind. I was in a great position and also it was fairly easy to photograph a slow-moving bird, like Purple Heron, especially in a birding hotspot like Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in India. They are quite common species and you’ll get plenty of chances to make good images. But, never forget that great shots come only with the right mixture of skills, understanding about bird behavior, the location, and a fair bit of luck.

Wind plays a key role in making incredible shots of birds landing because, most birds—big to medium-sized ones—land into the wind. Remember to track the birds way before it’s about to land so that you have it in sharp focus. Keep the bird in the center of the frame so that you have enough space around the bird to accommodate the wingspan and also to utilize the superior autofocus capabilities of your camera.

Remember that it’s quite tricky to get the exposure perfectly on the bird when it’s underwings are bright white. So, you have to compensate for the same in the field before the bird lands.

Pro Tip

Remember that most birds have specific favorite perches. The best is to figure out where the bird is going to land and lock the focus on the perch and just lock the focus there and wait for the bird to come in. In such cases, you should also have the exposure set perfectly considering the exposure needed for the bird also.

Birds in flight or bird in flight (BIF) tips and tutorial for beginners, amateurs, novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
It’s extremely difficult to photograph small birds because of their erratic flight patterns. The Blue-tailed Green Bee-eaters normally assume certain favorite perches as they all work in groups. Once, you nail down on one of these cute little birds, it’s only a matter of making sure that you have the focus and exposure set perfectly beforehand and wait for the right moment. Using the Focus-Lock technique or Back-button Focusing technique I locked the focus on the perch and waited for the bird to come with its prey!

Read How to Do Exposure Compensation in the Field to understand the vital role of this lesser-known concept called Exposure Compensation Technique.

Birds In Flight Shot #3: Flying Sideways or Parallel to the Camera

Birds in flight or bird in flight (BIF) tips and tutorial for beginners, amateurs, novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
The birds flying parallel to the camera sensor are easier to photograph, as it’s easier for you to keep track of the trajectory and it’s easier for the autofocus system to keep the focus on the birds. This is especially critical while you are photographing more than one bird. In this case, I was able to get a perfect shot of this Sandhill Crane pair as they came into a synchronous position mid-flight in the early morning soft light against the fall background. Since I was shooting from an elevated platform (a view tower) I was able to get an eye-level shot too!

Photographing the bird as it flies sideways is your best bet to increase the success rates. The more parallel the bird is to the camera sensor, the easier it is to keep the bird in focus and its eye in sharp focus as the needed depth of field is less. 

Remember that tracking is the key to getting the best photographs of birds in flight. Wait for the autofocus to achieve the focus before shooting if you want to be ultra-sure that you get the tack-sharp photos. Keep the bird in the center of the frame so with focus point(s) in the center, because, the center focus point is the fastest in any camera. You can crop it later in the post-processing stage for composition.

Pro Tip

Always start tracking (or following the bird to keep it in the viewfinder) the bird when it’s still far off. This allows the autofocus to have enough time to achieve the focus. Once the bird is sharp enough in the viewfinder, wait until the bird is almost parallel to the camera sensor to get the best looking photographs.

Birds In Flight Shot #4: Approaching

Birds in flight or bird in flight (BIF) tips and tutorial for beginners, amateurs, novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
Photographing the approaching birds is the toughest in terms of autofocus. It’s quite difficult for the autofocus (in fact, to our eyes too) to figure out the exact distance a bird (or an object) has traveled in the Z-direction. This reduction in-depth as the bird approaches makes it incredibly different for the autofocus to track the bird. The best way to get such shots is to start focusing and tracking the bird while it’s still way too far, just like I have done for this shot. I had focused and tracked the Cormorant from several meters away and just kept focusing on it until I got it at a reasonably good distance to shoot. And, I was lucky to get this incredible moment when the tip of the bird’s wing is just about to touch the water.

Photographing an approaching bird is the toughest as the autofocus is not very good in judging the change in distance in the Z-direction. In fact, our eyes also struggle to judge the change in the distance when the bird (or any object) approaches us. You are better off using center autofocus points and use a smaller Aperture like f/8-f/11 or more to ensure there’s a greater depth of field as the focus most often will lock on to the wings of the birds.

A Word of Caution

It’s a lot harder to photograph an approaching bird than anything else. You’ll miss a lot more shots than what you could comprehend. The key is to go to a place where the activity can be repeated and keep doing it until you understand how it all works and get better at it.

