How to Photograph Flocks of Birds
As the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. And while individual birds or small groups of birds can make excellent subjects, those large flocks of birds can be just as interesting and beautiful to photograph.
In this how-to guide, we explore two creative ways to capture images of flocks of birds and provide recommended settings to get the best images.
An issue that bird photographers often encounter is blur from the motion of a bird in flight. Unwilling to cooperate with the photographer’s creative vision for a perfectly sharp capture, birds go about their business, flapping their wings and flying around.
But you can use this movement to your advantage to create an interesting abstract image if the lighting isn’t all that great - perhaps before golden hour begins in the morning or after it’s ended in the evening. Poor weather days, like when it’s cloudy and rainy, are great times to try this technique as well.
Switch your camera to aperture priority mode and establish a fairly open aperture, say, f/4-5.6, to account for the lack of light. Set a low ISO to avoid noise, and to force the camera into a slower shutter speed. Hand hold your camera to enhance the blur, and fire away! You may need to fine tune your aperture and ISO settings to get the best shutter speed, but those are easy adjustments to make on the fly.
The point here is that even when conditions aren’t ideal, you can still take a stunning image of flocking birds.
Try a Silhouette
Since birds like to get together and roost in the early morning and early evening hours, you have an excellent opportunity for impressive silhouettes against the rising or setting sun.
With the gorgeous light that comes with the dawn and dusk hours, there’s a real opportunity to put your bird subjects in front of a truly stunning backdrop. But, as is key with any silhouette, you will get the best shot if you’ve got an open area with an unobstructed view of the sky. Trees, tall grasses, and manmade objects jutting into the scene can detract from the composition.
With a large group of birds, you will need to use an aperture that will give you a good depth of field, with the birds sharp from the front to the back of the flock. Start with an aperture of f/8-f/11 and get a meter reading from the brightest part of the sky using your camera’s spot metering function. Then, half-press the shutter release button to focus and take a meter reading, and lock the reading in with the exposure lock button. Proceeding in this manner will ensure the sky has the appropriate brightness and color saturation, while the birds are underexposed, thus creating a nice silhouette.
Part of the challenge that makes bird photography so fun and interesting is coming up with creative compositions for your photos. There are thousands of amazing photos of individual birds going about their business, so why not try to capture large flocks of birds for a change of pace? Taking it a step further, use the ideas presented here to make an image with even more punch. An abstract composition has an air of wonderment and mystery to it while a silhouetted image makes use of strong colors and a wide dynamic range to create an image that has all sorts of depth. Either way, these creative bird photography ideas are sure to impress the people that view your photographs.
If you’re serious about bird photography and want even more detailed instruction on how to improve your bird images, we highly recommend the Festival of the Cranes in New Mexico. Held each November, the Festival of the Cranes will get you in touch with other bird photography enthusiasts for exciting educational opportunities, photo contests, a bird photography expo, and photography outings. Come experience and learn with over 165 birding and photography workshops, tours and seminars. You don’t want to miss it! www.festivalofthecranes.com