Tips & Tricks: Bird Photography

Bird Photography

By Hermis Haridas

A self-confessed nature lover and travel enthusiast, he became deeply involved in nature and bird photography and found himself traveling around, hunting for and trying to capture moments hitherto uncaptured. His trips to Russia, Sri Lanka, India and African continent gave him the opportunity to understand the nuances of wildlife photography. Hermis believes in the adage that “practice makes perfect” and there isn’t a day in his life without peeping at the world through his “third eye”. He holds his passion closest to his heart and dreams of making it big as a nature photographer.

Birds are one of the most enchanting species to shoot. Their colors, shapes, sizes, and behavior makes them an interesting subject. The lively and secretive nature of birds make them challenging to photograph. Sometime photographing birds can be really frustrating due to their active lifestyle, and when you try to get closer they will fly off for sure. But, by practicing some techniques it is possible to increase your chance of capturing some amazing moments of birds.

When it comes to birds, the main issue to consider is the light. I always love to shoot in the golden hour that is an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset during which daylight is redder and softer. During this time one will be able to create magical images. Also, the birds are more active in the early morning when they actively look for food for themselves and their young ones.

Always try to study the behavior of the bird and its habitat. Be with them as much as you can. Spend a lot of time learning the subject, read a lot about them, and watch them closely. This will help you to anticipate where a bird will  fly or land or do some particular actions. If you know about the subject then it helps you to select the shutter speed, aperture and ISO to create a quality image. As any other animal species, birds also get threatened when you look straight into their eyes. Never do this. Also, never try to go near the bird, wait for them to come near you. This will result in creating a much more intimate photograph. Like every species in the universe birds also have their own “comfort zone.” If you try to cross into their zone, they feel threatened and  fly off . Any bird photographer’s challenge is to make the bird feel safe and at-ease. Patience is what you have to keep in mind. Be patient and approach slowly. Sometime you can get closer even beyond the comfort zone.

Wear clothes that blend with the environment as much as possible, preferably camou age. Never be in a hurry in the field. Try to make slow movements when birds are around. Less sound is better. If you have a mobile phone always switch it off or keep it in silent mode. Never walk straight to a bird because if the bird is looking at you, the bird is alert and might take off anytime.

Light is a major player in every photograph. And the light conditions change regularly in the field. Whether it is a gradual change or a sudden change, the light changes and with it the exposure settings should also change. Hence test the exposure regularly even if you are not shooting a subject. Always keep the settings accurate so that you don’t miss a shot.

Isolating the subject is another tough task in bird photography. Birds are often found in the branches or amongst the intersection of grasses, all these causing distraction from the central subject. To an extend it is good to show a bird in its habitat. But at the same time eliminating the distractions and isolating the bird by controlling your aperture and angle will produce a pleasing photo. Always try to shoot from their eye level. From this you will be able to get more intimate photographs, as you will get an eye contact with the bird. Lie down on the ground and click, as the bird also gets less scared since you can’t move and you will get an image where the subject stands out with a blurred foreground and background.

Birds are always moving. Capturing birds in actions is very tough and need lots of patience compared to birds perched. Nothing can beat a bird in flight, but without proper settings you will only get a blurred image. I would suggest minimum shutter speed of 1/800th of a second to freeze a bird in flight. The faster the shutter speed is, the sharper you can freeze the subject.

Composition is another important aspect to take care while creating a good photograph. You can compose your image in the way you want to see it. You don’t always need to include the whole body of the subject in the frame. A photograph of the bird’s head works as good as the portrait of a person. Always give some free space in the direction where bird is facing. Try not to crop the subject too tight because that fails to show the details of its environment.

Equipment plays an important role in making great pictures. When it comes to wildlife or nature photography action is one of the key element. So you should have a fast camera that can handle the shutter speed of at least 1/2000, of a second and the fps within 6-9. This doesn’t mean that an entry-level camera cannot be used for bird photography, just that you might miss some good actions since your camera might not be fast enough. So when one get seriously into what subject they are focusing on, they can choose the necessary equipment. For bird photography a minimum of 80-400 mm range of lens is recommended. And the range above 400mm is always preferred since you don’t have to disturb the bird by going near the bird to get a close image. To start with you can use Nikon’s 80-400mm lens or Canon’s 100-400mm, which are the best a ordable lenses. It is always good to use a tripod, monopod or a beanbag while you are photographing wildlife. Handholding is not practical all the time when you have a bigger lens and a heavy camera. If you have a very high shutter speed camera, hand held use will not be an issue.

The best way to improve your photography is by practicing. Always review your images after a day in the field or forest, and carefully check what are the plus and minus in your pictures and research on how to improve on what went wrong. Delete out of focus images. Consider saving the best images in a separate file.




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