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How-to's

Photographing Birds-in-Flight and other quick moving subjects

David Summers (dm1dave)


Keywords: wildlife, birds_in_flight, bif

Show pages (4 Pages)

The Nikonians Wildlife Photography forum has a vast number of superb images of Birds in Flight (aka "BIF") and you will surely be tempted to try it out. It is a fun challenge to get an image with the subject completely in focus, frozen in the air, and yet with an excellent background. Learn lens recommendations and field-proven settings in this article.

Shooting birds-in-flight is a difficult photographic challenge but when you nail a few shots, it is a most rewarding experience. Starting off, many people try to shoot Birds-in-Flight as a bit of a fun challenge.  Once they have a little success, they find themselves drawn into this addictive photographic genre.

 

sandhill crane

Image 1. Sandhill Crane
Nikon D300s | 400mm f/2.8G AF-S VR + TC14E II teleconverter @ f/4.5 | 1/1600s | ISO 800
Gitzo Series 3 tripod with Markins Q20 ball head and Wimberley Sidekick
Click on image for larger view

Cameras

All of Nikon’s current cameras are capable of producing good results when shooting birds-in-flight.  Advanced cameras offer more settings and easy to access controls, but you can get started with any camera.  

Lenses

One thing that is necessary is the relatively modest investment on a decent telephoto lens.  The Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 AF-S VR, Nikon 300mm f/4 AF-S and the Sigma XX-500mm zoom lenses are popular lenses with very good image quality at reasonable prices.  The new Tamron 150-600mm looks like it will be a contender in that market segment also.

The next step up is usually a 300mm f/2.8 Nikkor with Nikon teleconverters, or the Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR. The Nikon 300mm f/2.8G AF-S VR is a superb lens and works well with all 3 Nikon teleconverters. Another good option of similar quality is the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 OS with the Sigma 1.4 teleconverter giving you a 170-420mm f/4 lens that holds up well against the Nikon 200-400 f/4G AF-S VR.  

Beyond those we move up to the big guns, the worthy 400mm, 500mm, 600mm and 800mm Nikkor lenses that cost as much as a used car. 

 

great egret

Image 2. Great Egret
Nikon D300s | 400mm f/2.8G AF-S VR + TC17E II teleconverter @ f/5 | 1/800s | ISO 200
Home-made car window mount with Markins Q20 and Wimberley Sidekick
Click on image for larger view


Settings

No matter what level of camera and lens combination you are using, the basic settings and technique for shooting birds-in-flight or fast actions remain the same.

Here are my auto focus and other relevant camera and lens settings.

Note: I will make reference to some custom menu settings. The menu numbering, such as “a1”, used here is from the D800. The numbering may be different with other bodies. Some settings may not be available on every camera.

 

Release mode: set to CH

I always shoot wildlife in CH mode set to the maximum number frames-per-second the camera is capable of. When shooting wildlife, even perched birds, your subject can move quite a bit even when they seem still. For birds-in-flight, the wing position can make or break the perfect shot.

I always fire off short bursts of three or four shots for relatively static or slow moving subjects. For faster moving birds I shoot longer bursts to capture as many different wing position positions as possible and to avoid “closed eyes.”

As you learn the flight patterns of your subjects you will be able to time your bursts to get the best angles and to make sure that you capture the peak of action.

 

AF mode: AF-C

If your subject is moving, you must use AF-C mode to maintain focus while you are tracking the subject.  In this mode the camera uses predictive focus tracking.  The focus is maintained as the mirror flips up while you shoot. 

 

american bald eagle

Image 3. American Bald Eagle
Nikon D300s | 400mm f/2.8G AF-S VR + TC17E II teleconverter @ f/6.3 | 1/1250s | ISO 400
Gitzo Series 5 tripod with Markins Q20 and a Whimberley Sidekick
Click on image for larger view

 

Custom setting a1:  AF-C Priority selectionRelease.

 In conjunction with using AF-C you must choose what is more important: either releasing the shutter or having perfect focus prior to shutter release.

Some cameras will only give two choices between Release and Focus. Others add the options of Focus+Release and Release+Focus.

If you choose “Focus” the shutter will not fire unless the area covered by the active focus point is in focus.

If you choose “Release” the shutter will fire anytime you push the shutter release. 

If you choose “Focus + Release” the camera will hesitate until area covered by the active focus point is in focus.

If you choose “Release + Focus” the shutter will fire but the frame rate will slow anytime the area covered by the active focus point is not in focus.  

This setting is of course a personal choice.

I choose “Release” because I don’t want the camera to hesitate, waiting for perfect focus, when I push the shutter button. I do get some out of focus shots but the camera can still find focus while the shutter is firing.  When the subject is static I can focus and recompose and the shutter will still release.

 

 

 Make the Active Focus Point the center focus point
 

I always use the center focus point for birds-in-flight. This takes advantage off all of the most sensitive cross-type AF points.

More often than not birds are spotted at a distance and the images will require some cropping.  Precise framing for composition is not nearly as important as keeping the birds in the frame and getting them in focus.  Even when the birds get close, you are better off trying to keep the bird near the center of the frame to avoid clipping the wings.  Most bird flight is erratic.  Birds will gain and loose altitude with every wing flap and they can turn very quickly.

A piece of advice I often see when discussing birds-in-flight is to focus on the eyes.  We know that having a sharp clear eye is important but focusing on the eyes is not really practical when shooting birds-in-flight.  The problem with this approach is that most bird’s eyes are too small. 