Birds in flight or bird in flight (BIF) tips and tutorial for beginners, amateurs, novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
A big bird with a long neck like the Snakebird or the Indian Darter can be quite challenging to photograph as it approaches. Invariably, in such cases, the autofocus point will lock on to the body or the wings. This means you need to be sure to have a deeper depth of field to keep the eyes in sharp focus. These kinds of shots are quite tricky to get. That’s why going to a birding hotspot can increase your chances as you might get several opportunities. I certainly get a lot of opportunities to shoot Indian Darters in Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary.

There are a total of 18 cases of birds in flight. If you are keen on improving your birds in flight shots instantly, as well as all other types of bird shots, then I’ll recommend you check this unique and only field pack available for bird photographersBird Photography SETTINGS Field Pack—50 Time-tested & Proven Professional Field Techniques.

Bird Photography Settings Field Pack. The professional field tips and techniques on bird photography for beginners, amateurs, and novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
One-of-its-kind FIELD PACK — Bird Photography SETTINGS Field Pack–50 Professional Field Techniques for Bird Photographers.
(Includes: 3 BONUS eBooks — 1. Back Button Focusing 2. The Tricks of the Trade, & 3. Bird Photography Nuggets)

Birds In Flight Shot #5: Upper Wings

Birds in flight or bird in flight (BIF) tips and tutorial for beginners, amateurs, novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
It’s usually a lot easier to get upper wings of a bird when you are shooting either on higher elevation or while shooting a bird of prey as it circles around in search of its prey. In this picture is a Gull that took a U-turn and was about to land couple hundred meters ahead. So, it was a chance encounter where I got a nice looking shot. Though it’s not perfect, it should give you a fair idea of how unique such photos look.

It’s quite rare to see birds in flight shots where the upper wings of the bird are displayed. You don’t have to be at a higher elevation to take such shots, you can take them while standing on level ground. Just that you require an understanding of the bird flight patterns, some practice, and some patience to get such shots.

Most of the birds of prey will fly in circles as they search for their prey, that’s when you get to shoot upper wing (as well as Underwing) pattern easily. It’s the easiest sort of a shot to take. But, seldom I see bird photographers taking advantage of it. Now that you know, you should be adding a lot of variety shots into your portfolio!

Birds In Flight Shot #6: Underwings

Birds in flight or bird in flight (BIF) tips and tutorial for beginners, amateurs, novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
As you can imagine, it’s quite easy to take a photo where a bird’s underwing pattern is seen. This is a special shot where the American Bald Eagle is almost perpendicular to the ground. An overhead shot like this is very tricky and should be avoided if you aren’t really experienced in such shots because you might hurt your neck. I was hand-holding a 300mm f/2.8 lens with a Nikon D7100 with a battery pack while I took this shot. By normal standards, it’s heavy equipment with about 5+ kg weight, I was very much used to it. But if you can pull out such shots, you might be thrilled with the results just like the way I was when I took this shot.

Photographing underwings pattern is pretty obvious as you are mostly shooting from ground level. However, I’d like to remind you that just having underwing patterns shown doesn’t necessarily make for a great photo. It’s important to aim to use underwing patterns as your compositional element. 

For instance, taking a photograph of a bird as it’s about to land with its wings in an upward position completely stretched out is a great photo. It’s not an easy shot to get, but not necessarily impossible too, especially if you follow the tips mentioned in approaching shots.

Birds in flight or bird in flight (BIF) tips and tutorial for beginners, amateurs, novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
This is one of my all-time favorite shots of a River Tern coming to land in the backlight. I was super thrilled to get this shot as it was taken in my early years into photography and I was very new to bird photography at that time. To put it into perspective, River Terns are extremely erratic in their behavior and are pretty tough to photograph too. And in Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, in Mysore, India, where I took this photo, there are usually one or two pairs of them. And getting their flight photo while balancing yourself and your equipment on a rowboat is a feat in itself which only those people who have experience shooting in this location can fully appreciate. But, the point is, you should always look for photographing underwing patterns in various situations and lighting conditions.

The key to making these shots work is to compose these shots carefully. For information on how to compose such shots, as well as a whole load of other seemingly arresting shots, I strongly recommend you to consider checking out The “Other” Rules Of Composition  — 30 No-brainer Rules to Make Your Bird Photos Good. Even Great. The only eBook that talks about composition techniques for bird photographers.

Rules of Composition for Bird Photographers. Composition Techniques for bird photographers.

