Frigate Bird in Flight

On my trip to Jamaica we were taken on a bit of booze cruise around Montego Bay near sunset.  Included in the trip was some snorkeling, music, and a lot of rum.  On our way home we made our way through some mangroves just off the coast.  There we were encountered by a huge flock of birds.  The majority of the birds were frigate birds.  The frigates are one of the more gracefully flying sea birds, they seem to hover above the ocean like a  kite in the wind.  At times, usually when they are not flying, their necks open up this bright red (or white depending on their sex) pouch.  I had always wanted to catch a frigate bird in flight with its pouch open, and was lucky enough to get not only this photo but a number of cool images.

Frigate Bird in Flight

Frigate Bird in Flight

How I Got this Shot

Photographing birds in flight can be tricky, especially if the light is a little bit low.  Getting a sharp image of a flying bird comes down to getting a lot of this right technically.  First of all you’re going to want to make sure that you have a quick enough shutter speed to catch the bird sharply; generally this means a shutter speed of about 1/250 at the least.  If you’re lower than that you’ll want to increase the ISO a touch.  The second thing you’ll need to do is to use the focus setting on your camera that allows the focus to follow a moving object, this is make sure your focus keeps moving with the bird.  The third thing is to pan while shooting; follow the bird at the same speed it is moving and shoot using the continuous shot when it is in a nice range.  If you shoot with continuous shot one is bound to come up sharp.  Artistically, do your best to allow the animal some breathing room in your photo.  Giving some space for the bird to fly into adds dimension to your image.

For the photographers I shot this image of the frigate bird on a Canon 60d with a 70-200mm f/4.  I shot the image at a focal length of 200mm, with a shutter speed of 1/1250, aperture of f/4 and an ISO speed of 100.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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11 Comments

    • @Ted, I’m sure you have there are plenty on the coast of Costa Rica, they fly like kites… This one just looks much different because the throat is open.

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  1. incredible bird – and shot! Love your work, always inspiring.

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    • Thank you so much Maria!

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    • Thanks Juno! I hope life is treating you well!

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    • @Sam – When I shoot wildlife I always shoot AV. There was loads of light so I wasn’t worried about the speed of the shutter. The one thing I did that I didn’t mention was use the spot exposure meter so that the bird would be properly exposed… that’s important or you get a dark bird and a perfectly exposed sky.

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  2. @Brendan: That’s a good point about the metering. Sometimes I’m lazy and keep it in matrix but certainly spot metering has its useful applications such as in this situation and others.

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  3. I also most typically shoot AV. When I find TV really useful is when I’m taking shots of traffic and I want to keep my subject sharp with a motion blurred background – a tricky one to pull off!

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    • @Samuel – I usually walk around on AV since I think depth of field is the most important thing. And obviously if you want to slow down the shutter you just have to tighten it up. Whenever I get the camera on a tripod though, I shoot manuel.

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