Tracking and keeping your focus point on a flying bird is difficult enough without having to try to get the focus point on the eye. In fact in most situations the bird’s eye, or even the whole head, is smaller than a single focus sensor making it impossible to precisely focus on the eye.

Most of the time keeping the focus point on any part of the bird is a challenge.  I usually try to get focus on the breast or high on the birds back. Usually the bird is far enough away from the camera that the depth of field, even with a wide aperture, will be large enough to get the eye sharp.


 

 Great Blue Heron

Image 4. Great Blue Heron
Nikon D300s | 400mm f/2.8F AF-S VR + TC17E II teleconverter @ f/5 | 1/2000s | ISO 400
Shot from a kayak using Gitzo Series 5 tripod with Markins Q20 and Wimberley Sidekick
Click on image for larger view

 

Dynamic Area AF with 9 or 21 points
 

The difficulty of tracking the erratic flight of birds makes the use of Dynamic Area Auto Focus necessary. Unless the bird is soaring straight and level, it is nearly impossible to keep your focus point on the bird at all times.  This is another reason to not worry about focusing on the eye.  

Using Dynamic Area AF effectively expands the focus point to include all of the surrounding AF sensors.  So, when the Active Focus Point moves off of your subject the surrounding focus points will continue to track the subject.  The camera uses its Predictive Auto Focus to hand off focus tracking duties from focus point to focus point.

I always use either 21 points or 9 points.  For smaller (or further away) birds or more erratic flight, 21 points gives you more room for error. When the bird is larger the 9-point option works well.  

Don’t be afraid to try 51 point.  Some photographers find it to be helpful, but I don’t prefer it.  

51 point 3D does not work well with small non-human subjects, like birds.   Nikon has optimized this setting for shooting human subjects.

 


AF-ON button (custom setting a4: AF activation: set to AF-ON only)

I always use the AF-ON button for focus; commonly referred to as “back button focus.”  This separates the focus operation from the shutter release. Cameras without a dedicated AF-ON button can assign this function to the AE-L/AF-L button.

When you set autofocus to AF-C and release priority (see AF mode section above) you can lock focus by simply letting go of the AF-ON button and you have continuous tracking as long as you are pressing the AF-ON button.

This is a personal preference. Using the shutter button, half press, to control focus works fine for birds-in-flight.  

It takes some getting used to but many photographers who made the switch to using the AF-ON button say they would never go back to using the shutter release to control focus.

Note: Nikon camera bodies released prior to the D4 generation will not initiate VR by pressing the AF-ON button; VR is controlled by a half press of the shutter button.  The newer bodies however will initiate VR when the AF-ON button is pressed.       

 

Focus Tracking with lock-on: set to 4 (one step longer than normal)

The Focus Tracking with lock-on (custom setting a3) setting determines how long the focus system will take to react (refocus) when the camera detects that the subject has left the selected focus point or the Dynamic Area focus points.   

Setting this to a longer setting (a higher number – the default is 3) keeps focus from shifting away from the subject when your focus point drifts off of the subject. This gives you time to get the subject back under the focus point to continue tracking.

If you turn this setting to 1 (short) or turn it off, the focus will immediately shift if your focus point drifts off of the subject.

When shooting birds in flight, the background can change dramatically as you pan with the bird. If the background has good contrast it can grab focus away from your bird.  I find that setting Focus Tracking with lock-on to a higher number (4) helps you maintain focus across this type of background.

I recommend that you try different settings to see what works best for you.

 

White Pelican

Image 5. White Pelican
Nikon D800 | 400mm f/2.8 AF-S VR + TC17E II teleconverter @ f/7.1 | 1/1600s | ISO 320
Shot from a kayak using Gitzo Series 5 tripod with Markins Q20 and Wimberley Sidekick
Click on image for larger view

 

Custom setting a8 Built-in AF-assist illuminator.

This should be turned off for any wildlife photography.

This one is easy. You do not want to have a flash of light pointing at your wildlife subjects.
 

Focus limit switch on the lens (if equipped)

Some lenses have a focus limiter switch.

Use this to speed up initial focus acquisition and avoid hunting.

 

VR – Vibration Reduction OFF

Shutter speeds for birds in flight are generally over 1/1000s. Most experts say that VR loses its effectiveness at shutter speeds over 1/500s.

Turning VR off saves battery life and eliminates any risk of image degradation caused by the VR.  




Use LLT - Long Lens Technique
 

Shooting at long focal lengths can be very challenging. The key to getting the best out of your super telephoto lens when shooting from a tripod is using proper Long Lens Technique.

  1. With you right hand firmly hold the camera grip and then firmly press you eye against the viewfinder. This works best with an eyecup, otherwise press your cheek against the back of the camera.
  2. Rest your hand over the barrel of the lens above the tripod head. Do not press down; just rest you hand on top of the lens. This arm position also helps you to smoothly pan the lens when necessary.
  3. Roll your finger on the shutter release to avoid any jerky movements as you take the photo. This is very basic camera technique that applies to all shooting situations.  It is especially necessary with long lenses.

 

American Bald Eagle

Image 6. American Bald Eagle
Nikon D800 | 400mm f/2.8G AF-S VR + TC17E II teleconverter @ f/8 | 1/1250s | ISO 400
Shot from a kayak using Gitzo Series 5 tripod with Markins Q20 and a Wimberley Sidekick
Click on image for larger view
 

Shutter speed | Aperture | ISO

Shutter speed - I always try to maintain a shutter speed over 1/1000s for flying birds, the faster the better. You can get good results with slower speeds and good panning technique but it is much more difficult. Slow shutter speeds can also be used to introduce creative blur. You will be surprised to see how much motion blur you can still get very fast shutter speeds; again faster is better.

