Capturing images of geese in flight is often how many photographers begin to develop their BIF technique. Geese make ideal subjects since they are large, slower flying birds. Their flight patterns tend to be in reasonably straight lines and they often announce their approach with a chorus of honking, allowing us to get prepared to take some photographs of them.
This article shows a selection of images of geese in flight as well as providing some thoughts about technique.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
Typically when shooting geese in flight I use continuous auto-focus (AF-C) with subject tracking. I often capture single frames and will also shoot at 15 fps with my Nikon 1 V2 when trying to capture a range of wing positions.
I most often use centre-weighted average for metering as I find this tends to give me a good, balanced exposure on a large bird like a goose.
As with other BIF subjects always capture a view with the eye of the bird clearly visible. Depending on the angle of the sun you may need to lighten up the eye of the goose in post to give it some definition. Images of geese flying away from you without their eyes visible aren’t worth capturing.
If a number of geese are approaching you in flight always try to acquire focus on the lead bird. Allow some ‘head room’ with your framing when possible.
Whenever possible try to capture your images as the geese are flying into the sun. This provides the best chance to get good detail on the head and neck as well as with body feathers.
If the geese are flying towards you with the sun at their backs it is often beneficial to wait until you can capture more of a profile view. This tends to limit shadows and offers the best opportunity to get some feather detail on the back and wings of the bird. Any time that geese bank into the sun, even slightly, it is a great opportunity to capture more wing detail.
As you can see with the following three images, shooting at as high a frame rate as your camera will allow provides more opportunities to capture a range of wing positions.
When trying to capture full frame images to avoid cropping in post, leave some ‘head-room’ with your framing whenever possible. This is most easily done by keeping the point where the body of the goose meets its neck close to the centre point of the frame.
If you are anticipating that the geese will fly from a specific direction towards you, it can help to pre-focus your lens.
Capturing aggressive interactions between geese can result in very dramatic images. This type of action can break out very quickly and usually begins with both geese in the water. Pre-focusing your lens can be extremely helpful when trying to capture these types of images.
Watch for one goose displaying an aggressive body posture. This is most commonly shown by a lowering of the head to just above the water level and an outstretching of the neck.
The aggressive goose will typically swim towards another goose that it is trying to intimidate. The other goose will usually swim away quickly and often nothing else will happen.
If the other goose does not swim away quickly enough the aggressor goose will often burst forward and both geese will take flight. These flights may only last for a few seconds before both birds land on the water again, so timing of your shot is critical.
Different photographers have their own views on camera settings. Some prefer to shoot in shutter priority, others prefer to use aperture priority, and some like to shoot with manual settings. I don’t think it matters as long as you end up using a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the wing motions of the geese in flight and you have sufficient depth-of-field to get good detail on the subject goose.
After some experimentation with my Nikon 1 gear I now prefer to shoot with Manual settings, usually with aperture set at f/5.6 and shutter speed between 1/1600 and 1/4000 depending on the bird species and lighting conditions. I often use AUTO-ISO (160-3200) and monitor exposures as I’m shooting to make sure that I don’t overexpose images.
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