Photography - Knowledge

Photographing Birds Of Prey: How to Get that Perfect Shot!

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Ask any wildlife photographer about their dream shot and they would tell you it is to capture the animals and birds in their natural habitat. If you too are hoping for photographing birds of prey, you have to get yourself prepared for it. The very first thing is to know where you can find them and a bit about their lifestyle. Birds of prey like eagles, owls, hawks etc can be fabulous subjects for photography. However, they can be really difficult to get close to as they do not necessarily like the presence of humans. But with a bit of patience, a lot of effort and by following the below-mentioned tips, you would definitely be able to succeed. 

Gear Required for Photographing Birds Of Prey

These days with all the modern lenses and cameras, you can actually take pictures of birds with the shorter lens. But, to be able to photograph the birds in flight, you would need to get lenses that have a much longer range. When shooting portraits, a tripod can prove to be rather beneficial. However, when they are in flight, the tripod wouldn't give you the movement that you need. However, you could consider putting a ball head on the tripod which would give you the opportunity to adjust the camera’s position as quickly as possible. Pistol grip could be beneficial as well. 

 gear for photographing birds of prey
Pick the Right Gear

Photographing Birds Of Prey: How Can You Get that Perfect Shot?

Now that you aware of the gear required, let’s move on and have a look at a few tips that would help you in getting that perfect shot. 

Tip #1- Get Upclose to Your Subject

We know that getting really close to a bird living in its natural habitat is quite impossible. In such situations, you might just end up scaring them and they would fly away. However, if you visit a bird rehabilitation centre, you would get the chance to get close to the birds. This means that you wouldn’t require any expensive gears as well. This is great for beginners who wish to practice and enhance their photographing skills. If you do decide to visit a rehabilitation centre, you can even work with an inexpensive lens like the Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5 – 5.6 G ED to get some really great pictures of the birds. 

get close to your subject
Stay close (source)

Tip #2 - Make Use of a Blind 

We understand that photographing birds of prey isn’t an easy task and therefore we suggest that you use blinds. Hunting blinds might not be as useful unless and until you are really close to the spot where these birds usually sit. The best place to conceal yourself would be the cars. But, why is it so? This is because the adult predators are quite used to the vehicles coming by and therefore do not really mind them. But, this does mean that you wouldn’t really be able to shoot birds sitting on branches. The best thing that we can suggest you is to not get discouraged and keep trying. You will surely be able to get some astounding shots. 

Tip #3 - Manual Focusing Works the Best 

When it comes to bird photography or just any kind of photography, you need to understand that focusing is really important. When you are photographing birds of prey, manual focusing would work the best. Begin by manually selecting the focus point and then try to focus on the eyes of the bird. But, why the bird’s eye? This is because when it comes to shooting a fascinating portrait of the bird, you need to make the eyes look really sharp. 

manual focus for bird photography
Focus properly (source)

Tip #4 - Approach from a Distance Slowly 

If you are trying to get pictures of eagles or any other birds of prey, you must understand that getting close to them would scare them away. If you are driving and stop your car suddenly, that would most likely frighten the bird. Move slowly and win the trust of the bird. The bird should be able to get used to your presence. Keep your windows open and avoid making any sudden movements. 

Tip #5 - Be Really Good With Your Shutter Speeds 

When it comes to photographing birds of prey, the best advice that we can give you is to use faster shutter speeds. Of course, we do agree that you can get really astounding pictures with the blurring of the wings if you use slower shutter speeds. This is especially great if you want some creative photos. 

Check the camera settings like the exposure and the ISO. The reading should be approximately where you would be aiming before you actually take the picture. Higher ISO would be much more favourable as compared to a wider aperture in case you find that the lighting is too low. 

Tip #6 - Switch to Continuous Drive Mode

By switching to a continuous drive mode, you would be able to get multiple images of the birds in flight or flying away. This will help you choose the best click during the post processing.
Multiple images of eagle in flight (source)

Tip #7 - Telephoto Is The Way To Go 

If you are just a beginner and photography recently became your passion, you need to understand that you wouldn’t necessarily need a specialist kit to shoot pictures of owls or other pictures of birds. Just a basic DSLR and lens kit would work fine. But, in all situations, you might not be able to get really close to them. The birds fly way too high in the sky and perch on trees that are very high and thus it can be difficult to click bird pictures. But don’t get disheartened. In such situations, lenses that have a focal length of a minimum of 400mm would help you in getting decent shots. Telephoto zoom lenses with 300mm or 400mm would definitely be a great asset if you are really interested in shooting bird photography or some astounding wildlife shots. It is definitely a worthy investment.

