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How To Compose Photos Of Birds In Flight

Eschenbach give some top tips on composing and photographing birds in flight.

|  Eschenbach Arena D+ 10x50 B in Animals / Wildlife
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Bird photography often has to happen quickly, in as little as a fraction of a second to achieve a sharp image. As birds run back and forth, fly and flap their wings, there is no comfortable picture setting. How can you still take great pictures and what makes a good bird photograph? Learn more here.


High-quality equipment is, of course, necessary to get great bird shots, but it is also important having the basic knowledge about the bird you want to photograph. There is no need to carry an expensive camera and a large lens into the wild if you have no clue where and how to find the bird you want to take pictures of in the first place.

So, you should know the habitat, breeding season, food and general behaviour of the bird. In the observation site, keep nature protection rules in mind. You'll certainly have to stay as quiet and discreet as possible so as not to scare the birds. Once you have found the ideal place, set up your tripod, your camouflage tent if you have one and wait, just wait! Waiting is essential in bird photography.


Harmonious composition

Let’s talk about the picture itself: putting the bird exactly in the centre of the image is not always the best choice. Indeed, it can give an “artificial” look to the picture. Most of the time, it's better to have enough space around the object. For example, if the bird looks like it is about to fly to the left, it is worthwhile to leave more space in this direction. So, if the bird looks to the left, putting it in the right half of the picture would be better.

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Brightness and background

Brightness and background are also important for the composition. A poorly lit bird in front of a bright background at lunch time can be a frustrating subject. It is much easier shooting in the morning or in the evening when the light is soft enough. Backlighting can also give good results. The most beautiful silhouettes usually occur on a background with warm colours.

The background can enhance an image, but it can also become a disruptive element. Warm and natural colours are ideal, they blend well behind the targeted bird. However, there are plants or branches that often attract the eye of the person watching the image. In this case, it's better to change location after some shots. This is usually easier with a hand-held camera than with a tripod and a camouflage tent.

Eschenbach seagull


The challenge of shooting flying birds

Only skilled bird photographers can take good flying pictures as the subject moves continuously and must be followed with the camera. A tripod can greatly help here; you must keep the bird centred as much as possible. The following parameters may be useful for flight images:

  • Set the Continuous Auto Focus with Focus Priority (AF-C). The autofocus will follow fast moving targets more easily.
  • Adjust the distance range of the lens. For example, set "10 meters to infinity", so that the lens focuses essentially on distant objects.
  • Ensure high shutter speeds. Thus, the movements of the wings can be accurately captured without any "wiping" effect.
  • Set the continuous shooting mode. It takes several photos in one burst so you can choose your favourite. Make sure your memory card is fast enough.


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Keep in mind that bigger targets are easier to photograph than small ones. So try your luck with majestic sailing birds of prey before attempting to shoot a swift's aerobatics. And do not be discouraged by missed shots! Bird photography is a matter of equipment and knowledge but above all a matter of patience and practice. Once you have that amazing image, it will have been well worth the wait. 


Eschenbach binoculars ideal for spotting birds 

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