Birds In Flight Shot #7: A flock of birds in flight

Birds in flight or bird in flight (BIF) tips and tutorial for beginners, amateurs, novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
Whenever you are photographing a flock of birds, remember that you have to ultimately focus on just one bird (a “Hero” bird) and track that bird and let the rest of the birds come into focus as per the depth of field. Normally, you can focus on the middle bird if you are using center focus points and let the other birds fall into and out of focus depending on how far apart they are in the Z-direction. In this rare case, I was again fortunate enough to have all of these Spoonbills lined up perfectly against the setting sun. The sun was still very hot for me to get a perfect exposure on it. It’s almost impossible to say that I planned for it, it was a chance shot and I was extremely fortunate to have all the bird’s beak perfectly visible and the birds themselves separated from each other. A perfect shot would have been if the sun was having details on it and one of these birds was within the sun disk. That’s asking for too much… I know 🙂

While photographing a flock, you still have to consider it as a single bird in flight shot. Here’s what I mean: You should first single out a bird to focus on, it’s better if you pick the one that’s closest as it’ll be easier for your autofocus system to focus and track, and then you just use a smaller Aperture like f/8-f/16 to keep as many birds in sharp focus as possible. Remember that you need much higher Shutter Speeds to freeze as many birds as you can. If possible all of them, which will usually be the case. Which means you have to use higher ISO.

Pro Tip

Most often the birds in flock give a great clue before taking off or landing. They normally communicate with each other by making loud calls and looking out carefully before taking off or landing. So, it’s a bit easy to know when to press the shutter. Remember that birds fly in batches, most often. So, you keep shooting as and when the batches fly to increase your chances. Make sure to check the output and adjust the Shutter Speed as needed.

Crucial Consideration

The most important thing to remember is to fill the frame with birds to avoid too much gap. In other words, go for a tighter crop to make it more engaging. Look for some kind of pattern in the field and in the post-processing stage and crop accordingly to get some strong composition.

Birds in flight or bird in flight (BIF) tips and tutorial for beginners, amateurs, novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
There were about eight thousand to ten thousand Sandhill Cranes that year in Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Refuge in Indiana. Initially, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of birds as it was the first time ever I saw so many of them all at once. So, I had to force myself to come up with a different technique if I had to get some usable images. After about spending one full day, I think I figured out that I had to concentrate on just a few numbers of birds in this gigantic lot and work with them. So, I zeroed down on this family of four Sandhill Cranes from the time they were ready to fly until they hit the sky. Just before they soared high up into the sky is when I made this most memorable shot. It was all perfect! I got a good arrangement of the birds with one juvenile between the parents and another trying to catch up with them at the edge of the frame. I chose the background very carefully making sure that there were colorful autumn leaves on these tall trees who can complement these pale-colored birds. And it was the early morning soft golden light peeping through the mist which made it perfect!

Birds In Flight Shot #8: Motion Blur

Birds in flight or bird in flight (BIF) tips and tutorial for beginners, amateurs, novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
Getting a reasonably good motion blur shot can be frustrating. The most important ingredient you need is “repeated action.” Because you cannot really nail down the Shutter Speed which gives you fair enough sharpness on the bird while blurring its wings. If you are shooting a Hummingbird whose body will be almost at a standstill, at least for a few split seconds, while the wings will be beating at a rapid speed, then it’ll be fairly easy, but with most other birds it’ll be very tough. My suggestion is to go to a birding hotspots where you can find birds in abundance and also find a huge flock where you can get some repeated action. Lesser Whistling Ducks are found in huge flocks in Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, Rajasthan, India, making it quite easy to get repeat action, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to nail down the Motion Blur shot, as these birds are pretty fast.

Motion blur is a creative aspect of bird photography that requires a lot of practice and understanding of bird behavior. A typical motion blur shot will have the bird’s face and/or body in sharp focus and blurred wings. You can either use the Shutter Priority Mode or Manual Mode and start with slower shutter speeds like 1/125 to 1/250th of a second. 

You’ll be able to get better motion blur shots when the bird is taking off or landing. Because, at the time of take-off or landing, especially at the time of landing, birds often beat their wings much faster than usual, helping you to blur them. The same concept can be applied to birds that hover over, like Pied Kingfisher, before plunging to hit their prey.

Pro Tip

Working with the flock of birds which follow a suit like Ducks, Geese, Pelicans, etc. increases your chance to get better results. While in a flock, when one takes a bath, the other is sure to follow, when one flies the others follow, when one lands, the others follow, etc. So, you’ll have plenty of chances to nail the Motion Blur shots. 

