Thoughts on Birds in Flight

Can you tell this blog was written today, in a bit of a hurry? Usually I have a buffer of blog posts that are scheduled to run – at the moment I don’t. I have a lot of exciting posts that I will share soon, but I want to do them justice. This week has been quite difficult, and I haven’t had the time to sit back and really craft them how I’d like. Hopefully they’re worth the wait – in the meanwhile, here’s a short post on birds in flight. 


One of my favourite challenges in bird photography is catching birds in flight. It takes practice to get the panning technique right, but even so, it’s not always easy. Each species, with a different flight style, presents a new challenge. The direction of flight, wind, even the background that the bird is flying against can all make it more difficult. For bird photographers it’s a feat of hand/camera-eye coordination that requires practice. I notice that after a few days of solid photography, my hit-rate vastly improves. Take a few weeks off, and it takes a while to get everything working together again.     

Add another layer of complexity when the thing you’re standing on is also moving, sometimes in an unpredictable manner (boats anyone?). Stability is key to good flight shots, which is why you’ll hear people recommending tripods with fancy heads for smooth panning. My favourite place to photograph birds is out on the water, so being well-balanced is a must. But using a tripod on a boat? More of a hassle than a help. You can turn yourself into a tripod by leaning against something, with two legs planted firmly. Easy when the water is calm…less so on stormy days. It’s important to be conscious of your own safety more than anything – there’s no photo worth you going overboard for!

With some species, it’s more of a challenge than others. Birds with erratic flight that twist in the air, flutter and patter along the surface of the water, hop over the top of waves and vanish…

I’m talking about storm petrels, of course.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that last week I had the utter joy of seeing a New Zealand storm petrel for the first time – and also getting a pretty neat photograph. But as well as that photograph there are a lot of ‘almost’s! I’m a little out of practice after spending a lot of time behind a desk, but storm petrels will always be a challenge. Out of thousands taken, there’s a lot of photos of nothing to wade through afterwards…

But it’s worth it.