destacado wire crested Thorntail
destacado wire crested Thorntail

If you love nature photography, and you are planning to take a birdwatching tour, you will love this article! Every photographer, who is used to leaving the city to make his best portraits of the beauty of the countryside, always captures some birds unintentionally. That is why, you should read the following guide to discover the best camera settings for birds in flight.

1. Choose an appropriate shutter speed

One of the main problems we encounter when seeing the results of our photos is the lack of sharpness due to the use of an inappropriate selected speed. A very important aspect is the choice of the correct shutter speed. The most common speed should be above 1/1600 to 1/4000 second.

For distant, slow flying and large sized birds, a speed of 1/1600 to 1/2000 second may be enough to freeze the movement. On the other hand, for small, fast and close birds flying straight towards the camera, higher speeds of the order of 1/4000 second are required.

The most common choice of speed that you should put on your camera to freeze in flight birds is 1/3200 second. If, instead, you want to pan following the bird in flight, you can use a slow speed such as 1/20 second. This will give you a feeling of movement. Play with shutter speeds until you find the one you like best.

You can also read: ​​4 best point and shoot cameras for birding in 2022

2. Beware of the background you select

Background American Kestrel

The idea is that you try to avoid photographing birds with a white background or blue sky all the time. It is true that the autofocus of your camera lens is easier to use this way, but this kind of photos are monotonous.

Therefore, it is advisable to position yourself in such a way that the background is an interesting part of the photo, which even complements or adds color to the composition. Avoid the sky or include some of it. It will be more difficult to focus, but the result will be much more interesting and will add more to the image.

3. Select the right diaphragm to photograph birds in flight

Work with diaphragms ranging from f/4 to f/8 and sometimes even f/11. Among the considerations we need to take into account when using a large diaphragm is the depth of field. A diaphragm type f/4 or higher will give us little margin of error if the approach is not perfect. That is why using a smaller aperture will sometimes help us get more detail and sharpness.

The other problem we will encounter is the background. So, the smaller the diaphragm, the more noticeable and defined the bottom, especially when it comes to trees or vegetation. A large diaphragm will help us give a greater sense of three-dimensionality to the images. Thus, we will get a more unfocused background and also highlight the main motif.

4. Use the autofocus system for tracking the bird in flight

The first thing is to tell the camera to use continuous focus mode. On some cameras, you can find it as AF-C. Do not confuse it with AF-S with a simple focus. Use the smallest focus point that can keep track. This will help you tell the camera where you want the focus to be. 

If you are starting out, use a larger point of focus. Over time you will learn to control each point more and you will be able to select smaller points, like «Small» in Nikon or Flexible Spot (medium) or Tracking Flexible Spot (small or medium) on Sony cameras.

You can also read: How to photograph birds close-up?

5. Focus on birds when taking off

focus White bellied Woodstar

These types of shots are the most common but cause certain problems. First, pay attention to the direction of the wind and to the signs that the bird will provide. If the bird in question is looking towards the wind, excretes waste or stretches their wings, you will know the lift is imminent.

For these situations, it is advisable to increase the shutter speed a little with regard to a regular shot, because it is not the same to follow a bird in flight to freeze the movement than to freeze the takeoff starting from a specific point.

A tighter aperture of the f/8 environment can also help you with any minimal autofocus error. Look through the viewfinder and do not take off from it as the take-off action is very fast and you can lose it in the blink of an eye.

These were some important tips to get started in bird photography. We hope this information has been useful to you and share it with your friends or bird lovers. And enjoy your birdwatching tour in Peru!

Colourful Birding invites you to discover beautiful bird gardens that can be visited and that create a space of protection for many animal species. Do not hesitate to contact us if you require further information about our bird photography travels.