Photographing Birds in Action


Canon IDX | 800mm | 1/2000s @ f/8.0, ISO 800 | 1.4x, Gitzo tripod

Gaurav Mittal is a very talented US-based photographer who lives in India and is passionately pursuing his hobby of wildlife photography and conservation. He started photographing birds in 2011 with a trip to Bosque Del Apache, New Mexico.

He was kind enough to sit down with InFocus magazine and share some of his knowledge about capturing birds in action with our readers. Here are some of Gaurav’s awesome tips that may help take your photography to the next level:

  • What equipment do you use to capture birds in action?
    I presently use the Canon IDX, 7D Mark II, and the 5D Mark III cameras. My lens arsenal consists of 70-200 f/2.8 IS II, 300mm f/2.8 IS II, and 600mm f/4 IS II. I have access to 1.4x and 2.0x tele-converters, Wimberley WH 200 Gimbal head, a Canon 480 EX II flash, and a Better Beamer. I also use the Canon 7D’s crop sensor because it provides extra reach by allowing you to extend your focal length without the use of a tele-converter. You don’t need the latest gear to capture birds in action… I started out with the 50D and then moved to the 7D.

Canon 5D Mark III | 300mm | 1/800s @ f/4.0 ISO, 1000 | Handheld

  • What camera setting do you use?
    To freeze action and to capture sharp wings edge to edge, I shoot anywhere from 1/1250 seconds for large birds and higher for faster and smaller birds. I shoot at 1/30 seconds or lower for a more artistic flair. For most action shots, I use AI Servo (tracking mode); a cluster of points to expand the AF area or one-point AF if shooting through an obstruction.I tend to shoot in either aperture priority or manual exposure mode. With birds in flight or action, Av mode allows me quicker control over my settings through exposure compensation. I typically use manual exposure for creative photography such as panning and motion blurs or when using a flash on static birds.
  • How can one get started shooting birds in action?
    If you are serious about understanding birds and about learning to photograph them then the best place to begin is in your own backyard. By simply creating a bird-friendly environment with a feeder and birdbath, you can capture the moods and behavior of birds. This is a good way to improve your technical and composition skills without having to make a substantial investment in travel.

Canon 5D Mark III | 400mm | 1/2500s, @ f/5.6, ISO 1250 | Handheld

  • What is the best time for bird photography?
    Early morning and late afternoons are the best time to shoot because you have the best quality of light. Also, these are the times when birds are most active looking for feed or preening themselves. They truly look divine in that light. That being said, I also strongly believe that relying completely on a front-lit subject can produce rather redundant and boring images. I often like to photograph birds with the source of light behind them. For example, I like creating moody images by shooting silhouettes. You can also try side-lit subjects and, on overcast days, the use of fill flash.
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    Canon ID Mark IV | 500mm | 1/1000s @ f/8.0, ISO 400 | 1.4x, handheld

  • Canon IDX | 800mm | 1/5000s @ f/5.6, ISO 800 | Handheld

    Canon IDX | 800mm | 1/5000s @ f/5.6, ISO 800 | Handheld

  • Your photograph seem like they are perfectly composed. Any tips on getting a great composition?
    Being eye level with your subject is also extremely important because it allows your viewers to make an intimate connection with the birds.It’s very important to maintain a safe distance from the birds, as you do not want to scare them or alter their natural behavior. By maintaining a safe distance, you are assuring them that you pose no threat and they are more likely to come closer.One of the easiest things to be mindful of while photographing birds in action is to leave more space in the direction the bird is looking or flying. This allows you to create visual balance by providing room for them to look out or fly out of the frame.

Gaurav takes great care in preparing his images in Photoshop. His typical workflow consists of shooting all images in RAW mode and then putting the finishing touches in Photoshop as needed. Gaurav also runs occasional workshops and webinars. If you are interested in learning more about capturing stunning birds-in-action shots, check out his blog at:

About Author Gaurav Mittal

Gaurav Mittal is a professional bird photographer and a blogger who grew up with a passion for nature and wildlife in his native birthplace of New Delhi, India. Gaurav migrated to the U.S. at the age of fifteen. After completing his college, he pursued a career in tax consulting in the Washington D.C. area. It was, however the love for the birds that eventually brought the focus back in his life and a determination to follow his heart, to be a bird photographer. Gaurav’s passion for photographing birds began in 2011 in Bosque Del Apache, New Mexico where observing the Sandhill Cranes brought a sense of harmony and a new vision to him. A moment he captured and fondly calls, “Kissed in The Mist” left him with a vision to continue on further and explore and learn about birds and how he can present their beauty through photography. His desire to be a top class bird photographer has led him to places such as Bharatpur, Bosque, Alaska, New York, Costa Rica and Florida.