Photographing Birds of Prey

Written by Simone Kelly • Photography by Simone Kelly

Hello, and first off a big thanks to Scott for letting me guest-post on his blog! In case we haven’t met before, my name is Simone, I live in Ireland, and I’m a bit bird-mad. Oh and photography-mad, obviously.

Photographing birds (in my case, mainly captive birds of prey) is a highly rewarding thing to do – but it can also be terribly frustrating, and, once you start shooting birds in flight, this is more fitting than ever.

The reason why I am photographing birds of prey is I am fortunate enough to be able to volunteer at a local bird centre. I have been doing that for the last few years. My camera is my constant companion, and I have come a long, long way from when I first started photographing these magnificent animals.

I am going to give you a few tips here on how to shoot birds, or indeed animals, in captivity. Let’s face it, most of us are more likely to see amazing animals like eagles, falcons, or indeed mammals/reptiles/you name it, in captivity, rather than in the wild. (If you get the chance of see exciting wildlife in its natural habitat, lucky you!)

Get Close

For shots with impact, get as close as you safely can. Ideally a tele/telezoom lens will leave enough distance between you and the animal. You do not want to freak out the animal, and obviously you want to stay safe. Do not get too close to the cage/aviary – I have seen a raven grab an iPhone when an unfortunate visitor put it too close to the bars of the aviary. The raven destroyed it in a matter of minutes.

Make the animal the main subject, if you can, not a big cage with a little bird in the corner.

Close up of a Raven

Close up of a Raven.

Fast Shutter Speeds + Shallow DoF

A great way of making a photograph stand out is by isolating your subject. Use a shallow depth of field, i.e. shoot with your lens wide open. f/2.8 is your friend. Shooting with an f-stop as low as possible also enables you to blur out the bars of the cages, and focusing on the star of the show – your animal of choice.

Another advantage of shooting wide open is you will get faster shutter speeds, as a lot of light falls through the lens. Fast shutter speeds are absolutely essential when photographing moving animals (okay, maybe not for turtles … for falcons in flight, they are!). Set your ISO value higher if it needs to be. Better to have a grainy shot which is in focus, than hundreds of blurry bird-in-flight shots (you’ll most likely end up with those, anyway – I know I do! But when you do get shots in focus, it’s all the sweeter).

Falcon in Flight

Falcon in Flight.

Think Outside the Box

It can be difficult to capture something new or different when it comes to photography in general. So, think outside the box, and find new and exciting angles! There are always fun details to shoot, if you open your eyes.

Bird of Prey Feet

Bird of Prey Feet.

Using different lenses will give you very different results, too – switch to your wide-angle, or a 50 mm f/1.8, instead of the telephoto lens – you’ll think very differently, and will get new and exciting results. (Naturally, not everybody wants or has the opportunity, to get as close to a vulture as I did for this shot… )

Under a Vulture's Wing

Under a Vulture’s Wing.

Practise, Practise, Practise

I can’t stress this point enough – shoot, shoot and shoot some more. Yes, you will end up with lots and lots of mediocre shots. Yes, you will end up with LOTS of shots, which are unusable, and totally (or just mildly) out of focus.

Keep Shooting

It takes a lot of practise, but it’s so rewarding when you have a few really nice keepers on your memory card at the end of the day.

Ready to Take Flight

Ready to Take Flight.

Have Fun!

So get out there, and have fun with it!

Mating Flight.

Mating Flight.

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2 Responses to Photographing Birds of Prey

  1. Pingback: Guest Blogger Recap | Views Infinitum

  2. Exceptional pictures ! I like your approach in photography and thank you for your advices. I will remember them and practice 🙂


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