Aperture – I usually shoot in aperture priority (A) mode and keep the aperture pretty close to wide open. I will stop down 1 or 2 stops if I have good light. I would rarely ever go smaller than f/8. The birds are usually far enough away that the depth of field is adequate at f/5.6 or wider to get their whole body in focus with a nice bokeh in the background.

If I need light to maintain a fast shutter speed I will shoot wide open regardless of the lens used including when using a teleconverter. Don’t worry about keeping the aperture at the lenses “sweet spot.”  I would rather have the slight bit of softness caused by shooting wide open than a motion blurred image.  

ISO – You should always shoot at the lowest ISO that will get you the required shutter speed.  Don’t raise the ISO until the aperture is wide open; there is no substitute for more light.  Once you are shooting wide open don’t be afraid to crank up the ISO (especially on the newer cameras) it is better to have sharp image with some noise than a motion blurred image with no noise. 

Manage your expectations

There are few photographic challenges as difficult as shooting birds-in-flight.  A low keeper rate is common even with experienced bird photographers.  Photographers that are new to shooting birds get frustrated and wonder what they are doing wrong.

To give some perspective, I will give you an example of what I expect when shooting fast moving birds. 

On one of my recent eagle shoots I had about 750 exposures.  I was easily able to cull about a third of the images based on poor focus, clipped wings, harsh shadows, etc.

The second more critical cull narrowed down the number of images from 750 to about 190.  Out of those 190 images less than 50 were better than average. That left about 15 -20 (~2% of the total) that I would consider good enough for printing or sharing publicly.

My goal on any given day of wildlife photography is to come home with at least one outstanding shot.  Anything more is a bonus.

Practice, practice, practice!

The more you shoot the better you will get at achieving focus while tracking the birds. Gulls are one of the best birds to use for practice and they can be found near almost any large waterway.  They make great subjects because: they are fairly large, you can get reasonably close to them, they fly around the same area for an extended period of time and their flight patterns are fast and erratic.

 

More reading

You may also be interested in reading this other article we have on autofocus tracking with a cluttered background
We discuss various wildlife topics in our wildlife forum.
Various auto focus and tracking items are discussed in our Nikkor AF forum.
 
(118 Votes )
Show pages (4 Pages)

Originally written on February 17, 2014

Last updated on August 19, 2016

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109 comments

David Summers (dm1dave) on June 8, 2019

Awarded for high level knowledge and skills in various areas, most notably in Wildlife and Landscape Writer Ribbon awarded for his excellent article contributions to the Nikonians community Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art a

Thanks Eric, I hope people will read the comments looking for updated info like you have added here

Eric Bowles (ericbowles) on June 8, 2019

Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level skills in various areas, especially Landscape and Wildlife Photoghraphy Writer Ribbon awarded for for his article contributions to the community Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art a

Hi Dave - This is a very good article. You've provided a lot of great tips and suggestions. The AF system and recommended settings have changed the most with recent cameras. With each new generation - and even with firmware updates - the AF system is refined. What worked for a D800 may be okay for a D810, work okay but sub-optimally on a D850, and may not work at all on a Z6. Everyone needs to learn what works best for their camera, subjects, and situation. The D810 introduced Group AF. Group essentially makes a group of AF points act as one. That makes it easier to maintain the AF group on the subject. But Group is not very refined in the D810, so Dynamic modes remain the recommendation. With the D500, D5 and D850, the latest cameras have a new AF processor that supports faster AF. Group AF has been refined and improved with closest subject priority, which makes it my number one choice for birds in flight - especially raptors and larger wading birds. It's also good with smaller birds, but they remain a big challenge. Dynamic is less effective for fast moving subjects because of a new requirement that the AF point be returned to the target. The Dynamic Area supports a temporary handoff to other points, but you must return to the target in a short time. For fast moving subjects this is hard. But for partially obstructed subjects, Dynamic may still be the preferred choice because it does not rely on closest subject. My first choice for these cameras is Group unless I'm obstructed. With the Z cameras and updated firmware 2.0, AF has changed again. Group has evolved into two modes called Wide Small and Wide Large. The loose group of sensors has been replaced with a defined box. Closest subject priority has been improved. Dynamic AF has also been improved providng better results when tracking a subject in an obstructed area or tracking a slow moving subject - but ther eis just one Dynamic choice 3D tracking is gone - but it was not useful anyway. My first choice for these cameras is Wide Small, but I use Wide Large and Dynamic a meaningful portion of the time depending on the subject and context. Focus will continue to change with future cameras. The big thing is to avoid being locked into the settings of the prior generation. If you try out the AF modes, and learn what works best, you've got a great set of tools and can make the choices necessary. With all these cameras, faster shutter speeds can be very helpful in producing sharper images. Today I'm more likely to start at shutter speeds of 1/1600 second for moving subjects, and move to 1/2400 in good light with a faster lens.

