Photographing birds of prey in the wild isn't something that's easy to do, however as the UK is home to some excellent birds of prey centres, photographers have the opportunity to shoot up close with these majestic birds when armed with the right kit and technique.
To find a raptor centre near you, take a look at our guide
At centres, the birds are trained to fly close to visitors which gives photographers, with a bit of patience, the chance to capture images of birds of prey in flight as well as photos of other natural behaviour they demonstrate.
What Gear Will I Need?
Thanks to the close range, photographers can generally capture shots of larger birds of prey with shorter lenses, however for shots of birds in flight you'll need a lens that has a longer reach.
For portraits, use a tripod but when in flight you may find this kind of support doesn't give you the fluidity of movement you need. Plus, these centres are popular locations and you can find yourself in a crowd where tripods won't be a welcomed feature. If you do have room for a tripod, put a ball head on it as this will allow you to adjust the position of the camera quicker and easier. A pistol grip could also be useful as they are ideal for pursuing and capturing fast-moving subjects.
If you know you're heading to a centre which will be busy with visitors you may want to consider taking a sling bag such as the Manfrotto Advanced Active Sling 1
. This particular bag keeps the DSLR camera in quick-draw position at all times and it can be carried either on the back or on the torso and simply switched from one position to the other by swinging the bag from back to front to grab the camera for shooting, making it perfect for busy locations.
have hides which offer enough space for tripods so you won't be fighting for elbow room.
Make Sure You Follow The Centre's Rules
Centres have different rules when it comes to displays. Some allow you to move around while others don't so do check before you start taking your images. It's important to pick a good shooting spot before the display begins so do have a scout around the location well before the scheduled start time.
Capturing Shots Of Birds In Flight
Photographers with fast prime lenses are at an advantage with this but this doesn't mean you shouldn't try if you have a different piece of kit. It can be a little hit and miss and will take some perseverance to get right but there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of capturing a good shot.
Birds to tend take off and land into the wind so if you can position yourself so the wind is blowing from behind you, chances are you'll be able to capture a head-on shot of your subject in flight.
It's also worth manually focusing on a spot you know the birds will fly through / into as with some practice, this should improve your chances of capturing a good shot.
A bird flying across you is easier to track the path of than one flying towards you as you can pan with its movement and its path won't change as quickly. Continous shooting will increase the chances of you capturing a shot with the bird in-frame, but depending on your camera auto focusing may struggle.
Aiming to capture a shot just before a bird lands tends to be a little easier, as Linda Wright explained in a previous article: "Birds stall just before they land – slowing almost to a stop and spreading their wings wide – so this is a good moment to aim for and easy to predict."
Do remember that each subject flies at a different speed and often has different characteristics of flight. Understanding this will help you improve and modify your technique accordingly.
For more tips on capturing shots of birds in flight, take a look at this article: Photographing Birds In Flight
Master Your Shutter Speeds
When it comes to shutter speeds, faster is good, although slower speeds can result in some interesting blurring of wings if you want to take a more artistic approach.
Check your exposure, taking a reading from roughly where you'll be aiming before the action begins can help, and go for a higher ISO rather than risking a wider aperture if you find light levels to be too low.
Check The Position Of The Sun
Note where the sun is for when you're shooting with your lens towards the sky as you don't want to pan and find it's shining down your lens. It's dangerous to look directly at the sun and can be very painful so do take care.
Visit www.manfrotto.co.uk for more information on Manfrotto's bag ranges and more.