Here’s How Close-Up Shots of Birds in Flight are Made

You too can get those cool aerial photography and footage of birds in flight if you’re willing to go–and fly–the extra mile

In today’s post that we’re filing under “stuff we want to do but can’t figure out how”, we want to explore one of the most fascinating techniques commonly used by pros: aerial photography. It’s no ordinary aerial photography, however. A Reddit thread pointed us to a clip showing how those breath-taking images and footage of birds soaring high above are done for documentaries.

Before you can say you simply film it using drones, that’s one way — but not the best way — to do it. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the shot AND not have your drones attacked (more on that later). The pros, however, do it simply by getting as close as possible. How else, but by flying next to the birds?

The clip above is most likely behind the scenes footage from BBC’s Earthflight documentary series, a rich showcase of birds filmed across the globe using a variety of innovative techniques. We see a cameraman flying high up next to the cranes aboard an ultralight trike (also called microlights in Europe). Fortunately, all he has to do is to focus on getting the best close-ups.

Here’s the gorgeous final product and actual footage that made it to the Europe episode of Earthflight:

But then, there’s also microlight pilot Christian Moullec, who doesn’t just fly close to the birds and film them himself. He also goes as far as hand-rearing a brood of Barnacle Geese, who now think he’s their mother and follow him as he soars up in the sky. The National Geographic video below says more about this beautiful relationship he has established and the telling footage he is often able to take as the “Birdman”:

Now, why does this method of flying with the birds aboard a trike/microlight work better over a drone? Clara Mancini, founder of the Animal-Computer Interaction Laboratory at the Open University, tells in an interesting Slate feature, “Drones don’t communicate much to animals that is relevant or useful to them, but they do communicate threat and invasion of privacy. We are bringing aliens into their world.” The birds most likely don’t perceive the bigger trike/microlight as a threat that they can attack.

To satisfy your curiosity here’s a compilation of clips showing angry birds vs. drones:

So, yes, we can say that these aerial photography techniques are what separate the pros from the no-pros.