Eagles / Birds in Flight: How to, Tips and Tricks

Tons of people have asked how I am getting the high quality Eagle Photos, so I will focus this post on giving out all most of my secrets!

To get shots like this, lets walk through the steps.

Copyright: PhotosByJarrett {2010-2014}

Know your gear:  I can’t begin to tell you how many people ask me a question in the field and I gladly give them answer, but then don’t know how to adjust their own camera.  I am a Canon shooter and all setting and screen shots will be Canon.  Nikon have all the same settings, you will just have to hunt for them.

Camera Settings:

  • Shutter Speeds = 1/1600 or higher.  At 1/1250 you will still get some wing blur.
  • ISO = 400 to 800.  Some high-end camera’s can go faster, but be careful for noise.
  • Aperture = high as possible, I like to shot at f 7.1 or 8
  • Depending on light I shoot in Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority.
  • Fastest continual shutter speed your camera will drive. (Drive Mode)
  • Exposure Settings.  It is so easy to “Blow” out an Eagles white heads and tail feathers!
    • Adjust your EV settings in the field as needed and even as the light changes.
    • I will shoot as high as + 1 & 2/3 on a cloudy day.

Advanced Camera Settings:
In order to track a flying bird, slow down your auto-focus tracking sensitivity to as SLOW are you can get it.  This will prevent other things that pop in and out of your frame from grabbing focus.  It also helps to speed up focusing.

On my Canon 1 DX I use setting #2

Micro Adjustment of telephoto lens:

I use a wooden ruler as a cheaper way to do this.

Camera Stabilization: 
I find myself using three different types.

Tripod with a full Gimbal Head: this is what most of the serious guys use.  My camera and lens combo is right at 14 pounds, so it gets heavy.

Gimbal Head


Monopod: I find that for most situations this works best for me.  I use a Really Right Stuff Head on my monopod.  This allows me to move more easy and I have way better luck tracking birds in flight.


Thanks Sriti for the use of your photo.

BushHawk:  I use this for when I want to hand hold.  It is great for faster moving birds and high fly overs that you can’t track with the Gimbal.

Bush Hawk

OK, so are we finally ready to hit the field?  I use this website to track the Eagles on the Mississippi to see where they are gathering at.  The public can get the closest to the Eagles at Lock & Dam 14 just South of Le Claire Iowa.


  • The pros say to expect keeper rate of 1 out of a 100.
  • First time out I shot over 2,000 to get 38.
  • Practice on common birds, so when you special bird comes along you will be able to increase your chances.
  • If shooting eagles, gulls are great to practices on, and set your white balance.

Know your Subject:

  • Mostly birds land into the wind and always fish into the wind.
  • Most birds will launch into the wind.
  • Use your natural light
    • East side of a river in the morning
    • West side of the river in the afternoon
  • Flashes tend to turn the birds
    • Some use “Better Beamer” extenders
  • Blue skies with clouds provides nice backgrounds!

Back Button Focus: will really help with your keeper rate and not ending up with unwanted photos.

Back Button Focus

Top Ten Tips:

Tip #1: Watch your composition.
Tip #2: Adjust your elevation.
Tip #3: Adjust your camera settings.
Tip #4: Use the user programmable modes.
Tip #5: Shoot away from the sun.
Tip #6: Shoot in short bursts of 2 or 3 images.
Tip #7: Don’t skimp on depth-of-field.
Tip #8: Shoot with both eyes open.
Tip #9: Pay attention to the background.
Tip #10: Don’t skimp on Image Stabilization.
Post Processing:
This is the biggest area I still need improvement and am working on.  I am trying to leverage and follow most of these steps.  I will say, as a rule Less is More!

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Thanks for stopping by!

9 thoughts on “Eagles / Birds in Flight: How to, Tips and Tricks

  1. Pingback: Links to some tutorials | Life in General

  2. Kent, Thanks for posting your tips. I hope to make it out to L & D 14 by the end of February and appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us. Would you mind explaining the advantage of back button focus? I’ve also have read that since you are shooting at such a high shutter speed that it isn’t necessary to shoot with IS on and by having IS off the lens will actually lock onto focus faster. Do you have any comment on my last statements. I’ve been following you on FM and POTN. Thanks again,


    • The main advantage of the back button focusing is you constantly focus on the birds while flying. When I try to do that with the primary shutter button, I kept getting unwanted photos. The back button guarantees that you only get shutter clicks you want!

      If I am shooting on my tripod gimbal or monopod I shoot in IS mode 2 (pan) only and it is indeed quicker than IS mode 1. If I am hand holding on the Bush Hawk, I shoot IS mode 1 on.

  3. I have been to starved rock a few times this season for the eagles and have used only the center focus point. I have a Canon 70D which has a fairly robust focusing system with 19 cross type focus points, I am wondering if perhaps using zone or full auto focus points might help me track BIF better? I am curious what has worked for you?

    • on my 7D, I used the 5 spot cross, on my 1DX I mostly use the 9 block. If the eagles are fishing right to left, I move the block right, if they are fishing left to right I move it left. Does that make sense?

    • I am not sure which eagle you are talking about. Most of the Post shots are of owls. If you put the URL in here I can look it up. The EV values change with every lighting condition.

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