A camera with a rapid burst rate is a great advantage when photographing wildlife, especially if you’re looking to capture action and behaviour.

The best of the drama in wildlife action usually happens in fractions of a second. The moment a bird’s wing or beak is open at its most dramatic point. Or, a lion’s jaw at its widest as it yawns, perhaps the most dramatic point of species in conflict with each other.

Being able to use a camera with a high frames per second burst mode greatly increases your chance of capturing the most exciting moment of the action or interesting behaviour.

Spray and Pray?

By using the term ‘increases your chance’ you’d be forgiven to think much of this is about luck or ‘spray and pray’. But, repeatedly taking 20 shots or more per second over five or six seconds when a subject is doing nothing is absolutely pointless. You’ll very quickly end up with hundreds of photographs when one or two would have achieved the same result. Plus, as your camera takes photographs, you’ll eventually fill your buffer memory up and the frame rate will reduce significantly, just as the action starts!

Arctic Tern, Frames per second Alan Hewitt Photography

Arctic Tern – Fujifilm X-H1 & 100-400mm (1/400, f/5.6, ISO500, 252mm)

For me it is not about keeping your finger continuously on the shutter. Instead, it’s more about being able to take seven or eight photographs in a fraction of a second.

Fieldcraft

Fieldcraft still has a vital role to play, far more than a ‘spray and pray’ approach. Be observant and aware of your surroundings. If you’re able to see other species as they approach your subject or know about their behavioural habits, this helps you to predict their behaviour. This is when you engage your camera’s burst mode, when you know the action is imminent.

European Bee-eaters Alan Hewitt Photography

When two Bee-eaters are perched, the arrival of a third almost guarantees conflict! Fujifilm X-H1 & 100-400mm 1.4x t/c (1/1300, f/9, ISO1600, 560mm)

Great Crested Grebe Alan Hewitt Photography

The action towards the end of the Great Crested Grebe’s elaborate courtship ritual. Fujifilm X-H1 & 100-400mm 1.4x t/c (1/1250, f/8, ISO320, 560mm)

Golden Eagle Alan Hewitt Photography

Golden Eagle closes its nictitating membrane (3rd eyelid) in torrential hail and rain. Fujifilm X-H1 & 100-400mm (1/35, f/8, ISO400, 335mm)

Using a high frame rate like this isn’t about random ‘spray and pray machine gunning photography’ and hoping for the best. It is about using fieldcraft and being able to target a burst of photographs of 7-8 frames in a very short space of time to increase our chances of capturing behaviour that often, our own eyes may not even see or our brain will register.

This blog post was originally written in April 2017 and updated in April 2020.