Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tips for Shooting Birds in Flight Near Your Feeder

Jay Landing DSC_9366
Originally uploaded by Mully410 * Images

This weekend was very cold and I was feeling abnormally wimpy so I staked out my bird feeder. I've spent some time trying to figure out how to get decent shots of birds in flight but this weekend I was determined to figure it out once and for all. I could write three pages on the evolution of my learnings but I'll spare you that and just present my conclusions.

These tips are the product of probably 10-12 hours (and thousands of shots) of experimentation over the last several weeks (mostly this weekend though).

The first thing I learned was to pre-focus on a spot where I know the birds will be then I turn off the auto-focus. The auto-focus consistently "wants" to focus on the fence or the lilac bushes in the background.

The second important item is speed. I mostly shot in aperture priority wide open to get the fastest shutter speed without sacrificing ISO. Eventually, I gave up on this when I discovered I needed at least 1/1000 of second. So I switched to shutter priority and set it for 1/1000 or 1/1500 when I had brighter light.

The third thing I worked on was stability. Up until today, I hand held all my shots from my window while relying on the VR (vibration reduction) to stabilize my camera. Overtime, my arms and hands started to ache. You have to keep the camera up ALL THE TIME if you hope to capture birds, especially chickadees.

Chickadee Landing DSC_9448
Chickadee Landing DSC_9448

Since I couldn't fit my tripod in front of the window, which is behind the TV, I used my monopod. It collapses short enough to rest easily on the sill below the window.

The last important thing I figured out was timing. I only get 3-4 shots before the D5000 buffer fills up and I have to wait a second or two before the next shot. (I shoot RAW for lots of reasons). For this reason, I have to make sure I push the shutter release at exactly the right second to capture the bird with wings outspread. In order to do this, I had to see the bird before it entered the field of view in my frame. This problem was solved by keeping both eyes open and pushing the shutter when I saw movement towards the feeder

I'm sure there are other tips out there but these worked for me.

1. Pre-focus and turn off auto-focus
2. Shutter priority 1/1000 sec or faster
3. Use a tripod or monopod so you can keep the camera in position for long periods.
4. Keep both eyes open
5. Have fun

Red-bellied Woodpecker DSC_9383
Red-bellied Woodpecker
by Mully410 * Images


  1. Brilliant pics. Many thanks for the tips - I have been having trouble shooting birds in flight - these are sure to improve my pics, I almost gave up!

  2. Thanks for the comment and kind words, Rose. Don't give up! There are lots if free tips out there so keep studying but more importantly, keep shooting.

  3. Nice advice.. Hope to try soon. Thanks a lot for sharing!

  4. You are like a great hunter who never leaves his living room. This cracks me up . Love it. Thanks for info I got to set up a feeder now just to try it but I am going to get a safari hat too.

  5. Funny...but I'm not too much like the great basement hunter. I'm out and about all the time. Look for some new stuff this weekend. I'm going out with the St. Paul Audubon Society for the annual Christmas bird count!


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