Birds In Flight Shot #9: Panning

Birds in flight or bird in flight (BIF) tips and tutorial for beginners, amateurs, novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
Panning shots require you to get repeat action even more so. It’s extremely tough to get a usable image of a Panning shot. Though there’s no right or wrong answer about how much of the bird should be in focus, I’d say at least having the bird’s eye in a fair enough sharpness is good, as it helps the viewer to rest his eyes on it after scanning the entire photo. If everything is blurred out, the viewer will have a tough time staying for long with an image. Just like in this image of the Lesser-Whistling Duck where the face and the eye are somewhat sharp while the rest of the image is completely blurred. Remember that Panning shots of birds will most likely have Motion Blur effect on the bird as well.

In the case of panning, you’ll have to track the bird while you shoot. Meaning, you’ll move the camera with the bird as you shoot in slower Shutter Speeds to blur the background while still keeping the bird in focus. Start with a slower shutter speed like 1/125th of a second (or even less) and move on to the higher Shutter Speeds if necessary. For faster birds, you could choose 1/250 or more.

A bird moving left-to-right and parallel to the camera sensor (i.e., sideways) is the most suitable as it’s quite natural for you to track the bird. Shoot with a smaller Aperture of f/8-f/16 to include more background so that you can clearly see the panning effect.

Pro Tip

Go to a location where there are repeated actions. The more birds fly in the same direction presumably with the same speed, the more your chances of getting the settings right and also the shot right. Work with slow-moving birds like Swan, Pelican, Crane, etc when they fly low against the vegetation giving you plenty of opportunities to try out.

Find out Why Learning Bird’s Behavior Can Be of Great Advantage in Bird Photography.

Conclusion

Millions of dollars have been spent by bird photographers from all around the world to buy the next best equipment… In the hopes that it’ll give them better reach, better ISO performance, better fps, and faster autofocus.

While I can’t deny that better equipment gives you an edge, but it won’t necessarily get you better or sharper images. What matters is your field techniques and your skills. You have just now seen a glimpse of nine different types of birds in flight photos that’ll add amazing variety to your portfolio.

But you still need to practice these in the field. And you need to learn the proper field skills and the settings needed for each of these cases and also the sub-cases AND more importantly, you need to practice them in the field. Without applying the concepts that you learned, it’s absolutely of no use. As I mentioned before, just the Birds in Flight has eighteen different categories.

Why spend your top dollars on upgrading your equipment in the hopes that you’ll magically get better and sharper results when you can do it all by yourself? Why struggle with more and more confusing concepts and to remember them in the field?

I have distilled my ten years of bird photography field expertise into a Printable SETTINGS Field Pack that covers Fifty Time-test & Proven Professional Bird Photography Field Techniques. And, it’s the first-of-its-kind and the only available Field Pack (which means you essentially use it in the FIELD) for bird photographers which talks about Settings, Field Techniques, Composition aspects, and Tricks of the Trade, all packed into one easy-to-use package. 

And you get three mind-blowing bonuses—Tricks of the Trade, Back Button Focusing, Bird Photography Nuggets — Do’s & Don’ts—with this package too! And, for a limited time, you can get this extraordinary package for an unbelievable price. Check it out Printable Bird Photography SETTINGS Field Packtoday!

Bird Photography Settings Field Pack. The professional field tips and techniques on bird photography for beginners, amateurs, and novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
One-of-its-kind FIELD PACK — Bird Photography SETTINGS Field Pack–50 Professional Field Techniques for Bird Photographers. (Includes 3 BONUS eBooks: 1. Back Button Focusing 2. The Tricks of the Trade, & 3. Bird Photography Nuggets)

Talk Soon.

Best Regards,

Prathap 

P.S. Download this beautifully designed Infographic where I have highlighted these 9 types in a simple and easy-to-remember format with different images.

Birds in flight or bird in flight (BIF) tips and tutorial for beginners, amateurs, novice bird photographers by Prathap. Nature Photography Simplified.
Please follow and like us:
error

Prathap

Prathap is a professional nature photographer and founder of Nature Photography Simplified blog. He aims to simplify every photography concept to help beginners and amateur photographers.

Download his highly recommended FREE eBook "Bird Photography – 10 Mistakes and Solutions" which has been instrumental in helping thousands of bird photographers.

Download it right now to jumpstart your bird photography.

This Post Has One Comment
  1. Prathap thank you so much for your tutorials, they are very inspiring, having just started taking Bird Photo’s more seriously, I find your free e books so informative, I have a limited budget and equipment but hope to make the most of them.
    Once again, thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)

Back To Top
×Close search
Search