Mastering Birds in Flight

Over 10 years my love for a bird in flight has become my ambition.

The action image is the one that captures the moment that not many people see.

It is wonderful to freeze the moment when a large Sea Eagle is just about to take a fish from the water, or the moment when a Kingfisher enters the water.

It is also the most challenging skill to master when it comes to photography.

Most cameras today have a high burst rate that you would think could capture that moment, but they don’t – you still need the knowledge and the expertise to bring the image to light.

I always research my camera before I purchase it, and YouTube has helps me make those choices along with in-depth reviews from the top wildlife photographers.

Juvenile Goldfinch feeding Juvenile Greenfinch

When you take a high burst rate, you capture amazing action but its not until you import the images for editing that you actually see what you have captured.

I made a new feeder in June 2020 from a log I found in the woods. My idea was to give the birds a large area where up to 10 could feed together at the same time. They took to it right away with five different species all coming in for the sunflower hearts.

Goldfinch on the new feeder

When I erected the feeder, I was very aware that to capture the bird in flight you need a clean background – one with nothing that could make the focusing system hunt. A clean background also makes for a better image to look at.

After a few hours, I quickly learnt that it also takes a very quick eye and lightning reactions to track the bird and capture it coming in to land.

Juvenile Goldfinch

The light in the UK is not the best most of the time when it comes to getting the shutter speed to the minimum that I know will get the subject frozen.

For years I used Aperture Priority, but for the last six months I have tried mastering manual mode.

Manual mode is the hardest mode to master so brings with it testing times, as you are always changing the shutter and ISO to the lighting conditions.

Juvenile Greenfinch

For me, using manual gives me the best results, even when I have pushed the ISO up higher than I usually do.

I read that it is better to capture the image with a bit of noise than not to capture it at all.

The last three years have been my most successful, capturing many birds like the Barn Owl that I captured hunting two days before lockdown.

Barn Owl just before it strikes for the kill

This image is a classic example of what I didn’t see when the focus system followed the Owl into the grass. It was only when I edited it that I saw how they make their descent into the the kill.

It still takes hours of practice and lots of blurred images – some that you know are unique, but you can’t use them – very annoying, but that’s action photography for you.

Knowing your subject helps a lot, so observations are key to knowing when the bird will take off or whether it has a certain flight path that it prefers.

Sea Eagle missing a fish in the water

My love for photography has given me and my family some amazing images over the years, and I am sure there will be many more to come.

I continue to learn more, and appreciate that its not the best camera and best glass that will capture the image.

Skill, knowledge, hours of practice, knowing your surroundings, light conditions and settings are just a few things that go to capturing that moment in time.

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