Bird Photography Tips

I thought a bird photography tips blog will come in handy for a lot of you right now seeing that most of the globe is easing out of this all too common lockdown. For the first time in way too many weeks I was; along with the rest of the country, allowed to legally access a nearby park for a good run.

I was loving every moment of this foreign freedom. The constant sun glaring off my skin. Seeing many other people moving outdoors but the highlight of the afternoon was seeing and hearing the abundant birdlife. So... hence the reason for this blog.

If you have been craving a "safari fix" as much as I am. Get your self off the couch and make your way to the nearest park with camera in hand and take in the tranquility that nature so willingly provides. It soothes the soul AND if you do photograph, it will lend you the opportunity to improve your skills.

Bird photography is no easy task but I do believe it is the best way to learn. We all know that the better you understand your gear and/or the quicker you can make changes to your settings, the better your photography will be. These sweet birds, they will force you to learn, and learn fast because they usually move at lightning speed.

If you are willing to accept this challenge, let me share a few bird photography tips with you now.

Wait, before I get started; PLEASE know that you don't need the most expensive cameras/lenses to create great bird images.

It is important to realize that bird photography is much more than just the camera or the lens. There is no denial of the fact that the longer the lens, the easier it is to photograph birds which are skittish. But, the lens itself cannot make a great bird photograph.

If you do not have a longer telephoto lens, nothing stops you from taking a great photograph of more timid birds like ducks, geese, gulls, and herons that are easily approachable. If you cannot take a close-up of a shy bird, nothing stops you from taking a unique photograph of the particular bird in its habitat.

Everything boils down to how you view the situation. “Is the glass half empty or half full?”

Always remember, the best camera and/or lens to have is the one you have with you. Push your gear to its limits and you'll see a major shift in your results.

Okay, now I promise to provide you with some good bird photography tips.

The early (or late) bird gets the shot.

The time of day can be used to your advantage in bird photography. Nocturnal birds can often be captured while returning to their nests early in the morning, while others are going out for their morning meal. Late afternoon and evening can provide great opportunities as well. Not only are these feather creatures most active during these times but another major factor is that these times of day also provide some of the most dramatic and complimentary lighting and this takes us to the next point.

Light and Composition

Photography is all about light. Light has few characteristics that will make a photograph wonderful.

As mentioned, early morning and late afternoon light is usually the best time for bird photography. The light during these times is soft and soft light has some wonderful characteristics.

  • It does not cast harsh shadows on the bird
  • It brings out a glow to the bird’s plumage
  • It gives the catch light in bird’s eye

Bird Photography Tips | Wild Eye | Photography | Travel | Michael Laubscher

Composing a bird photograph helps you to convey your message in the best possible way. Bird Photography composition is generally very simple. Following a few basic composition principles will help you make a difference.

  • Use rule of thirds composition to place the bird off-center
  • Use color contrast by aiming for complementary background
  • Try to fill the frame with the bird
  • Use a clean background

Bird Photography Tips | Wild Eye | Photography | Travel | Michael Laubscher

Transport the viewer into the bird’s world

We see our world at 5 to 6 feet high, but birds see the world in few inches to few feet. To get a feeling of the bird’s world, then you need to get down to their level.

Go low and go slow…

It is best to always try to photograph the birds from their eye level, except the birds in flight of course. Some of the obvious benefits are;

  • You get more intimate photographs of birds since you will get an eye contact
  • You will get pleasing blur both in the foreground and background
  • You make the bird less scared since you can hardly move
  • You will transport the viewer into the bird’s world

It’s all in the eye

Take a look at any photograph of a bird. What is the first thing you want to see? It’s the eye…right?

We tend to make an eye connection with any living being and it is no different with birds. The eyes are the windows to the soul. If there is no light in the eyes, then they look dull or lifeless. Birds look lively when there is light in their eye.

This light in the eye is called a catch light. By following few guidelines you can easily get better bird photographs.

