One of the most challenging aspects of photography is capturing birds in flight. Indeed, just capturing birds at all can be challenging enough! Some are very skittish (especially the pretty ones) and it can take a great deal of patience just to get close sometimes. Here are a few tips to increase your chances of capturing some in flight.
Lens: A long lens is usually a must. Shoot for at least a 300mm. The longer the better, though. Get as much length as the budget allows. A 500mm is ideal if you can swing it! Also keep in mind that the faster the lens the better, also. A lens with a lower F number will allow you to shoot at higher shutter speeds at lower ISOs which means less noise and cleaner images.
Camera Body: Any modern DSLR capable of shooting at high frame rates and ISOs with low noise should work.
Support: A tripod can be helpful to keep your gear steady and pan smoothly with your subject. If you are using a large and heavy lens, consider getting a gimbal head.
Exposure Settings: Try shooting in manual mode. You’ll want enough shutter speed to freeze the flapping wings. Somewhere between 1/1000 and 1/2000 of a second should freeze the wings on most birds. Experiment and adjust accordingly! You’ll also want to select at aperture small enough to get the entire bird in focus, but large enough to capture enough light to allow for as low an ISO as possible. Your lens’ sweet spot is a good place to start. Now that you’ve set your F number and shutter speed, let your ISO fall where it may by using the Auto ISO feature. Focus should be set to Continuous, allowing your camera to keep the focus correctly adjusted as you pan with the flying bird.