BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

PHOTOGRAPHING WILD BIRDS –

Introduction

You can get great shots of wild birds if you develop a spot in your garden where they come and visit regularly to feed , drink and bathe but in general the visitors are just a handful of species. Parks and nature reserves are good if you hope to get a wider range of species. Such places are a great place to start because the resident birds tend to be less wary of people and are used to being fed by visitors and water birds therefore are easier pickings than airborne species.

hang bird feeders in your garden and you will get stunning shots of birds feeding and remember to use a ffast shutter speed to get your images pin sharp as wild birds rarely rest for very long at all.

hang bird feeders in your garden and you will get stunning shots of birds feeding and remember to use a fast shutter speed to get your images pin sharp as wild birds rarely rest for very long at all.

 

Although not a fan of places where any animals or birds are kept in captivity (apart from as part of conservation work) such places do give you great opportunities to get close up shots of birds you are unlikely to come across in the wild or be able to get that close.

View some great examples of my garden  bird photography in these two of my Flickr sets as a slideshow

Click here to view an album in slideshow form of summer visitors to my garden

Click here to view an album in slideshow form of summer visitors to my garden

 

 

 

GETTING STARTED AT HOME  As a photographer I take great pleasure in visits from wild birds in my small garden and photograph them feeding and bathing in my improvised bird bath, the original shallow stone sink which at some time was taken out of the kitchen , flipped over  and was used as part of the garden path.

Shallow stone sink ideal as a bird bath and great to take shots of wild garden birds drinking and washing themselves.

Shallow stone sink ideal as a bird bath and great to take shots of wild garden birds drinking and washing themselves.

( Curiously I actually dug up two so one is for now the wild birds, the other is where I do my potting and garden cleaning.)

male blackbird having a bath! I make  sure I keep the water clean as dirty water may contain pathogens that are harmful to wild birds.

male blackbird having a bath! I make sure I keep the water clean as dirty water may contain pathogens that are harmful to wild birds.

 

 

Make your garden wild bird friendly by  leaving appropriate food and water out for them and you’d be surprised how many visitors you will get to photograph.

I grew small trees from tiny saplings as well as made a bird table to make my back garden more attractive to wild birds. I never tire of watching them or photographing them.

I grew small trees from tiny saplings as well as made a bird table to make my back garden more attractive to wild birds. I never tire of watching them or photographing them.

It is especially important to make sure you keep feeding them in severe weather where natural foods are in very short supply.

click this image to view a small sample in a slideshow presentation of winter visitors to my garden.

click this image to view a small sample in a slideshow presentation of winter visitors to my garden.

Park lakes where the public visit are a great starting point as mallards, Canada geese and swans as well as gulls and terns and coots become very bold and will come in to feed  close to the shore line  making it easier to take great shots. At Clifton Country Park near my home  I also see tufted ducks and the elusive grebe – both species are happy to hunt independently and thus are rarely  attracted to come closer in for the bread most people throw to the water birds there. With  patience  I have got some great shots of tufted ducks but have yet to get really satisfactory ones of the grebes who like to fish well away from the shoreline and in both cases I had to crop those images with editing software to get the bird to fill the frame.

I had to revisit the same spot many times to get a half decent shot of this elusive great crested grebe swimming and even so had to crop in during editing to make the bird fill the frame.

I had to revisit the same spot many times to get a half decent shot of this elusive great crested grebe swimming and even so had to crop in during editing to make the bird fill the frame.

You will also find two other  sets of birds I have photographed, water birds and other wild birds shot  at other locations such as Clifton Country Park in Salford and at Pennington Flash near Warrington. Pennington is a country park reclaimed from coal mining activities when the mines closed and has a number of lakes or flashes – and at each there is a hide including just one where the birds are fed and can be more easily photographed.

black headed gull in flight

(Click on the image of the gull in flight to view slideshow of my wild water bird photography.)

Wild birds are very timid and yet to fill the camera frame you actually have to get quite close. You will rarely get great shots with a standard lens so  I use a 200mm zoom  lens exclusively. (You can buy “digiscopes” , the choice of specialist bird  photographers which essentially is a digital telescope camera attachment which gives you an exceptional focal length and amazing results  but they are very expensive.

Click on this image to view more of my wild bird photography.

Click on this image to view more of my wild bird photography.

 

Using one of my two digital SLR Nikons I always use as fast a shutter speed as possible in the conditions and , for example, if your quick and see  the birds take flight you can freeze their wing action with often fantastic symmetrical results. You should not intrude to get photographs of birds actually nesting as you will stress out the parent bird and they may very well abandon the nest and that of course would be fatal for their progeny. I have only photographed one bird nesting on its eggs but was sensitive to the birds needs and used a long lens so the coot mother was not even aware I was there and not at all alarmed – it was a rare privilege.

