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How To Photograph Bird Catching Fish

If you shoot wildlife, one of your most seek after action shot would be 'bird catching fish'. The large birds with long bill ( herons & egrets family) pulling a live fish out of water looks fantastic in the photo.  The other group is the eagle & osprey family. This group usually catches fish that the other group wouldn't even dare. The size of prey is always proportion to it's predator.

Eagles & Ospreys are not found in abundance. They lives in specific area, and often migrate with the season changes. To shoot them catching fish, would require special planning. You may have to drive to their habitat, and book hotels for few days to see them in action.  Whereas herons & egrets are very common bird.  They are seen almost near every water body.  To shoot them in action, you just need a lot of patience & patience only. It will never be like you go out with your camera and the bird would be ready to pose with a fish in it's bill.

The Gears:

You will need the following

  • A first camera, minimum 4 fps ( frame per seconds)
  • A telephoto lens, minimum 300mm
  • A sturdy tripod
  • Cable release / Remote Release (Optional)

The Time & Place:

Birds are usually hungry most at dawn or dusk, but that is not written in stone. They will catch fish anytime they find one. But make sure you get plenty of light to properly expose your shots. A poorly exposed shot would show lots of grains, may not be usable or presentable.  
A Snowy Egret got 2 at once, but the photo is underexposed due to limited light.

Head to a place where birds usually catches fish.  This should be shallow water with moderate stream. If you are shooting in a enclosed lake, the Egrets or Heron will be somewhere at knee deep water near the exit or entrance pipe. They find fishes that swim through the pipe as easy prey. Do your research in your local area. You will know where the birds are.

The Setting:

Mode: Shutter Priority, the minimum shutter speed should be 1/500s for a 300mm lens, for any bigger lens, use 3X (or faster) time of  the maximum focal length of the lens  e.g. 1/1800 for 600mm.
Focus: AF-C (Continuous Focus)
Focus Area: Single Point or Group Area(Depends on your camera's AF performance)
Metering: Spot metering
Exposure Compensation: As per the available light and condition
Release: CH (Continuous High, the fastest your camera offers)
ISO: Auto ISO if your camera supports it. The max ISO should be below the tolerable noise level. 
Shutter release: You can use a remote release or cable release to reduce motion blur. This could be optional, pressing the shutter release button directly would be OK too.

The Shooting:

Once you arrive at the location, find a bird that is waiting for it's prey. Go as close as possible without being seen by the bird ( stay far enough not to disturb the bird). Set your tripod, mount your camera on it, focus & frame, and take a test shot of the bird. You may need to adjust your exposure compensation based on the test shot. Remember, you can't bracket your shots here. You want all shots are perfectly exposed.
Once satisfied with the test shots, the wait game begins. Your eyes should be on the view finder, monitoring every move the bird makes. Every time it looks down, you fire the shutter for a series of shots. If it flies, you fire the shutter too ( you would get few take off shots ) and then find another bird to monitor.  You would get the shots sooner or latter, but keep trying.  
Here are few pictures of a 'Blue Heron' pulling out a large fish to swallow it within a second.





Blue Heron made the final gulp before the fish disappeared in it's tummy

I wish you the best with your bird-fishing shot.  If you think these tips were useful to you by any means, you may subscribe to my blog for future photography tips & tricks. For any questions, you may email me at

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