Tips and Tricks to Beginning Bird Photography
My very first experience with bird photography was a few years ago when I happened to come up a bird’s nest with little babies. I was ecstatic and elated. I ran to get my camera and rushed close to the nest. Mama bird abandoned her nest and flew to the nearest tree and started chirping wildly and loudly. I was irritated with the noise and kept hushing her. Being the arrogant human, I did not understand why she was so upset – after all, her nest and her babies were having their picture taken! I had just about reached the nest and started clicking pictures when one of the babies freaked out and fell from the nest. Needless to say, I freaked out, started screaming and the rest is such a blur. I ran back to the house not quite knowing what to do. A day later I found the baby dead near the nest and the nest abandoned. I was confused, angry and very very disappointed with myself. How could I have been so selfish! That was the start and end of my bird photography career.
It took me a long long time to get over that incident. But one thing is for sure, that incident changed the way I look at bird (and wildlife) photography.
Below are some tips and tricks that helped me get back into Bird Photography. I am sure there are many wonderful professional bird photographers who may disagree with some of these so let me again re-iterate that I am not a professional bird photographer. I like to consider myself as a advanced hobbyist.
My philosophy of bird photography is capturing the birds in their natural environment by giving them a really really wide berth. This ensures safety for the bird and allows me to incorporate environmental factors within the image. To me, incorporating environmental factors within the frame are important as it triggers memories of the location, the environment and the situation that lead to the image even after many years! My priority is safety for the bird first and images second.
My first digital camera was a Canon 10D and a 50mm f1.8 lens. In fact, the first image in this article was taken with that exact combination. Since then, I have migrated to a full frame Canon 5D MII and have a combination of prime and zoom lens. But my go to lens for bird and animal photography is my Canon 70-200 f/2.8. Yes, its heavy to lug around but I find it predictable and also manageable in instances when I don’t have my tripod (which is more often than not!!). I tuck my elbows into my body for support and click away. Some people swear by a telephoto macro like the Canon 100mm f/2.8L. Macro for bird photography is an interesting concept – it helps you stay further back and produces a great “bokeh” that helps isolate the subject.
Before the 70-200 f/2.8, I owned the Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6. It is a great starter lens and I have used it for many bird and animal photos. The additional 100mm of zoom is definitely beneficial.
If you have deep pockets and have funds to buy super telephoto lens (> 400mm), more power to you!
Mountains have a special place in my heart. Apart from the solitude and the natural beauty, there is an abundant bird life especially in the higher elevations. The lack of human interaction seems to make these mountain birds very curious – Plenty of opportunities for closeup bird photography!
When all else fails and you really are itching to photograph birds, go to the zoo. Yes, I said zoo 🙂 Most zoos have an aviary with a great variety of birds. Try and time your photographic expedition during meal/feeding times. It makes for interesting compositions. Get your lens as close to the glass/grill as possible if you want a clear shot. And as always, try and incorporate some elements of the environment within the frame.
Friends and Family
Do you have friends and family that have pet birds? That’s another non-threatening avenue if you are just starting out. My sister-in-law recently acquired a sulphur crested cockatoo. What an interesting creature!! and loud. Can you guess her name? – Yellow 🙂
Your own backyard
The easiest way to get into bird photography is to put out a bird feeder or a bird bath in your backyard. Especially in summer when the temperature rises, a cool bath is always a welcome sight.
I keep my distance. My experience has taught me never to surprise these beautiful creatures. I learnt my lesson the hard way so when I see a bird that I want to photograph, I approach slowly but at the same time make my presence felt. At times, I do press the shutter just to make them comfortable with the sounds of the camera. A tip that seems to work for me – wear a bright shirt or jacket. This makes the bird aware of you as you approach them. If they haven’t flow away by the time you find a comfortable spot, they are less likely to fly away as you move around to take pictures.
There are many different schools of thought around the right setting for bird photography. My preference is to have a higher f-stop (f/7.1-f/11) because I want to capture some elements of the environment around the bird. I try to keep a fairly low ISO (100-400) and a fast shutter speed so I can get crisp details in my image. Plus if the bird happens to fly away, I have a motion shot too :). Of course, at times it’s perfectly normal to break the rules.
5) Expect the unexpected
If you are serious about bird photography, the key is to always be on the look out and be prepared. You never know when you might see interesting species of birds or an interesting play of power 🙂
6) What’s next
You have some amazing bird photos and are eager to show them off. There are many organizations that conduct bird photography contests, feel free to browse and submit your work. Many local forest preserves also have local bird photography clubs that showcase birds and animal that reside within the boundaries of the forest preserve. Flickr is another great resources to showcase your work. If you have a particularly stunning image (kudos to you for that winning shot), you owe it to yourself to share it with world!
Karthika Gupta, guest blogger for this article is a Lifestyle, Wedding and Travel Photographer plus a budding Birding Enthusiast based in the Chicagoland area. You can see more of her work on her website Memorable Jaunts and follow her on her Memorable Jaunts Facebook page.