David Summers (dm1dave) on May 6, 2019

Awarded for high level knowledge and skills in various areas, most notably in Wildlife and Landscape Writer Ribbon awarded for his excellent article contributions to the Nikonians community Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art a

Hi Russ, A “recovering wedding photog,” I link that. :) Yes, group AF works well. I sometimes switch between the two. An advantage to group AF is that is uses closes subject priority, so it should help keep focus from shifting to the background. I will use Dynamic Area AF if I am not having any trouble keeping the bird in the focus area and the background is clean. I have switched to the 200-500 as my long lens, the 400/2.8 was just too heavy to lug around. The IQ is amazing and the focus speed plenty fast enough for tracking, although is it a bit slower in initial focus acquisition. VR probably should be off at higher shutter speed, but if it is left on the impact on IQ should be minimal. It is also normal to have fairly miss rate on BiF. I hope this helps. - Dave

Russ MacDonald (Arkayem) on May 6, 2019

Awarded for his high level skills in flash photography

Hi David, As a recovering professional wedding photographer, I am learning to photograph BIF, and I was wondering if you would recommend Group AF Mode instead of Dynamic AF Mode for the D500 and/or the D810 cameras? And, what do you think of the Nikon 200-500mm VR lens? I've gotten somewhat mixed results. It's probably just me. I have been using VR Active instead of OFF. That may be part of the problem.

David Summers (dm1dave) on August 24, 2018

Awarded for high level knowledge and skills in various areas, most notably in Wildlife and Landscape Writer Ribbon awarded for his excellent article contributions to the Nikonians community Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art a

Hi Kostas, … A gimbal type head is ideal, it make even the heaviest lenses handle like they are weightless. A monopod is very useful and would be useful for a relatively light lens like yours. You can also use a regular ball head with the ball loose, you must remember to tighten the head if you let go of the camera.

Kostas Skourtis (ch96066) on August 24, 2018

Dear David, thank you for one of the most to the point and understandable articles on the matter, as well as the very beautiful photos. How important would you say the gimbal-like set up you use is to your results? Have you used any other ways of supporting the lens e.g. monopod, fluid head etc.? If a gimbal like set-up is not available, what alternatives would you propose. Consider a lens sized similar to a 150-600. Thank you again for the great nuggets of knowledge and the urge to practice a lot (no substitute).

David Summers (dm1dave) on June 5, 2018

Awarded for high level knowledge and skills in various areas, most notably in Wildlife and Landscape Writer Ribbon awarded for his excellent article contributions to the Nikonians community Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art a

I don’t recommend Spot Metering for birds in flight. The “spot” that is being measured is quit small and it must be on a mid-toned area of the photo to produce the correct exposure, that is pretty hard to do with a flying bird. Your exposure could shift widely if the “spot” goes over a particularly bright or dark part of the image. I usually use Center Weighted metering with birds in flight.

David Summers (dm1dave) on June 5, 2018

Awarded for high level knowledge and skills in various areas, most notably in Wildlife and Landscape Writer Ribbon awarded for his excellent article contributions to the Nikonians community Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art a

Hi David,.... AF systems have changed quite a bit since I wrote this. Custom setting a3 (Focus Tracking with lock-on) still does the same thing but the settings have changed. They have added the choice for subject motion, either Erratic or Steady. Erratic is for subjects that change direction quickly. I have kept that set in the default position. The “Blocked Shot AF Response” default setting is 3, It can still be useful to set it for a longer time if you are having trouble with focus shifting to the background.

David Robert Jackson (Wingnuts) on June 3, 2018

Looking back once again at your article I wonder if the focus lock setting of 4 still applies to the later focus systems (I have a D5)? A recent Nikonians post indicates some people using Spot metering for small birds, I use matrix apart from Occasional awkward light conditions, any comment please. Regards David Jackson

Sarah Boser (Sarah9) on March 10, 2018

Thanks, Dave. Great article!

CS Spencer (CSS11) on March 5, 2018

Thank you David for this wonderful information! I really appreciated your thoughts on each aspect of your approach. Can't wait to get out and try some of my own.

David Summers (dm1dave) on January 1, 2018

Awarded for high level knowledge and skills in various areas, most notably in Wildlife and Landscape Writer Ribbon awarded for his excellent article contributions to the Nikonians community Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art a

Hi John, Most shots are probably at least 100 feet (30 meters) and as far a about 300 feet (30 meters.) Occasionally I get lucky and get closer.

John Ponzo (ponz) on December 31, 2017

Have you mentioned your distance from these subjects? Thanks Ponz

Aart Louw (AartPapaya) on August 8, 2017

Should have read your article first. Will have a go again with small fast-flyers. Thanks David

Hong Chow (hongkchow) on July 6, 2017

Wonderful article for wildlife shooter. Thank you for your sharing.

David Summers (dm1dave) on March 14, 2017

Awarded for high level knowledge and skills in various areas, most notably in Wildlife and Landscape Writer Ribbon awarded for his excellent article contributions to the Nikonians community Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art a

Hi Jack, Sorry for the late reply. The kayak setup actually works pretty good. I have bungee cords going from the hook under the ballhead to the side of the kayak. It helps hold the tripod in place. I can push the whole rig forward and out of the way for faster paddling. The hardest part is dealing with small waves and the kayak drifting wile shooting.

Jack Moskovita (jack65) on January 26, 2017

Uh... how in the heck are you using a Gitzo Series 5 tripod with Markins Q20 and a Wimberley Sidekick while in a Kayak???

