So we’ve covered a lot already, but let’s talk settings for birds in flight! Firstly, if you’ve made the switch to mirrorless you’ll already notice the improved tracking and autofocus abilities. However, some good basics to keep in mind are:
© Charl Stols
ISO: 100 / APERTURE: f/5 SHUTTER SPEED: 1/1000
DEPTH OF FIELD
As with most wildlife photography, the aim is to keep the eye of your subject sharp (unless of course, you are trying something more artistic). When it comes to birds in flight, it will be extremely difficult to get the entire bird pixel sharp – that’s okay though!
So try to shoot birds in flight around f/8 or f/9 to give yourself enough depth of field so that both the bird’s head and body are sharp. This works well for birds in the sky as you don’t have to worry about blurring the background – once you’re more comfortable try play between f4 and f2.8 and see how you feel to give you a more shallow depth of field and better bokeh background. It’s all a bit of an experiment but keep your focus point on the head and see what distance works for you and your specific style for flight photography. Here is our guide on depth of field in wildlife photography.
It is important to really be comfortable with the triangle of shutter speed, aperture and ISO when it comes to birds in flight. Exposure settings will always be a bit of comprising – your environment will always be different depending on the light, time of day, heat, cold and etc. Not to mention bird behaviour!
So again, it’s trial and error and a whole lot of patience. But, the general idea is to think about what type of image you want to get out of the situation. Is it the perfect identification of certain birds in flight or are you going for something more artistic when you photograph birds in flight?
So to cover the basics, your shutter speed will determine if a fast-moving bird in flight will have some sort of motion blur or if the entire bird will be sharp. What you settle on for the aperture will determine your depth of field and how much light you will capture in dim conditions.
Lastly, your ISO simulates the exposure of your image and this heavily relies on your shutter speed and aperture to get the photograph correctly exposed.
One of the most common questions we get asked when it comes to shutter speed is what works best. Slow shutter speeds or fast shutter speeds? The answer to this truly lies in you as the photographer and what you want to accomplish with your photos.
Firstly you want to take a few moments to think of the composition of your flight photos. Now in order to really get the image you want you to need to know a little about the bird biology, bird behavior and what should be the focus point for these flight shots.
While many birds will be behave the same it does change between small birds and large birds and their wing positions for example. This is where sometimes really knowing your autofocus system comes into play.
When setting up your photos, you can either go for a high shutter speed which will freeze the motion of the birds in flight or you can really slow it down and show the movement of the bird’s wings. As the photographer and with a little artistic licence, you can slow things right down to create movement throughout the entire image. However, you really still want to focus on the eye of the bird to create a focal point in the blur.
When it comes to flight photos and deciding if you want a fast shutter speed or not, your conditions really do determine the flight shot. Especially when looking at light – for example, a slow shutter speed tends to work very well for low-light situations.