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Photographing Birds in Flight – Master Focusing Technique Part II

Use Only the Center Auto Focus Point

Center auto focus point on most cameras is the strongest cross focus point, enabling it to detect both vertical and horizontal subjects easily. It is also the fastest and the best performing one in low light, also using only one focus point minimizes focus errors.

birds in flight
Photo by: Kenny (zoompict) Teo

Shift to Continuous Auto Focus

focusing technique for photographing birds in flight
Photo by: Vinoth Chandar

Modern DSLR cameras use advanced subject tracking systems which also has a predictive AF function in which the camera continuously tracks the subject and anticipates where it will be by the time the shutter is pressed. This takes care of the slight shutter lag which is present in varying degrees in all cameras. This mode is called AI servo by Canon and AF-C by Nikon. Using this mode once you acquire focus on your subject you could continuously track it by simply keeping the shutter button half pressed and click at the right moment.

Pre Focus Your Lens

photographing birds in flight tips
Photo by:  Stuart Williams

If you know the bird to be at a certain distance, pre focusing on an object which is a similar distance away will make it easier for you to initially find the bird in your viewfinder and allow your auto-focus to lock faster. This is very similar to the technique we discussed in the first part of the article, which is to manually focus first and let auto focus make micro adjustments to fine tune the focus.

Pump the Focus

birds in flight photography
Photo by: John and Fish

One technique that works well is to pump the focus (press and release the button and tap it at intervals to update focus) rather than keep the shutter button pressed waiting for it to find the subject and lock on to it. if you keep the shutter button half pressed chances are the lens auto focus will keep going back and forth the minimum focusing distance and infinity draining your battery but not attaining focus.

Practice Focus Tracking

birds in flight photography tips
Photo by: John and Fish

Locking and maintain focus to click at the right moment is a skill that requires much practice to master. Start out by practicing on birds that fly from one side of the frame to another rather than the ones flying towards or away from you. It is better to select larger slow moving birds as your practice subjects.  The farther away the bird is the easier it is to track it. One technique that some photographers find helpful is to keep both eyes open when tracking birds, this enables to quickly regain focus if they lose track of the bird in the viewfinder but whether this work for you or not you should find out yourselves.

Related Reading

  1. Photographing Birds in Flight – Master Focusing Technique
  2. Tips for Photographing Shorebirds
  3. How to Photograph Birds in Flight Using Manual Focus Lenses
  4. How to Photograph Birds of Prey
  5. Bird Photography Tips

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