John D. Roach (jdroach) on July 24, 2016

Fellow Ribbon awarded. John exhibits true Nikonian spirit by frequently posting images and requesting comments and critique, which he graciously accepts. He is an inspiration to all of us through constant improvement in his own work, keen observations and excellent commentary on images posted by others. Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his most generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous contribution to the 2019 Fundraising campaign

David, I really haven't gone out to photograph birds, since our time with Gary Poole at Lock & Dam 14 in January 2014 except for Gulls a couple of time. So I am doing a refresher on BIF for an upcoming trip to Horicon Marsh this coming week here in Wisconsin, travel to Sevey Wildlife Refug among other places in the Upper Peninsula in August, and then a long trip to Yellowstone and Tetons in mid-September. Thanks for writing this. I will be my bible and I will read and re read it often along with some other resources. Your article is very concise and helpful for us that use Nikon Cameras. Thanks, John (jdroach)

User on April 11, 2016

I am not really a BIF photographer but I have several raptors come hunting every day only about 5 minutes walk away so I have been practicing. By trial and error I had come to the conclusion that I got better results with OS (VR) off, I am reassured to see that you recommend the same thing. Your hit rate also gives me reassurance. Reading tips by somebody who specialises in BIF is a great help to people like me.

Steve McTeer (NRVVA) on February 21, 2016

Excellent article Dave, as I am sure you have heard before. I am just getting into this aspect of photography and am learning a lot from your experience. We don't have eagles around here, as you do, so I will have to make do with less interesting subjects. :) Thanks again. Steve

David Robert Jackson (Wingnuts) on February 20, 2016

Just found your brilliant article, I am getting into Bird photography with my new Nikon 200-500mm. I have set my D810 to your suggestions to start afresh. One question - until now I have been trying manual exposure 1000s at F5.6 with auto ISO (although I use Aperture Prioity for general use) Any comment on Manual please? Thank you

Paul Tuttle (PHTUTT) on January 28, 2016

Great article Dave,thanks for writing this.

Thomas E. Rollins (WBF) on January 20, 2016

Best article I have read. Thank you so very much for the help.

Ron Huelse (bullss) on January 15, 2016

if the example is eagles fighting in air-where do you put the focus point? the situation is a minimum of two eagles fighting for a fish and one eagle is above and behind the original eagle-how do you focus both birds? The second question deals with an eagle coming down to pickup a fish in the river -you therefore have the decent,setting up the body for the feet,eyes,body postion to gather the fish into his tallons. my e-mail address is ----bull@iowatelecom.net

Eric Cabrales (ec2please) on December 31, 2015

Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017

Dave, this is a very invaluable tutorial - brilliantly written - for a novice like me, now I feel confident to take the challenge ....capturing the beauty of the Wonderful world of Wildlife Photography.....thank you so much for sharing your incredible talent, knowledge and expertise.....more power to you!

User on December 23, 2015

Outstanding tutorial, Dave. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience with us. I found it interesting that you turn VR off. I equated a bird in flight to my lens manual's VR description for panning shots but your reasoning makes sense.

John Giglio (jkg0806) on December 23, 2015

 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Fellow Ribbon awarded for his frequent posting with an always positive comment, sharing his knowledge, contributing to the spirit of the community.

Dave, an outstanding article I thoroughly enjoyed it and came away with a few pointers that I had not been using that I can't wait to try. Thank You for sharing this with us.

Mohammad Shafiq (shafiq36) on July 13, 2015

This is a very informative article,I am going to experiment your recommendations on other flying objects ,namely,honey bees. I have tried shutter speed of 1/1000 sec,with aperture of f5.6,I got good results but I will like to get best results,by the way honey bees have a very predictable behavior,I have to just wait near a very bright flower and they fly in to suck nectar.

Jan Timmons (Jan Timmons) on May 11, 2015

Good, clear writing and excellent ideas for capturing BIF. Your ratio of keepers per shots far outweighs mine, but I'm not discouraged. I find that the process, practice, watching for bears, and battling giant mosquitos is just the best. Your photo examples are superb!

User on April 12, 2015

Thank you for sharing, David. I appreciated it very much. I came back today from a shoot of shore birds, only 6 out of 453 shots. Thanks again jchoong

Don Rich (dwr857) on March 3, 2015

Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Awarded for his high level skills, specially in Wildlife & Landscape Photography

Dave this answered many of the questions I have! Thank you so much for taking the time to create this tutorial, I learned a lot. I just recently started to shot birds and BIF and I know this will help me greatly! As I read your tutorial, I got my camera to set the correct settings! Your explanation of the settings was fantastic and even I understood them. This coming weekend my wife and I are traveling to a Lake Jordan, NC to hopefuly shoot eagles for the first time. To this day I still have not seen one one the wild. Supposedly this lake has the largest concentration of nesting pairs in the state! Wish me luck. One thing I have to get past is I get very excited when a photo opp presents itself to the point I know I have lost good shots! I am slowly getting better! Thank you again, I cannot wait to utilize your techniques. Friday I am going to the local lake to shoot the gulls! (PRACTICE) BTW - Your BIF images are fantastic.... Don

Richard Cron (rcron) on January 18, 2015

Good information, Thanks. With my D7100 in CH mode (shooting Raw + jpeg), I often find that the shot I wanted occurred AFTER the shot buffer was full and all I could do was watch as the opportunity passed. I have tried raw only but not enough improvement to suit me.

Ceasar Sharper (delano1997) on January 17, 2015

Excellent work David. I've recently adjusted my BIF settings to improve my keeper rate. I was also impressed with your results with a D300 at 800 ISO. I too own a D300 but bought a D800 for it's improved ISO capabilities but the frame rate is disappointing compared to the D300.

Malcolm Berry (mexberry) on August 12, 2014

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Dave, Thanks for the informative blog. How much time do you spend scouting out shooting locations to decide where to set up your tripod? Do you use a bird calling app to attract birds closer to you?

