Bosque del Apache advice

I’m not experienced in avian photography and am going to Bosque del Apache for the first time in a week. I’ve read a bunch about it and am very excited about going there. I’m still a bit mystified about how one focuses for the “lift off” at sunrise. Any advice?


I’m assuming you are talking about the potential of a mass liftoff of the snow geese? If that’s correct, my advice is to use a wide angle lens (something around 24mm) shoot at about f/5.6, get an ISO to achieve a shutter speed of about 1/500 or faster and just fire away into the mass. There is no way to focus on a single bird. If you use let the AF system pick something, it will achieve focus and fire away. With a 24mm lens you’ll have plenty of depth to get a shot. It all happens REALLY fast so if you are shooting with a longer lens, have a shorter lens on a separate camera body ready to grab and shoot. Hope that helps if that is what you were referring to.


One note to add to Keith’s advice. While the big event is the morning blast off, the geese tend to gather in large flocks during the day and they’re very skittish, so they’ll blast off any number of times. All you have to do is locate them and have a bit of patience. Another good time to catch them is during the evening fly in. You can shoot them landing and then something will spook them and most of them will take off in a mass, land and repeat. If you’re going to be there several days, I recommend doing one morning without intending to shoot and just absorbing it-it’s an incredible experience.

Thanks for the tips. I have been looking through some books with photos of Bosque, and many of my favorite lift off photos were taken with a 400 mm lens. Any advice on how to focus for that? Prefocus on some geese in the water, guessing the right distances that you will shoot in the sky, then switch off autofocus?

Hi Tony:

I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing. Your description seems more like Sandhill Cranes than the mass blastoff of geese. A long lens (400 +) is fine for the cranes and their liftoff. If that’s it, you definitely want Autofocus on. You want to use the continuous AF option on your camera. Nikon (AF-C), Canon (AI-Servo). Birds in flight is challenging so trying to tell you all the technique to get them sharp here is not really viable. So are you talking about shots like this?

or the massive Snow Geese blastoffs like this?

Or maybe this is the kind of image??

Again, thanks for the responses. The 400 mm shots I was referring to were in a book by Ralph Wetmore called Bosque del Apache. Most of his shots, including of the geese liftoff, were taken at 400 mm and I found them pleasing. Actually, almost all the photos (including yours!) that I have seen are pleasing. My plan at this point is to put my Canon 100-400 f4-5.6 II on my 5d IV (for better autofocus), and put either my 24-70 II or 16-35 II on my 5dII and on the first day shoot whichever calls to me then. Mostly I was asking about whether to try to prefocus at 400 for the lift off, or wait until it starts and then focus using Servo.