Bird Photography Guide – In-Flight Shots

For us bird photography, and in particular in-flight bird photography, is one of the trickiest. The subject is unpredictable and the contrast can cause big problems.

We’ve put this post together to share some advice with you as well as the settings we use to take our in-flight bird pictures.

Bird Photography - Steppe Buzzard

Steppe Buzzard – 1/3200 sec, F5.6, ISO 2500

 

 

Patience

The very first thing to be aware of is patience. There is no way around this, you have to be patient. Unless you are grabbing your camera to take a picture of something already in flight, you can expect to sit there, camera ready, for some time.

A good example is the Lilac-Breasted Roller. It is as if these birds can sense a camera pointed at them and will sit and pose for you, but not take flight. Not until your arm gets tired and you drop the camera anyway.

A tripod is very handy for these situations but it is not always possible, so be patient.

Focal Length

We advise you to not zoom in too close on birds until you have a lot of practice. If the bird you are photographing is perch and you are waiting for it to fly, especially for small quick birds, zoom out a little.

Lilac-Breasted Roller

Roller – 1/2000 sec, F5.6, ISO 500, 330mm

Our reaction time has a delay so the moment you press the shutter the bird will have moved in your frame.

If you are zoomed in too tight, you have the potential to have only half, or none, of the bird in your frame.

You can crop your image in post if you need to.

Bird Photography Camera Settings

Here are the settings we generally use when conducting in-flight bird photography:

  • Shutter Priority (Tv on Canon, S on Nikon) – You want to control the shutter speed of your camera.
  • Shutter Speed – We use one of two shutter speeds. 1/2000 for larger birds and less than ideal lighting. We’ll use 1/4000 for smaller birds and when there is very bright sunlight. Bird Photography, especially in-flight, uses these high shutter speeds to stop any blur in the wings but the trade-off is less light making it onto your sensor.
  • Exposure – Because of the high shutter speeds you are using, it is best to increase your exposure by one, or two stops. We usually use +1/3
  • ISO – It is best to have your ISO setting to auto. Let the camera decide how high this needs to be for the given shot.
  • Metering – We use spot meter for all our bird photography. More often than not we have a dark bird against the sky and in many of the other metering modes this can, and will, lead to your subject being under exposed.
  • Auto-Focus – Most of our wildlife photography is done with single-point (centre) auto-focus. DSLRs these days can evaluate your intended subject and focus accordingly, however, we prefer to have full control over this.
  • Auto-Focus Mode – We tend to use AI-Serco (AF-C on Nikon) for all our in-flight bird photography. You can use AI-Focus, however, we’ve never really been too comfortable with this and stick to servo.
  • Burst – When photographing birds in flight we always use burst shot. Very often we will fire off three, or four, shots to be sure we have the subject in focus. It tends to be the first shot is the best, yet for small birds it’s a good idea to have an extra shot or two in there to be sure.

These are not hard and fast rules. These are the settings we use and they have worked for us in the past. Leave a comment below if you feel there is something we can do better and we’re more than happy to try it out. There is always something to learn.

Practice, Practice and Practice Some More

White-Fronted Bee-Eater

White-Fronted Bee-Eater – 1/2000 sec, F5.0, ISO 3200, 300mm

As with everything, it’s difficult to become good at anything if you don’t practice.

Practice panning across the sky and keeping the subject in the middle of your frame.

Practice reaction times to birds taking off.

Play around with focal length. Once you are better at the above two pointsyou can tighten your zoom.

Get Involved

Send us the tips you find useful for bird photography and we may even feature them in our newsletter, or dedicate a blog post to your ideas.




African Safari Packing Guide For First Timers

It can be intimidating knowing what to pack for your first luxury African Safari because, well, it’s Africa. Do you take everything including the kitchen sink, or do you take nothing and expect them to have it all for you?

What the lodge provides varies from place to place but most of them follow the same conventions. Below is our short list of what to take with you on the safari.

African Safari Room

Luxury African Safari Packing List

Clothes

One of the best times for game viewing is the winter months, however, summer is perfect if you can hack the heat.

Either way, we recommend taking clothing suitable for both seasons as the bush can be hot during the day and cold at night.

Pants: It doesn’t matter if you travel in summer or winter, take both long pants and shorts. Long pants are good for game drives as you usually depart before sunrise on the morning drive. It can be quite fresh. Short pants are good for down time between your morning and afternoon drives.