Michael D. Miller (MichaelDMiller) on July 16, 2014

I am confused about the best number of AF points and AF modes (Dynamic, 3D, normal, etc.). Also, we probably pan the birds so we don't really use the focus tracking and hold the frame steady, right? Thanks.

Paul Lebras (Paul4707) on June 15, 2014

Dave, This was an excellent article; thank you for the very practical advice.

Steve Webster (Webbo51) on May 1, 2014

Thankyou David, most helpful. Steve

Dave Ashenden (daveash) on April 7, 2014

Dave. Many thanks for the tips, a great addition to my shooting skills. I´ve been attempting to capture birds in flight images with some minor success but your additional information has made this task much more successful. I´ll post the first result in the gallery. Thanks again Daveash

Malcolm Berry (mexberry) on April 5, 2014

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Gracias Dave for your insight. I have just acquired the Sigma 150-500 a heavy beast and I will try to hold the AF on button down as well as supporting the lens with my left hand! I don't have a tripod with me, so it will be a challenge! BIF are a great challenge - until I tried to photograph hummingbirds I did not appreciate how fast those things move!

David Summers (dm1dave) on April 3, 2014

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To Greg: No, I don’t use spot metering for moving subjects. The problem with using spot metering is that the AF point (the metered area) must be over a neutral image are to get correct exposure. If the spot meter hits an area of white the camera will underexpose and if it hits a dark area the camera will over expose. Spot metering is best used in more controlled photography when you have time to choose a neutral (middle gray) area in the scene to meter off of.

David Summers (dm1dave) on April 3, 2014

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To Peter: AF still works with the TC. If the lens + TC results in a maximum aperture smaller than f/5.6 AF may get spotty on older cameras. The newest cameras can AF with an aperture as small as f/8. There is a bit of an AF penalty even with fast lenses. You lose a bit of AF speed with each more powerful TC.

Gregory A Hoyle (Greg Hoyle) on April 2, 2014

Very good article. One question: you talked about stopping down the exposure; do you ever use spot metering?

Peter Sabolch (dmdpeterdmd) on March 31, 2014

one loses autofocus with the tele extenders, correct?

David Benyukhis (dovid701) on March 25, 2014

A very helpful article and very beautiful photos

Leo Sylvester (LeeSyl) on March 20, 2014

Excellent write-up Dave. But how on earth do you manage a 400mm lens AND a Gitzo in a kayak (no need for a reply, BTW.)

Rosemary Smith (MimiSmith) on March 16, 2014

I am new to this site and came across this incredibly helpful and well-written article. Just what I was looking for. Thanks for sharing this information, I appreciate it and am now so excited to go out and try my hand at this. Thanks again, Rosemary

Amit Kher (Amit Kher) on March 13, 2014

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Great article Dave

Gary Worrall (glxman) on March 11, 2014

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Hi Dave, Always admired your images! Thank you for your detailed advice, I'm sure your efforts are greatly appreciated by all who visit I think I dream every night about shooting wildlife with a 500 f4 but wake up and find I am still using a 300 f4 Maybe the new Tamron will help, hope its sharp and fast enough Regards, Gary

Ray Milbrandt (iiKaptain) on March 11, 2014

Great Article Thank you

Yew Bang Toh (TYBTYBTYB) on March 6, 2014

Great article and really help me a lot.

User on March 4, 2014

No need to comment re meter mode settings. After going thru the posts a second time....I found your answer Dated 2014-02-20. Thanks again Dave!

Finn Goldbach (fgoldbach) on March 4, 2014

Great article, thanks Dave.

User on March 3, 2014

Thanks Dave for this great article/photos! I've had limited success with eagles in flight, either to dark or to bright. What meter setting would you normally use and do you pre meter on an object that would have similar darkness/brightness attributes as the subject?

User on March 2, 2014

Really interesting, I always tried free-hand shooting as I use to do with racing- bikes. I'm going to try with a good ball-head on my tripod.

Ioan Horvat (nhorvat2) on March 2, 2014

Dave, thank you for sharing. I am sure you saved me days and days of trial and error.

Preston Moochnek RPh. (massulo) on March 1, 2014

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Thanks for your hard work here

Fred Laberge (labtrout) on February 26, 2014

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Superb tutorial, Dave. Thanks for all the great advice, especially explaining your reasoning on settings.

Adam Barrett (fruitbat) on February 24, 2014

Thanks Dave great article although I haven't tried taking images of birds in flight its something I would like to try. Again many thanks.

Robert S Baldassano (robsb) on February 24, 2014

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Dave thanks for the effort. I think it touches all the bases. One of the first things I learned after joining Nikonians was use of the AF ON button. I could never go back. I am not lucky enough to have anything longer than my 300mm f/4, and I don't have a Wimberley so I am doubly handicapped. Yet I still have been able to capture BIF by getting as close as I can and using TC's. I hand hold a lot or use a monopod as except for static birds, I find it hard to track a BIF with my Gitzo tripod and Markins 20 ballhead.

Christian Fritschi (ChristianF) on February 24, 2014

Dave's generosity in sharing his experience and this valuable information deserves all our votes but I only see 19. What's up ?

Robert W. Smith (branthunter) on February 23, 2014

Thank you for sharing such valuable information. I've been shooting BIF for about a year with a D600 and a 70-300f4.5-5.6 and it can indeed be a frustrating exercise, but my keeper rate is gradually increasing, as is my criteria for what constitutes "keeper" . It is really encouraging to get " the berries" from someone who knows of what he speaks.

