Bird photography is a wonderful genre of photography that will get you out into nature to experience the winged wonders that share this world with us. You don’t always have to get that far out into nature though as you can take photos of the birds that come to visit in and around your back yard. But no matter where you look for them, you will learn patience and a bit of stealth as birds very often do not look at you and strike a pose. The majority of the time if they see or hear you coming (and sometimes even hear the click of your shutter) they take off!
After we had a chance to photograph the birds who did pose for us in the prior post, we all spread out to find the ones that were in the wild in the surrounding areas. I will say that when it comes to following that chirp or tweet and finding where a small bird is is so not my skill at the moment. I had much better luck with the egrets and cormorants who were present in the ponds and rivers.
Here are a few tips that I came away with from the lecture by Bob Davis. He gave us quite a few but these are the ones that I tried out. As with anything that has a face you want to focus on the eyes of the bird and depending on how wide or narrow the head, that can be a challenge. He gave us all of the settings he normally uses but we all know that can vary depending on what camera and lens you use and what you are shooting… or should that be photographing?
With birds a high shutter speed is best; the smaller the bird the higher the speed and especially if they are in flight. He suggested a starting point of 1/1000 of a second preferably 1/2000 or higher. This helps freeze the motion of the bird and gives you a sharper image as well as help with camera shake if you happen to be hand holding a large lens. He uses a 600mm lens with a 2x converter on a tripod with a gimbal head. That thing was a monster but it gave him some fantastic images.
Single point auto focus or a cluster of five focal points is another tip. He mentioned one very important point which has at times gotten me and I’d dare say gotten all of us – depth of field or DOF. The distance of your bird and what length lens factors into what and how much will be in focus. Even though you may have a huge lens when you take that photo if the math of your focal length, F stop and distance of your subject do not add up to enough DOF then you may have a photo where the birds face or even just one eye is perfect but the rest of it goes soft.
This applies to any subject you may be shooting by the way. You can get a DOF calculator for free for your phone or here is an online one. In his case he uses an F stop of 7.1 for getting everything in focus and letting the ISO ride in auto. If the settings you have dialed in almost work instead of changing your settings try taking a few steps back; that can sometimes give your the DOF you desire.
Metering with birds will vary as they may be in bright blue water, tall grass, in a bright or grey sky, partially hidden in trees, etc. The suggestion for this was to take a couple of test shots, check your histogram and ISO and then decide what setting gave you the image you wanted. Photographing a white bird has it’s own set of challenges. There’s not a lot of contrast there to help with the image (and sometimes focusing) and if the sun hits them a certain way, they can turn into a ghost or half white and half gray.
It was suggested to over expose by one stop if the bird is white on a white background and to under expose by a stop if it isn’t. That’s a technique that I’m still trying to get a grip on. One last tip, birds are creatures of habit and I definitely found this one useful in practice. They tend to circle around areas before landing or just circle an area in the air repeatedly before deciding where they are going. If you watch a bird long enough you will begin to learn what their movements mean; are they getting ready to take off, land or perhaps grab a fish with talons or beaks.
I am still a “fledgling” at bird photography but I know some of you are avid and experienced bird photographers so if you have any methods or tips that have worked for you please share in the comments. We’d all love to learn how to get that great shot!
The cormorants around the center were fairly easy to photograph although one was constantly diving under the water. Notice how their bodies rest very low in the water. There were also turtles in the water and sunning themselves on rocks. Bonus for me!
The egrets were a challenge as they were white with very narrow heads and the sun was right overhead by the time we reached them. I did a lot of adjustments with my settings to try and get the images I wanted and even then there was more to be done in editing. Practice, practice, practice! Another important word along with patience for bird photography. Patience and observing the behaviors of the egrets led me to getting this shot of one catching a fish. I was thrilled to capture it.
But this is also an example of what happens when a white bird has the sun shining directly on it; very little contrast and detail in the image. You get a white blob. A tight crop was needed for these images even though I was using a 400mm lens as the egrets were quite a ways away in the river and would only come so close unlike the cormorants.