How and Why I Photograph Raptors





After 2 years of very little use, I am happy to say I have been out in the field using my Canon 100-400mm lens. At one point I contemplated selling this lens since my main focus is wide angle landscape photography and I felt no compelling reason to chase after birds. My views changed after seeing amazing captures from many of my Facebook photographer friends coupled with the fact that I spent over $2500 for this lens to be just a paperweight. 

I currently use a Canon 5D Mark IV and a Canon 7D Mark 2 for bird photography. The 7D is very fast with a 10FPS max speed; however the quality of the images is quite a bit lower since it is a cropped sensor and only 20MP. The new 5D is 30MP with a max of 6FPS with much better low light performance which is important for photographing owls. The 7D performs fine with good lighting and provides the equivalent view of a 640mm lens on the full frame 5D. Recall that Canon cropped sensors provide the equivalent view of 1.6x a full frame camera.

My preferred camera mode is Tv, aka shutter priority. When attempting to capture birds in flight I recommend a minimum of 1/1600th of a second when capturing at 400mm. If lighting is really good I recommend higher, the owl in flight in this email is shot at 1/2500th of a second which still shows some motion blur at the tips of the wings. I prefer AI Servo mode for the focus tracking with the 21 center focal points selected as the range. In most cases, I prefer spot metering and will push the exposure up +1EV or higher when shooting at dusk. 


The next challenge is finding great locations to capture your favorite raptors. Living in Florida I have a wide variety of bird life. Owls,ospreys, eagles and hawks to name a few common birds of prey as well as the more obscure ones such as snail kites. One can spend a lifetime trying to capture them all in the best light and conditions.  Since I have always had a fascination with owls, and I knew of one only a few miles from my house, I made them my primary focus. The biggest problem with owls is that they are mostly active at night and roost high up in oak trees during the day. So how does one obtain shots of owls in flight in bright light? My answer came when I discovered a park that had nesting owls with young. Nesting owls are easier to find since they typically stay within close proximity to the nesting site. Even with this knowledge the great photographs do not come easy. Multiple visits to the same location over many weeks allowed me to obtain high quality shots of these birds. Typically you will only have one really good chance to capture them in flight during the day after patiently waiting for movement. Be certain to have your camera settings and technique dialed in when the moment arrives for the opportunity lasts less than a couple seconds.


Thank You for Your Support,

Ronald Kotinsky