Peter Curatolo (pcuratolo) on February 22, 2014

Thanks for a superb article. I am going on my first photo trip for birds in March, and appreciate all the useful info.

David Eyestone (txstone12) on February 22, 2014

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Thanks for the tutorial and fine looking images, David. I enjoyed seeing your kayak setup as well. It actually looks fairly comfortable.

Bill Steele (stillbill11) on February 21, 2014

Thanks for the very thorough article, Dave. That Focus Tracking (a3) setting is a brand new revelation for me, formerly I have been on '1'. I cannot WAIT to try out the '4' setting! Bill

Paul Turbitt (larrycurrlymoe) on February 21, 2014

David, I really appreciate you taking the time and effort of putting this article together. This is a super example of what being part of Nikonians is all about. You have provided us with an excellent starting point for getting better images and boosting confidence when in the field. Thank you!

John DiGiacomo (jdigiacomo922) on February 21, 2014

Dave, Thank you once again for sharing the previous link. The close-up pictures of your set-up answered my questions. Best, John

Roberta Davidson (birdied) on February 21, 2014

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Excellent article Dave, thank you. Birdie

Wen Wu (wwp512) on February 21, 2014

Great article. Two months ago I was shooting with a friend who uses a Canon, we couldn't really help each other to camera setting suggestions. Needless to say it was very frustrating when your camera won't "listen" to you. Over the next 8 weeks I came to close to your summation, this will help cut down on the learning curve for the next outing. Thanks for sharing.

Reg Aupperle (brobones) on February 20, 2014

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Fantastic info. thanks Dave. Your images are superb.

David Summers (dm1dave) on February 20, 2014

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John -- We have a great discussion on the subject of shooting from a kayak in the wildlife forum here... ----| http://tinyurl.com/lo8jo93 |---- There are close-up photos of my rig in that thread. ---- BTW the last eagle image was not shot from the kayak ---

John DiGiacomo (jdigiacomo922) on February 20, 2014

David, Thank you for sharing. It appears that many of your flight images were captured from your canoe, could you share with me how you have secured your tripod to the boat? Best, John

Shirley Steen (griphook) on February 20, 2014

Is there any way to get a text only copy of the Flying Bird Shooting Guide? I don't want to print pictures or posts.

David Summers (dm1dave) on February 20, 2014

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More often than not I use Center-weighted metering ------ Matrix puts a little too much weight on the area under the focus point and I often find it metering a bit hot, it works great in some light though. ----- If you have consistent light it can be a good idea to take some test shots and dial in the exposure in manual mode and then check you histogram throughout the day and adjust as needed.

Lawrence Carr (Sixmileman) on February 20, 2014

Dave: I echo the other comments...excellent article and most helpful. I was asking these very questions in Nikonians forums only a few months ago and got wide-ranging replies. But, having seen your superb BIFs I'll stick with your settings. One question...what metering mode do you use, matrix, center weighted, or spot? Thanks again for this helpful info.

David Summers (dm1dave) on February 19, 2014

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Revising that sentence ----| When you set autofocus to AF-C and release priority, you have continuous focus tracking as long as the AF-ON button is depressed. If the bird that you are tracking lands, you can you can lock focus by simply letting go of the AF-ON button. This eliminates the need to switch between AF-C (for moving subjects) and AF-S (for static subjects.) |----- I will see if I can get the article edited.

David Summers (dm1dave) on February 19, 2014

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@ AutumnInNewYork -- When the subject is in motion you must keep AF-ON depressed to track the subjects movement. When you let go of the AF-ON button the focus is locked – i.e. the lens will not adjust focus as the subject moves. So, to track – hold the AF-ON button – to lock focus (when your subject stops moving) – release the AF-ON button.

Dr. Patrick Buick (profpb) on February 19, 2014

O.K. It's about time for me to get better. I now have an excellent set of notes. Thank you, David. I'm off to the beach for gulls.

Sol Shamilzadeh (AutumnInNewYork) on February 19, 2014

Very informative, but a little confusing. ChristianF brought it up earlier. Can you please address for clarification his issue of whether you press the back focus button once or keep it pressed (without releasing it)to maintain auto focus tracking. 2014-02-19 14:12:49 posted by Christian Fritschi (ChristianF) Great tips Dave ! I was wondering if you could clarify the following statement: "When you set autofocus to AF-C and release priority you can lock focus by simply letting go of the AF-ON button and you have continuous tracking as long as you are pressing the AF-ON button." In the same sentence you say that releasing the AF-ON button keeps the focus locked and also say that you need to keep the button pressed. For clarity's sake: if I frame a BIF and press the AF-ON and want focus tracking to work properly, do I keep the button pressed or release it and the focus keeps tracking automatically as long as the BIF is within the frame ? I am a big fan of the AF-ON button and was stunned when I bought the D600 and realized it was missing. Luckily, there's the option of of assigning AF-ON to the AE-L/AF-L button. Thanks for sharing your technique on BIF's. I have a lot of respect for and admire your work very much.

David Summers (dm1dave) on February 19, 2014

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@ trdavis – Yes, I shoot short bursts for the same reason with most subjects. Often one image will be just a bit sharper than the others. @ jonik – When no support is avaible you may want to use faster shutter speeds. It takes time and practice to develope smooth panning technique. @ ChristianF – When the subject is in motion you need to keep AF-ON depressed for tracking. If you subject lands and stops moving you can lock focus by simply letting go of the AF-ON button.

RICHARD MESSNER (5683RAM) on February 19, 2014

Just the post I have spent two years searching for - THANK YOU !! Dick

Robert Louis (RobertD80) on February 19, 2014

Exactly what I was looking for! Superb shots. Thanks.

