Photography Tips for the Bird Watcher

Bird watching and photography bear many similarities. They both require practice and at least some knowledge in order to see any decent results. They also require astute attention and a hearty amount of patience as both a great shot and an elusive bird may only present themselves for a brief moment. They’re also easy to enjoy for a lifetime in any corner of the world, and, because birding and taking pictures have so much in common, they work remarkably well when joined together.

However, in the same way that the crafts of photography and of birding take some dedication to sound principles and practice, so, too, does the craft of taking photographs of birds. If you’re a budding bird photographer, here are a few helpful tips to help you along your way.

Gear and Settings

In order to get professional-looking shots of birds in their natural habitats, you’re going to need a professional-quality camera. Choose either a SLR or DSLR camera with at least 1/2000 of a second shutter speed with six to nine frames per second (fps). Also, you’ll need to work with at least a 300mm lens. You’ll also need a tripod to keep your shot steady, and the more easy to use and quick to set up and tear down it is, the better.

One more thing to bear in mind with the tripod, camera, and lenses you choose is whether or not you’ll be taking them with you when you travel. If so, weight and size matter since you’ll want to carry your gear onboard any flight you take to photograph birds. You don’t want to be the annoying passenger on the plane taking up all the overhead room with your equipment.

As for settings to use, there is a bit of a learning curve, but a few suggestions will help. As much as you’re able, maintain fast shutter speeds when birds are in flight. Making use of a continuous focusing option can keep errors to a minimum, but for more control, manual focusing with a pre-focus works, too. Be sure to shoot RAW, also, so in the event that your exposure is off, you’ll be able to fix it easily in post-production.

Observe to Get the Best Shots

While a digital camera affords the photographer the luxury of taking lousy shots without having to pay for it, you’ll still want to exercise close observation and genuine patience. Especially if you’re in a new place, take some time and look around.

What are the birds up to? What do their habits seem to be? Where do they sing? Feed? Drink? Over time, the birds will adapt a bit to your presence, which will also help you get better shots. Find a prime location, set up camp, and don’t move for a few hours. With patience and an attentive eye, you’ll be surprised at how good your shots can be.

Approaching Your Subjects

Birds by nature are very skittish and elusive, which is why some photographers employ a hide-out or camouflaging tent of some kind. The trick is to only be as far away as you can be and still get the shot you want. How far away that is depends on the quality of your lens. If you aren’t working with a high-quality teleconverter, you’ll need to be close, so move slowly and quietly so as not to scare off your subjects.

Best Times to Go

Early morning or just before sunset tend to get birds at their most active, which makes for more interesting shots. To take good photos during these times, however, you’ll need to be in place early. Get set up around sunrise, so you’ll have a window of about three to four hours to shoot the birds during their busy morning activities. Take a midday break and return a few hours before sunset and repeat the process.

Attract the Birds

Believe it or not, there are actually some things you can do to draw birds to you, especially if you’re starting out as a backyard bird photographer. Depending on the types of birds you’d like to photograph, consider employing the following bird attractions:

  • Every bird is drawn to specific plants, so do some research and plant the grasses, flowers, and shrubs your favored birds favor.
  • Running water. Running water attracts birds, especially if it mimics a natural running water source like a waterfall or pond.
  • You can manufacture places for birds to sit in your backyard. Sticks, twigs, and broken branches are ideal.
  • Birdseed. While birdseed can be a big help in attracting birds, feeders are often an eyesore. When utilizing birdseed, then, try and make use of more natural-looking, makeshift feeders like holes in trees and semi-hollow logs.

Bird photography combines two great passions, and so long as you’re willing to invest in good equipment and work at it a bit, you can take great photos that reveal your commitment to those passions instantly.

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