Michael John Balog | Photographing Raptors In-Flight

Photographing Raptors In-Flight

September 09, 2017

     The most difficult thing to do with your camera is to try photographing a bird in-flight; I'm not the first one that wrote this.  An infamous writer-photographer with Shutterbug magazine, by the name of Joe Farace, wrote about this more than a decade ago.  And he wasn't pulling your telephoto lens!

     Over a half century of playing with cameras I've worked in nearly every genre, and nothing moves with the speed of a single bird.  Kids run around and yell, but they usually understand some sort of language; or a stuffed animal.  Family portraits and weddings are notoriously Red-tailed Hawk In-Flight, Wind River Canyon, WyomingRed-tailed Hawk In-FlightRed-tailed Hawk in-flight photographed in the Wind River Canyon, Wyoming. stressful, but they can be cooperative with a little help.  Portraiture and landscapes just sit there and don't move much.  But nothing challenges eye-hand coordination, and your sanity, quite like trying to image a bird in-flight.

     My favorite birds to photograph are the hummingbirds, as anyone who has seen my website can attest----HogbatsPhotography.com.  But there is nothing like getting a great image of a raptor, especially in-flight.  Their power and grace are unmatched in nature:  Just look at history to see how many nations have used raptors as symbols of their power and influence.  Just finding a raptor can be a real challenge, which of course is your first challenge.

     Finding a raptor may be your first problem, some others seem obvious.  A camera that can shoot many frames-per-second is unfortunately a lot of help.  That twelve thousand dollar telephoto lens I fantasize about is not really necessary, and I do with a lot, lot less.  The pictures in this week's Wind River Canyon Blog were taken with a Canon 300mm f/4 L-series that was purchased used, and has since quit working after years of use.  What was the name of that repair service?

     A shutter speed of 1/1250th was used for these Red-tailed Hawk photos; faster is always better with birds....or running children.  The exposure should be on the raptor, as all else is unimportant to you at that moment.  Secret Tip #1----raptors almost always poop before they take flight!  Hey, lighter is better when you gotta fly.

     Personally I never use a tripod in these circumstances, as I find they just hinder my ability to "get the shot."  My preference is the old-west sheriff's way; just be a good shot.  This kind of eye-hand coordination takes practice.  So practice on anything that moves....a flower in the wind, that bee, that butterfly, a moving car, a running child; anything that moves can be good practice.  This will also make you a much better photographer.  And holding up that telephoto lens will give your muscles a workout! Red-tailed Hawk In-Flight, Wind River Canyon, WyomingRed-tailed Hawk In-Flight, Wind River CanyonRed-tailed Hawk in-flight photographed in the Wind River Canyon, Wyoming.      Every teacher of photography wants you to shoot his way.  I'm here to tell you that what works for you is the correct way.  Image-stabilization is something I use every day here in the Wind River Canyon.  I find that holding down the shutter button half way helps me concentrate on my subject, be it bird or kid; it's also faster to the shot.  Yet, shooting hummingbirds in-flight it is nearly useless!

     As for software, I suggest first using the manufacturers software that came with your camera, as it is made for their RAW files; always shoot RAW....it's much easier to manipulate your images that way.  Don't be afraid to cutout the parts of the picture you don't like:  Too much sky....cut it out, too much of that tree....cut it out.  Make your images great.  I prefer Adobe Lightroom for post-production, your preferences may vary.  Make Your Work Art!

Practice makes you better.  Practice.  Practice.  Practice.

     Wind River Canyon Blog and all images are the work of Michael John Balog, Wind River Canyon in the state of Wyoming, and all rights are reserved.  Thank you for reading the Wind River Canyon Blog this week.