Shirts: Take a combination of long, and short, sleeve shirts. The reason is the same as for your pants. There is no need to go formal button up, black tie, type of clothing. We have been to many lodges and “bush casual” is more than sufficient.

Bush casual can best be described as no bright colours, stick to earth tones. Cargo pants, t-shirts or golf shirts, sneakers or hiking boots and even flip flops.

Shoes: This depends on the type of activities you will do on your luxury safari. Many places offer bush walks and for this I would recommend hiking boots. If you’re only going to take the morning and evening game drives then sneakers and flip flops will be more than enough. Sneakers being optional, although in the colder months you’ll be grateful for them.

Jacket: Come rain or shine, summer or winter, take a wind and water resistant jacket. Most lodges are very good at providing blankets and ponchos on the vehicles but even so, you may regret not having a jacket. I’ve been caught out a few times on the back of a vehicle with nothing but a t-shirt, and it wasn’t fun!

Hat: A cap will be fine although a full brimmed hat is much better. The African sun can be harsh and it’s good to protect your head and face when outside, especially in the warmer months.

African Safari Game Drive

Camera Gear

This one depends entirely on you. I’ve seen people on safari with nothing but a cellphone and I’ve seen people with gear worth tens of thousands of dollars and everything in between.

If you are taking camera equipment I recommend a good body and at least two lenses. A wide angle for scenery and sunsets. A telephoto, or zoom, lens for the wildlife.

I do recommend a laptop or tablet that you can download your pictures too. If the sightings are good, you can easily take hundreds of pictures on a game drive.

Kichaka Game Drive

Necessities

Sun Block: Never, ever forget your sun block! The highest SPF you can, especially in warm months. If you’re lucky the lodge will have for you, but this isn’t always the case. Recently when we visited Rhulani Safari Lodge we did so without sun block. We were able to borrow some from the lodge but not before it was too late and we were walking around like lobsters.

Mosquito Repellent: Most African safari lodges we’ve been to have had this in the room for us, but it never hurts to have your own. Especially if you are traveling to a malaria area. Our mosquitoes are brutal in the rainy season.

Malaria Medication: Speaking of mosquitoes, if you are going to a malaria area it is best to speak to your local doctor for some malaria medication. You can inquire with the lodge what their recommendation is.

Local Currency: It is typical convention to tip your guide and the lodge staff when you leave and for this I always carry some cash. Some lodges will accept foreign currency, however, it’s best to have local currency. The norm these days appears to be $10 per day, per person in your party, for your field guide. About the same amount for housekeeping and other lodge staff.

That’s about it for our essential African safari packing guide. With these things packed you are ready to set out on an exciting adventure and experience some of Africa’s true beauty.

Is there anything I haven’t mentioned that you would include when going on an African safari?




A Lion Roars Tonight – Getting that perfect yawn shot

Lion Yawn

Lion Yawn

So you’ve seen all these posts on social media, blogs or in magazines and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get that perfect shot of the lion yawn, right?

When we first started going into the bush, either on self-drives or with guides, we discovered that each lion sighting is one to be treasured and wanted to make the most out of each one. Not only for the experience itself, but also for trying to get the best possible shots for that sighting. After all, lions are either sleeping, sleeping or sleeping. Occasionally you’ll see them on the move, or on a hunt.

When coming across a lion sighting, one of my favourite shots to take is of the lion yawning, at just the right moment, the peak of the yawn. Usually I missed it and either ended up with shots of a semi-snarl, or a droopy eyed lion right at the end of the yawn or an image where the lion appears to be laughing at me, taunting me. These can make for amusing images, but not the ones I’ve been after.

Lion laugh

Lion laughing at us

Lion yawn tip

One of our guides a few years back, sorry I can’t remember who it was, gave us one of the best tips we have ever received for catching that perfect yawn. Keep in mind this tip isn’t a hard and fast rule, nor is it a statement of fact, but in our experience it holds true for the most part.

When you see the lion yawn, get your camera ready and compose your shot with the right settings. There will usually be a second yawn to follow soon afterwards.

By keeping this in mind, you will be able to preempt what is about to happen and take your shot right as the yawn reaches it’s peak.

Keep this in mind next time you’re out in the bush and let us know how you get on. Why not even share some of your shots with us on Facebook.