How I photograph Birds of Prey

A few people have asked how I shoot birds.

First let me say I am not an expert at this, I am still learning, but this is how I am doing it now.

Equipment:
Canon 40D with a Canon 20D as backup.
Lens: Canon 400 F/5.6 L
BushHawk 320D Shoulder mount. This is a new piece of equipment and I’ve only used it last weekend and my first impressions are favorable.

Settings: Usually shutter preferred automatic with the shutter set at either 1/500th of a second or 1/1000th depending on the light, a slower shutter speed will not stop a hawk or heron in flight. I will shoot at 1/2000th of a second in bright mid-day light. I have the ISO set to 400 early in the morning and set it to 200 and eventually 100 as the sunlight increases. I sometimes shoot all manual if I don’t like the results of the camera metering, the advantage of digital and being able to see the image immediately. I use the center focusing spot for auto-focusing and sometimes crop to make the image more visually appealing.
My camera will shoot at 6 frames per second and when shooting raptors I always set it to that, I may get 15 shots in succession at one bird. I shoot a lot of images, it isn’t unusual for me to fill an 8GB card in one session. I always shoot in raw format.

Locating the birds:

Farmlands with crops in the field, or fields where the crop has just been harvested are a good place to start. These fields attract a lot of smaller birds and mice and other small animals which are the main prey for raptors. We also have hawks right in the city here in Tucson, so I’m always watching telephone poles and trees and some people wish I would watch my driving…………..LOL

I drive the roads which surround farm fields and keep my eyes on the telephone poles and tall trees (not many of those here in AZ) for hawks sitting on top and on the crossbars. I usually stop the car about a telephone pole away and try not to make any noise when getting out. Even though I am quiet and try to approach carefully, some of them fly as soon as I get out of the car, and some of them as soon as the car stops. If he didn’t fly, I try to move as close as I can while watching the behavior of the raptor. Most of the time they will make some preparation before taking flight, by changing their position or attitude. I try to have the bird in focus at all times trying to anticipate the lift-off and the direction of their flight. Sometimes I’m right and get some good shots and sometimes I’m wrong and get parts of birds, their legs or wings or chop off their heads, but it is always exciting and fun. I also watch the sky for raptors soaring or approaching or landing or preparing to land.

There is nothing complicated about how I do this, just decent equipment and awareness and FUN!!! I love doing this, it is my passion and I am constantly trying to improve my methods and constantly in search of new places to find the birds. Some people use blinds in fields and at ponds, I haven’t done that yet but I may do that at some time in the future.

DISCLAIMER: This is not a how-to-do-it journal, just how I currently do it. I don’t and never will claim to be an expert at this. I am sure there are many more productive ways to do it and many more expert photographers on this site who do it better.

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