2014 Challenge, Week 8: Nature & Wildlife Photography – Birds in Flight

A couple of weeks ago Jeremy got us all up to speed with panning. Well panning is an interesting skill to master when it comes to wildlife photography, in this case, BIRDS IN FLIGHT.

Basic panning skills allow you to follow your subject. Although you can use Panning’s slower shutter speeds to create interesting and artistic effects, many wildlife photographers prefer to freeze their subjects with higher shutter speeds.

Flock of Common Starlings in flight

Flock of Common Starlings in flight – Slow Shutter Speed

In the example above I choose to shoot a flock of Starlings flying from fruit tree to fruit tree with a slower shutter speed. This gave my image many of the photographic attributes we commonly see with panning. The subject itself is in motion, the movement of the wings is well illustrated.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

In the case of this Black-crowned Night Heron, a higher shutter speed was used to completely freeze the flying motion of the bird’s wings. It’s important to follow the bird as you would any panning subject and to shoot at a minimum speed of 1/1000 of a second to completely freeze your subject.

Common Tern in flight

Common Tern in flight

Herons can be fairly slow flying birds, but this Common Tern is like a jet fighter and the Challenge gets a little harder. Fast flying birds demand a greater deal of practice panning and a fast response from the camera in addition to higher shutter speeds.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant in flight

It’s important to make sure your focus is on the bird’s head. On large birds like this Cormorant it’s easy to accidentally focus on the tip of the wing. This can leave the head (Eyes & Beak) out of focus. The bright sky can also trick your exposure meter to under-expose your subject. You may want to over expose by one stop when shooting birds against a bright sky.

Swans - Lake Neuchatel, Switzerland

Mute Swans – Lake Neuchatel, Switzerland

The closer you find yourself to a bird in flight, the harder it will be to capture the moment. You may want to integrate birds in flight to a landscape type scenery. Having a greater distance between you and the moving subject will give you more time to compose and shoot your image.

Common Tern Chasing Black-crowned Night Heron

Common Tern Chasing Black-crowned Night Heron

Birds can get pretty territorial and don’t tolerate predators that can present a menace. In this case a small Common Tern is chasing away a much larger Black-crowned Night Heron

To fully take advantage of the sunlight, early mornings and late afternoons will provide a lower angle and softer light to work with.

The rules are pretty simple:

  • Post one shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Google+Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge.org. or #photochallenge2014.
  • The shot should be a new shot taken for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2014 Photo Challenge is fun and easy.

About Steve Troletti

I'm a Location Scout, Editorial, Nature, Wildlife and Environmental Photographer based in Malibu, California. I specialize in Nature and Urban Nature photography including Infrared Landscapes. The Bulk of my work takes place in the Los Angeles, California area, Greater Montreal Region, Canada, Switzerland, France and Varese in Northern Italy. Ethical wildlife photography is the main priority and focus of my work. A minimum disturbance of the animals, their habitat and the environment is my top priority. This applies as much to total wilderness areas as it does to urban nature environments. Ongoing education of environmental issues and building awareness for the protection of wildlife and wilderness areas around the world is what drives me to document the beauty that surrounds us.