01 July 2024

Setup and Tips For Canon Birds in Flight Photography

Setup and Tips For Canon EOS / EOS R Birds in Flight Photography

Birds in Flight at Intaka Island | Woodbridge Island, Cape Town

Canon EOS Setup and Tips For Birds in Flight Photography
Yellow-Billed Duck in Flight - Canon EOS 7D Mark II / EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens

As a keen Birds in Flight photographer and trainer I spend a fair amount of time photographing and researching birds in flight (around Woodbridge Island, Cape Town).

Mastering Canon Birds in Flight Photography 

Although this article is not a step-by-step guide for becoming more proficient in the photographing birds in flight it offers my own links to in-site resources that should assist the new / developing photographer.

Its really up to the individual photographer to take time for  researching and learning about the various settings, skills and applications to master birds in flight photography.

Also Read: Birds in Flight Photography Learning Considerations 

As with any other genre Birds in Flight Photography requires a good understanding of camera / lens settings, Autofocus Settings and the many capturing and tracking variables to ultimately succeed with capturing various / fast flying birds.

Continuous experimentation, patience and practice should yield the required photography skills, Autofocus tracking and and bird(s) in flight anticipation for creating great shots. I've started my birds in flight journey with various EOS bodies; starting off with four to five frames per second continues shooting modes and the primitive (but quite effective) Canon 9-Point and 11-Point AF / AI Servo Systems (compared to the up-to 65-Point AF / AF Systems available today).

Understanding the Canon Autofocus (AF) Systems

The professional and semi-professional APS-C / Full Frame Canon EOS bodies with their advanced AF-Systems will assist the photographer a great deal with tracking fast moving subjects (once the AF system is suitably configured), but most Canon EOS bodies with AI Servo capabilities, 4fps + continuous shooting speeds, correct exposure settings and a 70-300mm lens will achieve reasonable and sharp results.

Quick Setup used for Birds in Flight Photography with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens

Camera / Lens Settings for Birds in Flight  (Canon EOS / EOS R bodies)
  • AI (AI) Servo Focusing Mode
  • Continuous Shooting Mode up to 10fps (depending on EOS body)
  • Zone Autofocus (depending on EOS / EOS R body)
  • Case 1 (if Cases in AF System)
  • Manual Mode (Exposure)
  • Auto-ISO
  • Apertures f/5.6 - 6.3
  • Shutter Speeds 1/3200s - 1/4000s
  • Lens AF on 
  • No IS (lens used does not use IS, but not an issue at 1/3200s)

Birds in Flight Photography Training Gift Vouchers View

Canon EOS Setup and Tips For Birds in Flight Photography
Little Egret in Flight - Canon EOS 7D Mark II / 400mm Prime Lens

Canon Autofocus Setting / EXIF Data
For most of of the Birds in Flight Photography posts on this website I add the Canon EOS AF / AI Servo Settings and minimum exposure EXIF Data (ISO / Aperture / Shutter Speed). Herewith most of the settings required for capturing birds in flight with the Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Birds in Flight Environmental Variables
The interpretation and application of the listed variables are not necessarily always going to provide for extraordinary results in every situation, but after quite a few years as a Birds in Flight photographer the following criteria are some of the most important factors / decisions (for ensuring great looking in-flight images). Environmental Variables

Effect of Low Light in Birds in Flight Photography >>

Two Cost-Effective Canon Lenses for Birds in Flight Photography
Canon budget lens choices for serious birds in flight photography: This is a topic I frequently discuss during my frequent Birds in Flight Photography training and workshops in Milnerton / Woodbridge Island, Cape Town. Canon Lenses

Red-knobbed Coot Canon EOS Setup and Tips For Birds in Flight Photography
Red-Knobbed Coot - Woodbridge Island Milnerton, Cape Town

Entry-level Memory Cards for Birds in Flight Photography
Although there are faster cards I have use the following Lexar and SanDisk Compact Flash (CF) and Secure Digital (SD) cards in all my Canon EOS cameras for Birds in Flight Photography (EOS 700D / EOS 70D / EOS 7D Mark II / EOS 6D) with very good results: More on Memory Cards / Card Readers
  • SanDisk Extreme 64GB 120MB/s CF Card
  • Lexar Professional 32GB 800x / 120MB/s CF Card
  • SanDisk Extreme PRO 32GB  95MB/s SD memory Card
  • SanDisk Extreme PLUS 32GB 80MB/s SD memory Card

Show Focus Points - Adobe Lightroom Plugin for Canon DSLRs
An important part of the learning is to see how the Canon AF System behaves ito your focus and AF Points lock-on (or not). Although this function is available in Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) I find the Lightroom plugin with just so much more focus and camera / lens data.  As with Lightroom 5.7 and Lightroom 6, the Show Focus Points plugin will also work in Lightroom Classic CC (Ver 7.3) without any issues. Matter of fact the plugin should be part of the upgrade / migration process coming from an older version of Lightroom to Lightroom Classic CC. Go Show Focus Points Plugin