You should never disturb nesting birds and if you do photograph them respect their right not to be frightened - I used a long lens here and the coot had no idea I I was even there.

You should never disturb nesting birds and if you do photograph them respect their right not to be frightened – I used a long lens here and the coot had no idea I I was even there.

 

Tips on Bird Photography

The key quality you need for bird photography is quiet patience. I was told about a woodpecker that was nesting in a hole in a cherry tree in the park near the school  once worked in so I hid behind  the nearby  tree with my long lens ready – I stood their motionless for nearly an hour but was eventually rewarded with some great photos – one of the highlights of the  early part of photography career.

I waited quietly for nearly an hour for this beautiful wild bird to return to its nest to feed the chicks.

I waited quietly for nearly an hour for this beautiful wild bird to return to its nest to feed the chicks.

 

Get a compact illustrated pocket size field guide  which will help you identify wild birds you are unfamiliar with and for clues as to where you are most likely to find different species and  learn about the feeding habits.

Bill Oddie bird book cover

I use  “Birds of Britain and Ireland” , written by Bill Oddie whose passion for bird watching is legendary and also with outstanding line drawing colour illustrations by David Daly.

sample page -click on image for a larger view

sample page -click on image for a larger view

 

Alternatively now  there is also a  mobile hand held device application. http://www.birdguides.com/products/appbi270pro/

Most species of birds eat in the morning or late afternoon.

Get to know the habits of the bird that you are photographing and where it returns every day to feed.

Be respectful of nature. When photographing a bird, or photographing any wildlife, never corner the creature and be mindful that the bird has a way of escape if it gets scared.

As a rule you should not intrude to get photographs of birds actually nesting as you will stress out the parent bird and they may very well abandon the nest and that of course would be fatal for their progeny.

Walk softly. Learn how to approach birds quietly and with very little movement.

If the weather is threatening, the birds will hide  themselves away where they will be safe so better if the weather does take a turn for the worse to call it a day and try another time.

It sometimes is hard to see the bird that you want to photograph and tempting not chase it around but you have to be conscious of your movements and the signals that you give out because it is so easy to panic the creature by moving suddenly forward.

Whilst you are likely to get a few great shots on a random day out visit to a woods or local park you will be better rewarded by making several scheduled visits to the same spot with a wider range of opportunities. Most bird photography specialists will spend countless hours patiently waiting at the same location for the perfect light and background.

Although it is great to get photographs of birds perching and at rest, some of the best photographs are those that record bird behaviour such as feeding, washing and preening or squabbling with rivals or taking off or landing.

try and capture bird behaviours like this goose dipping its head into the water to flick water over its back to wash and preen itself.

try and capture bird behaviours like this goose dipping its head into the water to flick water over its back to wash and preen itself.

If you are quick enough you can follow focus , tracking birds in flight which will also show you birds fly, the feather and wing details fanned out and with awesome symmetry.

If you can get close enough take head shots and, as always with any image of a wild creature or pets, focus on the eye and look for the sparkle.

CAMERA SETTINGS

Wild birds are very timid and yet to fill the camera frame you actually have to get quite close. You will rarely get great shots with a standard lens so  I use a 200mm zoom  lens exclusively. (You can buy “digiscopes” , the choice of specialist bird  photographers which essentially is a digital telescope camera attachment which gives you an exceptional focal length and amazing results  but they are very expensive.

 

When photographing birds I always use a fast shutter speed to ensure that the images  are sharp and  not blurred because of sudden movements of the creature or to capture them fleeing if they get startled.

Use fast shutter speeds to capture birds in flight and to record the awesome symetry of their wings and flight feathers.

Use fast shutter speeds to capture birds in flight and to record the awesome symetry of their wings and flight feathers.

Select a wide  aperture if you   want the background blurred to make  the bird stand out  from distractions behind it.    I set my  camera mode  to  “A” or Aperture priority mode- the wider your aperture (or the lower your f-number is)  the shallower the “depth of field” ( how much of the subject is in focus.) This will result in a very blurred background, but a sharp subject. In most cameras, the lens aperture range from f/1.8 to f/22. Set your aperture to f/1.8 for the most blurred background effect. Check your shutter speed to see if this will yield favourable results.

Use a wide aperture setting to blur unwanted  distractions in the  background

Use a wide aperture setting to blur unwanted distractions in the background

One Response to “BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS”

  1. paleo diet says:

    Terrific. Thank a lot for posting this. I’ll definitely come again to see what’s new and tell my people about this site.

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