Shoot Better Bird Photos with This Simple Trick for Capturing Wing Blur (VIDEO)

One common mistake when photographing action is using a shutter speed that’s too fast to convey motion. When shooting motorcycle races, for example, a high shutter speed results in tack-sharp wheel spokes, yielding static images without a sense of motion. As you’ll see in the five-minute video below, the same is true when photographing birds in flight.

Tim Boyer is an outstanding bird photographer, author, and workshop instructor, and in this five-minute tutorial he demonstrates a simple technique for capturing wing blur to add a sense of speed and movement to your images. The challenge is that flying birds are often photographed against bright skies, which typically require fast shutter speeds for proper exposures.

Boyer’s solution is to use a variable neutral density filter while shooting in Aperture Priority exposure mode. With this approach you can increase or decrease the amount of wing blur, simply by rotating the variable neutral density filter. He also explains how the speed at which a bird flies, and the position of its wings, will affect the amount of blur you achieve.

The ultimate goal is to capture an image with a bird’s head and body relatively sharp, while blurring the wings to convey a sense of speed as it moves through space. Boyer also demonstrates why camera-to-subject distance is another important factor.

Once you master these simple techniques, you’ll realize you can use them for other types of action shots. You can find more helpful videos on Boyer’s YouTube channel, and in another tutorial we posted with five tips for making sharp hand-held images of birds.