Rough-legged Hawk. Photo: Ron Dudley

Tips and How-Tos

Five Handy Tricks for Photographing Raptors in Flight

Not sure where to start? These quick tips will help you master the technique.

Raptors may be big targets, but getting a great shot is by no means easy—particularly when a bird is in flight. That involves different camera settings and techniques. Follow this advice to help ensure success. 

  1. Shoot at the fastest shutter speed possible. Raise your ISO settings to the highest level (but not so high that you’re getting noise) and set your f-stop to the lowest setting. Use proper autofocus settings for fast-moving subjects.


  2. Acquire your moving subject by following it with the camera’s hot shoe (where you mount the flash unit) and lens front, keeping your eyes just above the camera body. When the raptor lines up with both of these, move your eye to the viewfinder.


  3. Ensure synchronous panning by keeping the subject in the exact same location in your viewfinder while tracking the raptor’s movements.


  4. Try shooting in manual mode when you have a changing background.  It allows you to find the perfect exposure for light or dark birds and keep it constant as the raptor moves.


  5. Dress in camouflage or muted earth-tone colors, and don’t move when a raptor approaches. The phrase “eyes like a hawk” is not an exaggeration. Between shots, keep a hand-held camera near your chin to reduce extra motion, or if using a tripod, keep your eyes just above the viewfinder. 

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