Canon EOS Setup and Tips For Birds in Flight Photography
Grey Heron in Flight - Canon EOS 7D Mark II / 400mm Prime Lens

Canon Birds in Flight Photography Resources
A listing of various supporting documents I have used for creating my Birds in Flight Photography Workshops and Training programmes. Birds in Flight Resources

Birds in Flight Photography Training Cape Town
I offer a variety of Birds in Flight Photography / Canon EOS Autofocus training programmes in Milnerton / Woodbridge Island, Cape Town Birds in Flight Photography Training Training is also available for photographers using Adobe Lightroom post-processing. Lightroom Training Cape Town

Birds in Flight Photography Online Support
All Birds in Flight delegates are invited to join the Bird in Flight Photography Facebook Support group for posting images, discussion and questions. Birds in Flight Photography Cape Town Support

More Birds in Flight Photography Information

Setup and Tips For Canon Birds in Flight Photography
Photographing birds in flight can be a rewarding but challenging aspect of wildlife photography. Canon cameras are popular among bird photographers due to their advanced autofocus systems and high-quality lenses. Here are some setup and tips to help you capture stunning bird in-flight photos using a Canon camera:

Camera Settings:

"Shutter Priority Mode (Or Manual Mode):
  • - Set your camera to Shutter Priority (Tv) mode to have control over the shutter speed.
  • - Use a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the birds. Start around 1/1000s and adjust as needed based on the bird's speed and lighting conditions.

Autofocus Settings:
  • Choose AI Servo mode for continuous autofocus. This mode enables your camera to track moving subjects effectively.
  • Use a smaller focus point for better precision, allowing the camera to focus accurately on the bird.
  • Set the AI Servo tracking sensitivity to best suit the way your subject moves. Experiment with the settings to find what works for you.

Burst Mode:
  • Utilize the continuous shooting (burst) mode to capture a series of shots in rapid succession. This increases the chance of capturing the perfect moment.
  • Make sure to use a fast and high-capacity memory card to handle the burst mode efficiently.

Lens Selection:
  • Use a telephoto lens with a long focal length (300mm or higher). Lenses like the Canon EF 100-400mm or the EF 400mm f/5.6L are popular for bird photography due to their reach and image quality.
  • Consider using teleconverters to extend the focal length of your lens if needed. However, be aware that this may reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor and can affect autofocus speed.

Composition Tips:
  • Anticipate the bird's movement and track it through the viewfinder before taking the shot. This helps you keep the bird within the frame and in focus.
  • Leave some space in the direction the bird is flying. This "empty" space provides a sense of movement and direction.
  • Experiment with different angles and perspectives. Try shooting the birds against the sky or with interesting backgrounds to add depth to your images.

Lighting and Environmental Considerations:
  • Shoot during the golden hours of the day (early morning or late afternoon) when the light is softer and more flattering.
  • Pay attention to the direction of light. Having the light behind you can help illuminate the bird and reduce shadows.
  • Be patient and observant. Understanding the behavior of birds in a particular area can help you predict their movements and get better shots.

Practice and Patience:
  • Practice regularly to improve your skills. Bird photography, especially capturing birds in flight, often requires practice and patience to master.
  • Be persistent and don't get discouraged by missed shots. Learning from your mistakes is a crucial part of improving your photography skills.

By combining the right camera settings, quality lenses, good technique, and patience, you can significantly enhance your chances of capturing stunning birds in flight with your Canon camera." (Source: ChatGPT 2023)

Birds in Flight Photography Milnerton Woodbridge Island, Cape Town - Canon EOS 7D Mark II
Birds in Flight Photography Cape Town : Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Settings  / Lightroom Post-Processing for all four Images:

Canon Camera And Lens for Birds in Flight Photography
  • Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens
  • Manual Mode: f/5.6 / 1/4000s
  • Auto-ISO 500 - 800
  • AI Servo / Large Zone AF / Case 1
  • Continuous Shooting Mode: 10fps
  • Handheld

Post-Processing: Lightroom Classic CC for Birds in Flight Photography
  • Cropping / Colour Corrections
  • Sharpening / Noise Removal
  • Lens Profile Correction
  • RAW to JPG Conversion
© Vernon Chalmers Photography

Greater Flamingoes Woodbridge Island by Vernon Chalmers Photography
Greater Flamingos Woodbridge Island - Canon EOS 7D Mark II / 400mm Prime Lens

Canon Photography Training Woodbridge Island | Kirstenbosch | Intaka Island Cape Town