Tips for photographing swallows and swifts?

How do I get good photos of swallows? Is the only option to photograph them when they are perched on wires? Are there any tips on how to photography them, or any birds for that matter while they are flying? I’d like to get good photos of the martins and the bank swallows around my cabin but they never seem to perch, but when they do the wire is usually above me and all I can photograph is their bum and even when they don’t they’re so skiddish and I can’t get very close… I have a canon with autofocus so it’s especially hard to focus on subjects that are in the sky. Any tips or help would be much appreciated.

You need to use specific settings, like faster shutter speed, to capture birds in flights, it’s not hard, you can use online advice from all the articles out there:


Thank you!

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One tip that is useful for photography in general, but especially for subjects like these, is to take a huge number of photos. If 1% of your photos of swifts in flight are in focus and on target, and you’ve taken 200 photos, you’ve done okay.


Yup, digital photography makes that feasible. Try to predict areas where the birds may fly by, prefocus (I find if I let my camera focus automatically, it will delay too much), and shoot in bursts (e.g. sports mode if the camera has one). You can also try panning - following a flying bird with your camera while shooting. People who are really good at that can get the bird in focus with motion blur on the background. I’ve never been able to get that to work for me though. Then afterwards go through and delete most of the pictures except the ones that actually have birds in them.


I had this exact question in mind while twitching a Siberian House Martin this week. I use a Nikon superzoom. I didn’t stand a chance. That bird moves so fast, with so many twists and turns in its flight, plus the fact that the autofocus on the camera is nowhere near fast enough for the job! I had to rely on my friend who has a DSLR and who did get adequate pictures while standing next to me. That’s the trick.

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I use a Nikon superzoom also, as @annkatrinrose suggests, one has to pre-focus. Notice a spot where the birds are flying through repeatedly and make the camera focus on a plant, rock, whatever, that is the same distance and lighting as that point. Then hold that focus and when a bird flies through your spot, take a burst of photos. It works enough of the time that if you take many photos you may have one or two really good ones.

Swallows were flying a predictable beat along a narrow canal which allowed focusing on a set distance. Still, was not easy, with many useless pics taken:

If they’re flying over a broader body of water and under poor light conditions, well, good luck.

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