Shooting birds in flight (BIF) is not an easy task. It takes years of practice and patience but the awestruck results makes it all worth it. In this article, EOS Professional Chee Kee Teo shares with us his useful tips and his experience shooting BIF with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

Chee Kee Teo

The Strengths of EOS 5D Mark IV for BIF Photography

1.) Versatility – It couples 7 fps with 30mp resolution to capture BIF with feather details. It is especially useful when shooting in close proximity to the birds.

White-Tailed Eagle
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF500mm f/4L IS II USM | f/5.0 | ISO 320 | 1/2000s

2.) Good ISO Performance – The shutter can go as low as 1/1000s and ISO as high as 3200 in low light and produce good quality pictures. Try to get the desired composition in full frame in high ISO so that minimum cropping is required to retain picture quality.

White-Bellied Sea Eagle
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF500mm f/4L IS II USM + Extender EF 1.4xIII | f/5.6 | ISO 2500 | 1/1000s

Camera Settings for BIF

Shutter speed is an important parameter in BIF photography. Use 1/1600s to 1/2000s as a guideline. I go as low as 1/1000s in dim light, and as high as 1/3200s on a bright day.

Seagull
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF500mm f/4L IS II USM + Extender EF 2xIII | f/8 | ISO 400 | 1/1250s

Seagull with Prey
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF500mm f/4L IS II USM | f/5.6 | ISO 200 | 1/1600s

f-stop – No fix rule here. Shutter speed makes the call. In dim light, go as low as the lens allow. In abundant light, go higher for more depth of field. My most common f-stop settings are between 4.5 to 6.3.

Whopper Swans
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF500mm f/4L IS II USM | f/4.0 | ISO 1000 | 1/1000s

Steller’s Sea Eagle
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF500mm f/4L IS II USM | f/5.6 | ISO 320 | 1/2000s

Set the ISO as low as possible to avoid noise. When the background is dark and the bird is light coloured, I prefer to set ISO just slightly under expose. This avoids details being burn out.

Juvenile Japanese Crane
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF500mm f/4L IS II USM + Extender EF 1.4xIII | f/6.3 | ISO 250 | 1/1600s

Techniques in BIF

Practise to get the bird in frame. Compensate accordingly if have tendency to point slightly left or right. Track the bird while half-pressed on the shutter button to focus.

White-Tailed Eagle Skating
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF500mm f/4L IS II USM | f/4.0 | ISO 800 | 1/1250s

A dot-sight may be used to help in BIF photography. It is situational whether to use dot-sight or viewfinder for BIF.

Steller’s Sea Eagles
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF500mm f/4L IS II USM | f/4.0 | ISO 800 | 1/1250s

Beyond Basics

All settings and techniques mentioned previously are in preparation for the most important part of BIF, ie. the composition of the frame. Here are some things I consider to improve my composition:

1.) Interaction – When 2 animals interact for food fight, mating dances etc., it is the golden moment for composition.

Japanese Cranes Dancing
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF500mm f/4L IS II USM | f/6.3 | ISO 250 | 1/1600s

Eagles Racing
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF400mm f/5.6L USM | f/5.6 | ISO 320 | 1/2000s

White-Tailed Eagles
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF500mm f/4L IS II USM + Extender EF 2xIII | f/8 | ISO 400 | 1/1250s

2.) Feeding and behaviours

Steller’s Sea Eagle Hunting
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF500mm f/4L IS II USM | f/5.6 | ISO 250 | 1/1600s

Steller’s Sea Eagle Hunting
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF500mm f/4L IS II USM | f/5.6 | ISO 320 | 1/2000s

3.) Golden hours – Sunrise and sunsets BIF silhouettes can be intriguing.

White-Tailed Eagle Sunrise
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF500mm f/4L IS II USM | f/4.0 | ISO 2000 | 1/1000s

Check out more of Chee Kee’s inspiring BIF shots at www.facebook.com/c.k.teophotojournal and https://www.instagram.com/c.k.teo/?hl=en