Bird photography is a challenging branch of photography. As with wildlife in general, capturing magnificent birds in movement and trying not to scare them away is quite tricky. Capturing birds in flight are one of the most difficult actions you can focus on, and finding your way around intruding elements such as branches or leaves is no piece of cake either.
Read our tips on how to master bird photography and you’ll be a contender for National Geographic contests in no time.
Basic Bird Photography Tips
1. Invest in a Good Camera
As much as we’d like to say that you don’t need fancy equipment to capture birds on camera, it wouldn’t be true. Wildlife photography is one of the most expensive fields of photography. Forget about taking your point-and-shoot out for a spin because it won’t do the job. If you want to take stunning, sharp pictures of the winged creature, you must invest in a fast DSLR.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon EOS 80D, Nikon D500, and Nikon D5 are some of the best cameras for bird photography. However, these premium cameras are not for everyone, and you might want to look into less costly equipment. Pentax K-1 and Sony a99 are two cheaper, excellent alternatives.
Your camera should have a great autofocus system, and be able to handle a shutter speed of at least 1/2000 of a second, and 6 to 9 frames per seconds. Entry-level DSLRs can shoot decent pictures but they are not fast enough and you might have to spend more time shooting until finally getting that perfect photograph.
2. Lens are Very Important
Professional bird photographers depend on their 500mm or 600mm lenses. However, these are quite expensive, currently selling for over $8,000.
3. Find the Proper Location
The most effective way to find the exact bird you’re looking for, or to find a great number of birds, is to contact a local bird-watching club. They, of course, know all about bird species, their habitat, and their migration patterns.
You can also go online and search the web for information. Locating birds is quite easy, as you can tell. And the good part is, no matter where you live, you can still find a few species to start exercising on. Then, you can move to more exotic, rare birds, and go on shooting expeditions for truly unique photographs.
4. Best Time to Shoot Birds
Light means everything when it comes to photography. When capturing birds on camera, we recommend you pack your gear and head to the location early in the morning or late in the afternoon. The light is amazing, and the birds are the most active during these times.
Then we have the time of tides. This is a key factor to consider when photographing at coastal locations. Start shooting when the tide rises because it’s then that the birds are drawn closer to the shore.
5. Be Silent
Bird photography is all about being patient and silent. Let’s say you have found your bird and go about approaching it. Even a low sound is enough to scare the birds away. Furthermore, birds have excellent vision and it’s very likely they will spot you first.
As with any type of wildlife photography, it is important you understand the animal’s behavior. The key to a successful shot is to not act in a threatening way. Dress yourself in camouflage clothes and move slowly in approaching them.
6. Use the Rule of Thirds
Through composition, we get to tell the subject’s story. You may have heard about the powerful technique called the rule of thirds. Here are the basics of it. You must imagine breaking down the image into thirds, horizontally and vertically, so that you get nine parts. The idea is to place points of interest along the lines of the grid or at the intersection of the four lines.
Furthermore, be careful with the background. Use a clean one rather than having too many elements in your picture. Fill the frame with just the bird, and have it contrast the background.
7. How to Shoot
We cannot put enough emphasis on the importance of a good tripod, but when it comes to bird photography, you might want to leave it at home. It’s best you shoot handheld when the light is proper. When the light becomes dull, you can use a monopod as an alternative to a tripod.
Back to the light. Try to shoot only with the sun behind you. You are left with fewer issues such as bad exposure and color saturation, that you might not even be able to fix using an editing software.
Just as with any portrait, it’s critical you try to get the bird in its best pose. This can be quite tough given the head-turn. Watch the bird’s movement and try to anticipate new ones. Try catching it as it is facing the camera, with its head angled towards you and the body slightly away.
8. Catch Them in Action
Birds rarely keep still, which makes capturing them on camera quite tiresome. However, you will get the most aweing shot if you succeed to catch them in full flight or while feeding. Make use of the burst shot mode when you have a lot of action going on. This way, you can take several pictures, and at least one is bound to be satisfactory.
Focusing on your subject will also be strenuous, and you must track the subject until locking focus and pressing the shutter button. Just as always, try to understand their behavior and to anticipate their next move. Use Aperture Priority to have the suitable shutter speed controlled automatically. This way, you won’t have to change the settings manually every time the light conditions alter.
Luckily, trying to photograph birds while they are feeding is easier than when they are flying. When they’re hungry, birds tend to ignore humans. As long as you maintain a considerable distance, it shouldn’t be a problem to catch them in action.
Remember that no matter how great your skills are, there’s always an element of luck involved in taking a perfect shot.