If you want to freeze action, you need shutter speed. How fast? Well, it depends on the subject. For birds in flight, if you pan along with the subject, you need a shutter speed of 1/1250 second and faster to freeze most wings of larger birds.

How do you get there? Shooting with a wide open aperture gives you a faster shutter speed.  Increasing your ISO also increases your shutter speed.  In film days, shooting with 50 ISO slide film it was often hard to get a fast enough shutter speed, but with today’s digital sensors able to shoot with minimal noise at high ISO speeds, that is no longer a problem.

For this image, I shot at 1/3200 second and panned along as this great blue heron flew back and forth bringing sticks to its nest. Shooting up into the sky like this, I overexposed one stop to get a little bit of light into the shadowed wings. When shooting RAW like I do, overexposing a little is generally a good idea in most situations, but especially for flight shots like this.

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Great blue heron in breeding plumage in flight, carrying nesting material, Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond, Port Aransas, Texas, USA. Canon 1D Mark III. 500mm. ISO 800. f/5.6 @ 1/3200 second. EV +1.