Tip #8 - Choose Aperture Priority Mode (when shooting stationary birds) 

When photographing birds of prey, it is actually a good idea to get out of the auto mode and choose aperture-priority mode. This way you would get better control of the depth of field. An aperture of f/4 or f/5.6 will blur out the background in an amazing for a much stronger shot. This signifies that you would be able to shoot with a much faster shutter speed. When combined with a telephoto lens, the results that you get would be mesmerizing: a rather shallow depth of field in order to render the background as a very soft blur. Click bird photography in this mode and trust us, you would create some award-winning images!

camera settings for birds of prey photography
Blur the background and focus on your subject

Tip #9 - Choose Continuous Auto-Focus mode

Once you have set your focus point and the bird decides to move after that, you would still get a clear picture. This happens because the camera would automatically update. Thus we strongly recommend continuous autofocus mode for bird photography settings. 

Tip #10 - Reduce Camera Shakes

Your shutter speed should be somewhere around 1/500 sec or 1/1000 sec so as to reduce sudden camera shakes. Also, practice enough to make yourself capable enough of handling any kind of sudden movements. The ISO can be adjusted according to the situation you are shooting in. It is best to invest in a tripod to click flawless bird pictures. This way you will easily reduce any camera shakes. 

camera settings
Apt camera settings for bird of prey photography

Tip #11 - Stop Or Slow Down if The Bird Poops or Raises Its Tail

If you notice that the bird is raising its tail, it might be because they are getting frustrated and would fly away. The best tip for photographing birds of prey that we can give you for such a situation would be to slow down and move very slowly in order to calm the birds and make them feel safer again. Also, one more thing that you should be aware of: most birds of prey poop before they fly away when they feel bothered by humans. If you ever notice such a thing, it is a clear sign that the bird doesn't feel comfortable and is, therefore, giving you visual signs.

Tip #12 - Photographing Birds in Flight 

Most people especially beginners often wonder as to how to photograph bird in flight. Well, as compared to shooting them while they are sitting somewhere, you need to adopt a different approach for shooting a bird in flight. Say you are clicking pictures of owl or pictures of eagle, separate your subject from the background and then with a very fast shutter speed, freeze the bird while it is in motion or in-flight. This technique will give you a natural bird in flight picture and if you master this step, you are definitely a step ahead in the game of bird photography.

bird in flight
Freeze the bird in motion

Tip #13 - Experiment with Different Angles 

You do not need to shoot a bird the same way your favorite photographer did. If you try copying someone or even your previous shot because it turned out perfect, you might never succeed. Photography is all about creativity and testing and improving your skills, especially when it comes to photography raptor. Keep changing your angles continuously and experiment with your shots when photographing birds of prey. Once you have managed to capture a few full body shots, change the angle of your camera and try to take some headshots or something else that might seem interesting. 

different angles to click bird of prey
Go creative with your clicks

Tip #14 - Arrive Early and Stay Late 

If you go out searching for birds of prey during the afternoon, you might not be able to find any. This is because it would most probably be too hot during that time. What you can do instead is arrive on the spot early in the morning when most birds choose to hunt. Early morning is the perfect time to capture some really impressive pictures. The same goes for evening time when the sun is about to set. Most predators would always try to hunt for something for their dinner. So dawn and dusks are the ideal time for clicking bird pictures.

Tip #15 - Switch To A Single Auto-Focus Point

As discussed above, to get crisp and clear pictures of the birds, it is best to focus on the eye that is closest to your camera. This is because; the viewers generally tend to assume that the whole image is out-of-focus if the eye closest to the camera is not in focus. 

auto focus mode for birds of prey
Focus for creative clicks (source)

Wrapping Up

Photographing birds of prey is a difficult task but with all the tips and tricks mentioned above, we really hope that you benefit from it. Follow all of the above tips, get creative and get clicking! Just make sure that you do not hurt or scare the bird in any way. Birds are beautiful creatures and you should be extra careful to ensure that you are not scaring them in any way. 

Did you find the tips helpful? Do you have any other tips that you would like to share with us? Feel free to do so in the comments sections below. Happy Clicking!

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