Monday, May 26, 2014

Bird Photography - Tips & Tricks & Unasked-for Advice

Due to exams, this week's post is rather belated. Whoops. Oh well, enjoy :)

My love of photography began with a simple, black Nikon point-and-shoot, and I immediately was unsatisfied with it. Earth-bound, its short focal length was a poor choice for capturing anything but the largest of subjects. I desired a telephoto lens desperately; I wanted to photograph birds.

Black Skimmer

However, birds can be challenging subjects for even experienced nature photographers. At the same time, the allure of dramatic photography is great, and these are animals that are worth the extra effort to photograph. 

So what would you tell me if I have never photographed birds before, but want to start?

As with many fields of photography, it's important that you begin with the correct equipment. You will need a telephoto lens and a tripod sturdy enough to support your gig. How long of a lens? Well, basically the longest one you can afford! You will need a lens in the range of 300-600mm. If you intend to shoot songbirds and other small species (or birds in flight from a distance), you'll want the 600mm glass. If you're more interested in photographing heavy water birds or large game birds, you can survive with a shorter lens. Don't forget you can purchase a teleconverter to increase your lens power if you want.

Snowy Egret

Okay, so let's say that I have an appropriate lens. Now what?

Well, you of course need a location to shoot. One of my favorite places is Anastasia State Park, but a quick google search should produce the best birding locations in your area. Try different areas, making sure to scout out several locations before you give up.
The other two considerations are season and time. Early morning is best for nature photography for many reasons. Not only are you shooting during the best lighting conditions, but you also are out at peak bird (and other animal) activity time. So your best bet of finding your subject is to get up early.
Yup, no one said that nature photography was easy.
Additionally, bird species will vary seasonally in your area. For example, winter is a very good time for bird photography in Florida as many migrants fly through on their way to South America. Do a little research about your local bird populations.

Wood Stork

Assuming, then, that I manage to wake up early enough for this, do you have any advice for actually photographing birds?

Well, yes. If you aren't familiar with shutter speed and aperture, you should read my Intro to Photography Part 1 and Part 2 articles before continuing. 
Okay, ready?
When you are shooting birds or other animals, you have to deal with the fact that your subject just doesn't care that you are photographing them. That's right - they don't give a damn if they ruin your shot by moving, or looking the other way, or generally being rude. What's that mean for you? You want a fast shutter speed so you can capture these rapidly-moving animals and avoid the dreaded motion blur. 
An easy way to ensure you are always shooting at the fastest shutter you can is to set your camera to "aperture priority." This setting means that you pick the aperture, and the camera's computer will automatically calculate the appropriate shutter speed for you. Keeping your lens "wide open" (setting it to the largest aperture) will allow you to shoot the fastest. This eliminates the problem of you fiddling with complicated settings while your subject flies away. Oops.

Ruddy Turnstone (Winter Plumage)

Final Considerations:

Please remember, that as a nature photographer, you are a visitor in someone else's home. Many species of animals are sensitive to human presence and encroachment. If your presence is causing an animal to change its behavior, you are too close. Please be respectful, have fun, and maybe learn something!

Want to see more tips? Check back every Friday for a new post. Click here to follow me on Tumblr and here to follow me on Bloglovin! Don't forget you can also use the handy sidebar to subscribe via email or RSS feed.

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