Understanding wind direction and knowing when to press the shutter can give you a sure edge in Birds In Flight (BIF) photography. The general tip here is, as often, to understand bird behavior. Birds are more likely to fly, take off, land and even roost against the wind. If the wind comes straight from your back, then birds will tend to fly, land and take off facing you. This is why an East wind is great in the morning and a West wind will help with birds in flight photography in the afternoon.
The only way to create an impressive photograph of a bird facing you while landing will often be to have the wind coming straight from behind you. The big advantage of that situation is to have a chance at capturing an image with wings fully open and complete under-wing detail. I find the results can be quite impressive and convey a lot of strength to the image. The Roseate Spoonbill photograph above was created during the 2015 Spoonbill photography tour.
If you prefer to see birds flying along a profile motion, then a wind coming from the North or the South will work for either morning or afternoon. While you will not get the facing impact, results can be quite satisfactory. These wind direction situations are very good to create silhouettes of birds in flight as well. Side note, the Canon 300m f/4 L IS USM is a fantastic lens for the money! Coupled with a crop factor you get the fastest and sharpest lens in that price range while reaching almost 500mm.
In a case where the bird is flying crossing your vision from right to left, there is only a sweet spot that is a proper shooting zone. You want to photograph the bird as it is coming towards you. As soon as the bird has crossed the perpendicular in front of you, the only thing you are going to create is a “butt” shot with nice views over the rear end of your preferred photography subject. The issue is that by the time some of us have acquired proper focus, the bird has already passed that perpendicular line and we are already too late. The key is to look around you and try to acquire focus very early on, so that you are ready to press the shutter when the bird crosses the shooting zone!!
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