5 Techniques To Improve Your Birds In Flight Photography

There is nice golden light peaking over to the horizon, and there is a Reddish Egret foraging in the water.  Suddenly, the bird jumps up and flies away while your camera is still in transition to your eye.  You didn’t even fire a frame.  If this ever happens to you these five techniques will help you get the bird in the viewfinder to create awesome images. 

Reddish Egret

The most important foundation to photographing birds- in- flight is understanding the wind.  The wind direction dictates the orientation the bird will take off.  Most birds will take off flying into the wind.  Wind direction states the direction it is blowing; if there is an eastern wind, then a balloon will fly west. 


Therefore, when you are photographing birds- in- flight with the sun to your back in the morning an eastern wind will yield birds flying directly at you. 

Great Blue Heron



Northern or Southern winds will yield profile photos as the bird flies parallel to you. 




Great Egret

If you are photographing birds in the afternoon with the sun setting behind you, west, then a western wind will allow you to photograph birds flying directly at you. 

Tricolored Heron

Also, in the afternoon a northern and southern wind will cause birds to fly parallel to you. 





If you have ever been caught with the camera by your side as a bird takes off all you need to do is analyze bird behavior.  The tell- take signal for a bird going to take flight soon, immediately or within a couple of minutes, is defecation.  If a bird lightens its load to take off, then you should analyze the wind in order to position yourself to get the best angle.  This tip often works with larger birds.  Other behaviors that could indicate a bird taking flight are if it is resting on one foot and transitions to standing on both feet as well as certain vocalizations. Also, a quick indicator the bird is seconds away from taking flight it a quick drop in the bird’s head/ body before it leaps into the air to fly.  Lastly, if you are photographing a bird that spends its time in a flock, like Ibis, if one takes flight most likely the others will follow suit. 

Reddish Egret

The third technique is to get low when photographing birds standing in front of you ready to take off.  I prefer a lower angle when photographing larger birds take flight because you are able to create a large separation between your subject and the background causing the bird to pop against the background that is completely blown out.  If you photograph a shorebird looking down at it, then the background is much closer creating more background distractions.  There are always exceptions to this technique. 

Exception to rule

Exception to rule






If you see a bird flying towards you the fourth technique to wait for the V.  If you see a bird is hundreds of yards away and immediately hold down the autofocus to track the towards you, then your autofocus will most likely miss when the bird is at the best angle to capture photos.  You should set your camera to autofocus with the button on the back of your camera, and the shutter button for metering/ taking a photo.  This is called back- button- focus.  When a bird is hundreds of yards away half press the shutter button to activate the metering.  Then, just tap the back button, do not hold it, to keep the bird at least 85% in focus. When the birds gets into your V, or cone of focus, hold down the autofocus button and shutter to capture the action. 

Marbled Godwit

The last technique is to select the best frame from the photos in your V, or cone of focus. If you are taking a photo picture a large V extending from your sternum outward.  This is the sweet spot when a bird is flying because it will yield the best body/ head angle.  In most instances, you do not want a bird flying away from the camera in any direction.  This is not the most ascetically pleasing images. 



Also, the best wing positions are either fully up or down.  If the wings are fully up keep in mind that if you are photographing when the sun is higher in the sky it will create a harsh shadow underneath the wing.


Wings fully up

Roseate Spoonbill

Wings fully down





My favorite bird positions are when the bird is flying at the camera and flying parallel slightly facing the camera yielding a nice head angle.  I hope these techniques help you the next time you are photographing birds; the more you shoot the better you will get.