  • Always keep the bird’s eye in sharp focus
  • Check for a catch light in the bird’s eye (easy to get if the bird is front lit)
  • Make sure to photograph from bird’s eye level

Fill the frame and target selection

We usually photograph an individual bird and so while photographing individual birds, it is always a good idea to try and fill the frame with the bird.

Targeting larger birds usually helps when it comes to achieving this.

Advantages of filling the frame and/or photographing larger birds are;

  • It is easy to focus on the bird
  • It is easy to achieve a pleasing blur or bokeh effect in the background
  • It is easy to properly expose for the bird
  • It is easy to compose in the field

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Try to tell a story by capturing specific behaviour and/or weather conditions

Storytelling is a way to express the time of the day, mood, place or activity of the bird in one photograph. Viewers should be able to picture themselves in the scene.

At times, a photograph with a bird and its surrounding will give a better sense of story than just the bird filling the frame.

Here are few tips you can follow while you photograph a bird in its habitat

  • Make the bird an integral part of the photograph by including its natural habitat
  • Show the interaction of birds if there is more than one bird in the photograph
  • Indicate the weather conditions by including either snow, rain or mist
  • Take photographs during sunrise and sunset

Bird Photography Tips | Wild Eye | Photography | Travel | Michael Laubscher Bird Photography Tips | Wild Eye | Photography | Travel | Michael Laubscher Bird Photography Tips | Wild Eye | Photography | Travel | Michael Laubscher

Technicalities

Birds are forever mobile. They shift into different light, position and behaviour really fast. It does sometimes seem that half the work is changing camera settings for bird photography. But remember, the more you do this, the better and faster you will become.

Now, with these critters always moving and scenes forever changing, there is no "go to setting" for bird photography but there are a few things I would like to point out.

Focus Mode

I prefer keening my focus mode on continuous (AI Servo / AF-C) all the time, regardless as to what I'm photographing. It focuses when you partially depress the shutter but still monitors movement in the frame, making any necessary adjustments for you between the shots, without the need to remove your finger from the shutter button.

Shooting Mode

I would recommend that you make use of either Aperture or Manual mode. The reason I say this is because on Shutter mode you as the photographer cannot make changes to your aperture value.

Aperture

Your aperture is your creative tool and so you want to have full control over this. Not only is it your creative tool but it will also allow you to increase your depth of field to ensure that your whole subject is in focus, particularly for those in flight. For static birds, go for a lower aperture to render a shallow depth of field so that you want to separate your subject from the background.

A general rule I give my guests out in the field if they wish to capture birds in flight is that you should be on f/8, and then wait.

The aperture value you should make use of purely comes down to what bird you are photographing, the larger the big, the higher your aperture value should be (because it'll have a wider wing span). It also comes down to how close you are to the subject, the closer you are, again the higher your aperture value should be, but f/8 is usually a good starting point.

ISO

Your ISO will all depend on the amount of light you are working with. In low light, your ISO will have to be quiet high where as in lower light your ISO can be much lower.

Shutter Speed

This is the one thing you want to be absolutely sure of. In order to capture any moving subject well, attaining sharp results, your shutter speed must be fast. I would suggest that for most bird photography, your shutter speed should not be slower than 1/1250. The faster the better in this case. If your shutter speed is not fast enough you will introduce motion blur and if this in not what you wanted to achieve, you’ll have missed the shot.

Drive Mode

Most SLR cameras have more than one drive mode. If you select single shooting, the camera fires one shot each time the shutter button is fully depressed. If continuous shooting mode is set, the shutter keeps firing for as long as you depress the shutter button.

The latter is where you should be. Continuous shooting. Again, the faster, the better.

That is all I have for you right now.

I do hope that this blog has inspired you to go brush off some of the cobwebs smothering your camera gear and to go into the wonders of nature to put this to practice.

Enjoy it! Stay happy and stay safe!

Until next time;

Michael

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