Photographing Bats in Flight

I have a couple of localities that I reliably see vespertilionid bats around dusk. I am trying to get a record of these bats for iNat given current conservation concerns regarding bats and white nose syndrome (i.e., recording where are bats living/foraging).

Problem is these bats are very fast and they like to come out at dusk when the lighting isn’t great. I have a better camera with flash than just my phone camera, though I’ve still struggled getting a picture of them due to my inexperience. And, of course, I’m trying to get a photo of them when they are out flying rather than disturb them in their roosts.

Does anyone know any tips to taking pictures of vespertilionid bats, like equipment or camera settings?


I’m not so good with professional wildlife photography, but as amateur I’d suggest a trail camera: nowadays there are some cameras with good specs, such as video frame rate and definition (for example the Browning ones). You should try to find a good spot to fix the camera for some good pics!

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As an alternative, would you consider audio recordings / a bat detector?


I think a bat audio detector/recorder is your best bet. The better ones can determine likely species from the sounds.

My friend recently got some trail camera bat shots. They were just silhouettes and the bats were totally white due to the infrared “flash.” If the bats trigger the camera early enough before its totally dark or there are other light sources, you might be able to get a decent shot. Bats are small so with the camera exposing for the whole shot, they will likely be difficult with flash unless there are some good adjustment settings you can make on the trailcam.

The bat shots I have taken, I prefocus the camera where I know a bat will be entering and wait with my finger on the shutter. A chair or tripod is useful. I sometimes manage to get 1 or 2 potentially identifiable shots out of maybe 50 shots. Mostly I get wings tips or nothing.


I have photographed bats in flight but its very difficult due to their speed and variable distance. I’ve only done this at spots where they are circling/hunting (and not just taking off from a roost). I set manual focus at about 5m, moderate F-stop (around 5) and a high shutter (1/250) and then just point my camera in one spot and look for where they are flying (not through the camera) and press when I think one is about to fly into view. I usually also underexpose the auto-exposure as otherwise the bats are just white but you need to work out the exposure with your own camera (e.g. possibly do manual ISO as well). Make sure your batteries are fully charged. Only about 1 in 20 photos is any good.


I’m surprised you can get any useful shots of flying bats at a shutter speed that slow. I pretty much only use a speed that low when Im taking photos of plants, landscapes, or insects that aren’t moving.

But it’s what you can do with the light you have, even with 12k iso and 1/125 it’s this dark (this is edited, so much darker originally):

If you know any places where there’s a body of water where bats drink that might provide a good opportunity, since I find that they’ll often be flying over water and drinking when it’s still fairly light outside and that gives you an opportunity to photograph them from an angle where they aren’t silhouetted against the sky.

Unfortunately many verspertilionids are difficult to ID visually even from good quality photos.

If you are using an external triggered flash, that’s often a common sync speed. But, as it is dark, only that instant burst of light is what is recorded. It does a great job at freeze framing even fast action. (I use radio triggers all the time in cave photography.) I am guessing that is how they are getting good shots at 1/250.

During the day, I failed at getting a super crisp shot of a bat because I only had it at 1/1250 which is what i use for my dog running, just how it was set when the bat showed up unexpected, it was a bit blurred but good enough - I would need 1/1600 to even 1/2000 I think for a nice shot in natural light. But, if you are using flash/light, make sure you aren’t shining it at them as they exit the roost, it can really screw with them to fly into light as they’re exiting at night.


Second a nice audio recorder if your purpose is to ID, you can usually get to species with that and it can be a lot easier that photos!

I use a camera with a beam break system. The bat has to break the beam and you need to be close enough so the flash works. Its most effective at roosts where the bats have to exit from a small opening. I’m hoping to try it at water sources some day.

I’d agree with trying to get some recordings. Even if you can’t get them to species, you’ll get them close.


I’m familiar with photographing bats, not that I’ve done a lot of it, but I have done it and also got to spend part of a night with Merlin Tuttle helping him with his bat photography.

Flash synch does impart a lot of limitations on shutter speed, that’s for sure.


Regarding shutter speed, the max I can use with flash is 1/250. The first obs below is my best in-flight and was taken at 1/200, the second is my worst.


I have a Browning trail camera I tried for bats- I just got foxes, night birds, kangaroos.
The bat images were blurs of white through the image- no way was I going to get a research grade obs from that.

Good opportunities happen when a bat gets in your house, but I don’t recommend leaving windows and doors open specifically for that …

I recommend trying audio. Much more reliable.

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I have bats rooting in my attic, and there is lots of air traffic around here at dusk. Still, I’ve only got one photo of one individual while it was resting on the wall of the balcony. Based on my extremely limited success rate, I’d also suggest a bat detector. Serious detectors however are expensive, comparable to a good camera body.

Trailcams vary greatly in quality, in trigger speed, and also in how they illuminate the scene in low light (the wider the angle of view, the lower the detail, BTW; low megapixel count and narrow angle of view yield best shots for IDing). Even the fastest trailcam – at its most sensitive setting, and shooting without overdoing the illumination – will fail with bats: IF they DO indeed manage to capture one, the shot will be blurred (you just get to see a whitish streak).

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