How to Best Photograph Birds
Birds might be the most difficult subject to photograph – they never stay still and are very
flighty, so you can't get close to them or prepare the perfect setting. The speed is not the only problem; an even better challenge is the height
they reach in a matter of seconds. All of that is if they come out from hiding in the trees altogether.
So how come some photographers succeed getting really amazing pictures? There are some
tricks you can use to get that great shot relatively easy. First of all, keep in mind that in bird photography you will have to deal with art,
natural history, science, and technology all at once.
Always try to get the bird in a direct sunlight. This will help you achieve faster shutter speed and the bird will have even lighting on it in the picture. Shutter speed is very important when you want to freeze many frames per second to capture a bird while it's still or before it disappears. The bright light will also protect your picture from shadows that can hide details of bird's colors.
2. Cameras and Lenses
Gear is very important here. It's exciting and challenging to find something that works and doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Long lenses are great, telephoto lenses are even greater, but make sure you do some research and don't buy too much gear unless you are taking bird photography to the next level and making it more than a hobby.
The quality of lens glass is of vital importance, much more so than the length. High quality Nikon or Cannon glass can set you back by $10,000 easily. Chances are you don't want to invest such money, so consider buying a used one or from brands like Sigma, Tamron, Panasonic or Olympus. To sum it up, get a great glass quality 200 or 300mm lens instead of poor glass, but 600mm size.
When it comes to cameras, any DSLR is great and so are most digital Canon and Nikon. Make sure the camera you consider has a good frame rate and autofocus as those are fundamental for great images. Always do your research and try renting the equipment first to try it out before investing.
Finally, get a good quality tripod and don't leave the house without it. If you are using long lens, tripod is a life saver, making pictures sharp and camera not as heavy as it would be if you were holding it.
Birds will always fly away from you if you will get too close or make a movement while trying to get closer. To avoid this stay still and let them come closer to you. If you give it enough time, you will almost always get somebody land close to you. Birds won't view you as a threat after a while, especially if you are as still as possible.
4. Study Birds
Equipment is important, patience is vital, good cover is needed, but nothing helps bird photographer as much as knowing bird behavior. You can have the best lens in the world, but if you won't be able to find your subjects, you will come out empty handed.
New photographers can test their skill and equipment close to home, but as you are getting better and acquiring more experience, start reading some books and articles. Find out what time of the day birds are most active, what habitat do they like, and when can they do something interesting. The same research should be put in once you determine what species you want to focus on – make sure you know their migration patterns, hiding places, and major life events.
5. Use Your Car
Using a blind is a great aid in animal photography and especially when it comes to birds. Using a car as a blind is quite simple. Just drive to where your destination is, but have your camera ready on your lap while doing it. Birds are usually not afraid of cars and will let you take a close up shot right through the window.
6. Continuous Shooting
Birds move all the time, so the best thing you can do is enable continuous shooting on your camera and take as many pictures as you can. Yes, you will have to do a lot of erasing later on, but you will have that one and only shot. We suggest going into shooting overdrive when a bird stands in a nice position.
7. The Eyes
Just like with humans, eyes are important. Your photograph viewers will look at the bird's eyes first, so make sure they are clearly visible and sharp. This is not easy to achieve, so have your camera's autofocus trained on the center spot before you start your shooting session.
8. Slow Movements
The worst thing you can do around the bird is make sudden movements. Birds get scared easily and will fly away before you had your chance at the perfect shot. There is also a chance that even slow and steady movements will scare it, but maybe not as fast. As we said before, the best thing you can do is be still and wait.
9. Autofocus on Further Objects
You won't be photographing many birds close by, so set your long lens autofocus on a far setting, meaning that it will be searching for an object to focus on in a far distance. This setting will shorten the valuable time of focus searching and won't result in a lost opportunity, which is always sad.
10. Be Ready
Birds won't wait until you have all the setup for shooting perfected. That perfect picture worthy moment might happen any time, so you should be always ready for the wildlife. If you are just hiking to your shooting destination, have your camera ready and your settings correctly adjusted. That includes exposure, aperture, and ISO. This is needed because you never know when will a bird land right in front of you and will look directly at your camera. When this happens, you should be ready. After all, such opportunity might not happen at all during the rest of your shooting trip, so take it when you can.