Photographing Red Kites

Photographing Red Kites

In early April 2022 I decided to visit Gigrin Farm in Wales, probably the best location for photographing Red Kites. I had visited well over a decade ago, back when I was probably using a Canon 350D crop sensor DSLR with a Sigma 70-300 zoom lens.

I’ve been a full frame Sony mirrorless user for a few years now but didn’t own a lens with the focal length suitable for wildlife photography until recently. Keen to some bird photography, Gigrin Farm seemed a perfect opportunity.

Photographing Red Kites – Why Gigrin Farm?

Red Kites have been a success story over the past couple of decades. They are a common sight in many counties across the UK. So if you can see them closer to home, why visit Gigrin Farm in Wales? In my opinion there are probably two main reasons to visit Gigrin Farm for a wildlife photographer:

  1. Getting closer to the Red Kites. Because Gigrin Farm feeds the Red Kites each day, the birds will come much closer than you would typically get to see them. You may even find that you are able to get good images with a cheaper zoom lens like a 70-300mm.
  2. The number of birds that visit. The feeding session can last for 2 hours and a few hundred birds visit. As long as you using the correct camera settings you should be guaranteed some great photos, even if you are fairly new to wildlife or bird photography.

When visiting Gigrin Farm you have a choice of viewing areas. Many visitors will pay the standard £8.00 entry fee (concessions for children and over 60’s) which will give access to the standard hides. These are ground level with a narrow opening to watch and photograph the birds. During my previous visit over a decade ago these hides were the only option and it was certainly possible to still get great images. More recently however they have added a number of other hides aimed at photographers. These hides include:

  • The Gateway Hide. A ground level hide suitable for 3 people and slightly closer to the birds than some of the tower hides. Entry £22.00 per person.
  • The Tower Hide. Slightly raised with access via steps. Suitable for up to 4 people and has benches and coat hooks. This was the hide I used on my recent visit. Entry £28.00 per person.
  • The Big Tower Hide. Located higher than the Tower Hide and even larger, suitable for up to 6 people. Entry £35.00 per person.
  • Low Level Hide. Apparently this is located much closer to the birds. The Gigrin Farm website says it’s harder to get images from this hide but that it’s possible to get images that you cannot get from other hides. I assume they mean that you can get better photos of Red Kites on the ground, possibly feeding. As I happen to prefer photos of Red Kites in flight, this would not be my first choice of hide. Suitable for 2 people and entry cost of £35.00 per person.

Photographing Red Kites – Ideal Camera Settings

Before I mention the specific settings I would recommend like shutter speed, aperture, ISO and focusing mode I thought I would discuss camera bodies and lenses.

Many modern digital cameras are very well suited to wildlife photography. Even for fast moving subjects, a modern mirrorless or DSLR is likely to have an autofocus system capable of keeping up. I certainly find my Sony a7iii has excellent continuous autofocus and the ability to shoot 8 frames a second should allow me to capture the perfect shot. For wildlife professionals earning good money from their photography, a model like the Sony a1 is likely to appeal more. Not only can it shoot more frames per second (particularly with Sony lenses) but the 50 MP sensor allows you to crop into your image more. It also benefits from bird eye af, something a couple of recent Canon mirrorless models also do. The Sony a7iii however is the sort of camera that can do 80-90% of what these top of the range models can whilst costing 1/4 of the price.

In terms of camera settings I would argue the shutter speed is the most important to consider for photographing Red Kites. A fast shutter speed is needed for long lenses and fast moving subjects. For these images I was using 1/2000sec. I was not using a tripod or monopod and as such I had image stabilisation switched on in the camera body and on the lens. Unless you are using some ridiculously expensive prime lens between 400mm and 600mm it’s highly likely you will be using a zoom with a maximum aperture around f6.3. Some people may even decide to shoot at f8 for maximum image sharpness and slightly increased depth of field. Such apertures combined with a shutter speed of 1/2000sec could result in an ISO of 1000-4000. Don’t be afraid of having to use a higher ISO! Modern cameras perform very well at high ISO values and you also have the option to reduce any noise caused by high ISO in post processing software.

In terms of the autofocus mode to use, it will depend on your camera body. Whilst photographing these Red Kites I tried Wide, Zone and lock on expand flexible spot modes on my Sony. The lock on expand flexible spot tracking is often recommended for fast action. I can certainly see a benefit to using it when you want to track a particular subject when there are multiple subjects in the viewfinder. For my purposes though I found wide the simplest to use. The Wide option covers the entire viewfinder and it just seems to know what subject to track and follow. I have read elsewhere that the Wide option on some makes of camera is less reliable so I would advise you look at forums to get advice on the best wildlife settings for your particular camera to make the most of your visit to Gigrin Farm. For many cameras you can even save these settings to a dedicated program number so that you can recall them instantly.

Post Processing Considerations

I would always advise that you set your camera to take images in RAW rather than jpeg. I won’t go over the advantages of using RAW in this article as there are hundreds of articles explaining the benefits to using RAW files.

There are however a couple of things to consider when it comes to photographing Red Kites and wildlife photography in general. As previously mentioned, the likely shutter speeds and apertures you will be using will result in using a high ISO. This will introduce noise to your images. Your final images will look much better if you apply some form of noise reduction. Your normal image editing software may have some noise reduction tool but it seems many wildlife photographers love to use software like Topaz DeNoise AI or DxO PureRAW2. I purchased the Topaz product and it certainly seems to work as advertised.

The other thing you may want to consider is an image upscaler like the Super Resolution feature in Photoshop or Topaz Gigapixel AI. This won’t be needed if you just plan to share your images on social media. If you have a high resolution sensor in the 40MP+ range you will also probably have enough resolution even after cropping. For many of us however you may find that if you had to crop in a lot to your image you will need an upscaler if you want to obtain large prints from your images.

Photographing Red Kites – More Examples

I thought I would share with you some more examples of images taken that day at Gigrin Farm. If you have any questions about photographing Red Kites or if you have advice you would like to share, please feel free to leave a comment.

For more information about photographing Red Kites at Gigrin Farm, including how to book in advance (not always needed) please visit their website below:

Gigrin Farm

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