Mike Banks (unclemikey) on February 19, 2014

I have been very hesitant to try BIF but with your information as a starting point I feel more confident to give this a try. Thanks for a great article.

Gene W Kimball (PhotoGene47) on February 19, 2014

By your post, I would guess that you also set your bit depth to 12 vice 14 to eek out the maximum speed from the camera without incurring buffer retardation. I have not really done much in the way of animals or BIF but it sounds like fun. Thank you for a good getting-started guide.

Mick Wood (Triptych) on February 19, 2014

Thanks David - very clear and concise with good examples and made all the better by including your personal recommendations. I can't wait to try this out.

Christian Fritschi (ChristianF) on February 19, 2014

Great tips Dave ! I was wondering if you could clarify the following statement: "When you set autofocus to AF-C and release priority you can lock focus by simply letting go of the AF-ON button and you have continuous tracking as long as you are pressing the AF-ON button." In the same sentence you say that releasing the AF-ON button keeps the focus locked and also say that you need to keep the button pressed. For clarity's sake: if I frame a BIF and press the AF-ON and want focus tracking to work properly, do I keep the button pressed or release it and the focus keeps tracking automatically as long as the BIF is within the frame ? I am a big fan of the AF-ON button and was stunned when I bought the D600 and realized it was missing. Luckily, there's the option of of assigning AF-ON to the AE-L/AF-L button. Thanks for sharing your technique on BIF's. I have a lot of respect for and admire your work very much.

Tom Davis (trdavis) on February 19, 2014

Thanks Dave! There are a bunch of ideas here that I'll try my next time out. A couple of comments: Another reason to take bursts is that while there may be some lens shake due to pressing the shutter release, once it's down, the next shots won't be affected and thanks to digital photography, "film" is very cheap. Also, if you're using the D4 you can safely use higher ISO values if that's what you need for a sufficiently fast shutter speed.

Joel Gold (bonsaiman) on February 19, 2014

Beautiful pictures. Great info. Thanks

Kodi Barkhuizen (Kodisa) on February 19, 2014

Dave, thanks for sharing your "keeper rate" with all the other valuable info. It will keep me from getting discouraged. Hope to get to your level one day.

Dr Joel Bernstein (jonik) on February 19, 2014

Dear David Thanks for an informative article. Do you have any further tips regarding this as often I am in the bush (African) or on board a small boat without the luxury of a tripod, monopod or anywhere to rest the camera or lens, so hand held it has to be! Regards

User on February 19, 2014

Thanks for a very useful review. I enjoyed all of it.

Julie Good (jgirl57) on February 19, 2014

Thanks Dave for this! Love your shots!

David Summers (dm1dave) on February 19, 2014

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Thanks everyone for the great comments. Mike, you are correct auto ISO can be your friend especially in an environment with changing light. Pierre, I also find that ISO-400 is a good starting point with a long lens. It takes exceptionally good light keep up the shutter speed with such a narrow angle of view. I have seen some fish make some big jumps but have never captured one.

Pierre Malan (Pierre Malan) on February 18, 2014

I usually use my Sigma 120-400 for flying birds. I prefer a shutter speed of 1/1600 second. I would normally shoot at 400 ISO, but will crank that up as needed. The D 7000 tracks targets very well, helping greatly with focusing. For an added challenge when it comes to shooting things on the wing, try photographing flying fish!

User on February 18, 2014

Beautiful images. Thank you for the informative post!

Colin Roach-Rooke (colinrr) on February 18, 2014

Thanks Dave for a really good article. Loads of detail which I'll have to try to remember and practise a lot I'm sure before I get Photos like the ones posted. Colin

Chet Budd (cfbuddphotos) on February 18, 2014

Very helpful information. Thanks. Chet

Alan Brunelle (SupraDad) on February 18, 2014

Very helpful and concise - thanks!

Lawrence Coote (L Coote) on February 18, 2014

Excellent article with simple instructions to follow. Thanks for sharing

David Fellmet (David Fellmet) on February 17, 2014

Thanks for putting all of these great tips in one article. It will sure help newbies like me to a least have a slim chance of getting a good image. Your superb images give us a standard to reach for.

Richard Luse (DaddySS) on February 17, 2014

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Thanks Dave, really helpful!

Rob Koelling (rwk48) on February 17, 2014

I appreciate your advice, David. I've admired your shots in the Wildlife forum. It's nice to know where I'm in the ball park, and even nicer to have some different things to try.

Dirk Hoffmann (DirkMHoffmann) on February 17, 2014

Realy a great article, thank you very much.

Colin Green (Seajay) on February 17, 2014

Very interesting and useful article. Thank you.

John D. Roach (jdroach) on February 17, 2014

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Excellent post, David!

Al Scherwinski (cockers) on February 17, 2014

Great article Dave!

kam leung (professorune) on February 17, 2014

Great article. Sharp shots.Thanks for sharing.

Tony Johnson (TonyJ) on February 17, 2014

Thanks!

Michael Shake (Mike_Shake) on February 17, 2014

Thanks for the tips. I do most of this myself. Only thing I can add is that I like to use Auto ISO. I set my minimum shutter speed to 1/1000 or faster depending on the bird size. (Small birds move a lot faster then big birds). Then I set a maximum ISO of 3200. Now if only I could afford a 400mm lens...

Bob Chadwick (Bob Chadwick) on February 17, 2014

Great article and some nice shots. Thanks for the info. Bob

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