Are you looking for some tips and tricks that will help you improve your bird photos? Well, you have come to the right place. After spending many years trying to perfect the art of bird photography (although I am not there yet) I have found a few tips and tricks that have significantly improved my bird photos, and they may be of use to you as well. Interested? Please carry on reading to find out more.
1. USE AN INTERCHANGEABLE LENS CAMERA
Number one on the list of bird photography tips is to use an interchangeable lens camera.
I am a fan of top end compact cameras (those of you who have checked out will know this) however photographing birds requires an interchangeable lens camera so you can use a lens with an appropriate focal length. I appreciate that some top end compact cameras and bridge cameras have extremely long zoom lenses but these lenses are too slow for bird photography.
The choice of interchangeable lens camera is entirely down to personal preference and you can use a CSC or dslr, and both types will capture stunning photos of birds. I have tried both a CSC (Olympus EPL) and a dslr (Canon 7d) for bird photography and I have to admit that my camera of choice is the 7d and the reason for this is because the Canon 7d has a lightning quick autofocus (essential for fast moving subjects like birds) and there is a better selection of tele lenses for the 7d.
2. USE A TELE LENS
Next on the list of bird photography tips is to use a long reach tele lens.
There are a few reasons why you will need a long reach zoom lens for bird photography, including:
Birds are small subjects and getting frame filling shots requires getting in nice and close, and the only way to do this is to use a lens with a long focal length. You will not be successful with a long angle lens.
Birds are typically shy creatures and, in most situations, you won’t be able to get physically close to them. The only way to overcome this problem is to use a super zoom lens.
When using a tele lens the bokeh effect (i.e. the out of focus background) is exaggerated. This will help you capture shots of tack sharp birds against a nicely blurred out background.
Out in the field the focal length will depend on many things such as the location of the birds (are they in the wild or in captivity?) and the breed of the birds (are they big or small? Are they shy or brave?), to name just two. There are situations when it is possible to capture quality bird photos with a 100mm macro lens, and then there are situations when you will need a lens with a focal length of 800mm +.
The most versatile birding lens, and the lens I use for bird photography, is the 100mm – 400mm zoom lens. Since I shoot a Canon I use the Canon 100-400L IS (for a review of this awesome lens please check out “Review of the Canon 100-400") however lenses in this focal range are available for other brands of camera too.
3. USE SHUTTER SPEED MODE
Next on the list of bird photography tips is to use the camera in shutter speed mode.
Okay, I appreciate you may prefer to use your camera in full manual mode (I do) but this is not ideal for bird photography. Trust me on this, I spent many hours refusing to use anything other than full manual mode and my hit rate was very low.
When I switched to using the shutter speed semi-automatic mode my hit rate/keeper increased significantly increased, and I haven’t looked back.
Birds are fast moving subjects, and you need to shoot in shutter speed priority to freeze the action and ensure there is no subject movement blur. If the aperture (as selected by the camera) is too narrow for the desired depth of field I decrease the ISO, however it is worth noting that the “out of focus background” effect is exaggerated using tele lenses.
4. FOCUS ON THE EYE (OR AT LEAST AS CLOSE AS YOU CAN)
Next on the list of bird photography tips is to focus on the eye.
If there is one part of a bird you want to get tack sharp it is the eye, which is the same when photographing all animals (as well as humans for that matter). Get the eye sharp and you can get away with other areas of the image being a little soft, however if the eye is a little soft the final photo loses impact.
5. BE PATIENT
It is often said that patience is a virtue, and this is certainly true when it comes to photographing birds. You will miss more shots than you actually get, and of those you do manage to get the amount of keepers is going to be low. This happens to everyone, so don’t be too disheartened about it.
The trick is to persevere, keep plugging away and you will get there in the end.
6. GET SOME DECENT PHOTO EDITING SOFTWARE AND LEARN TO USE IT
There are many people out there who believe that using photo editing software is cheating, however I don’t share this opinion. If there’s one genre of photography where photo editing software is essential it is bird photography.
There are times when the subject is so far away that even with a crop sensor camera and super tele lens (400mm plus) it takes up a fraction of the frame.
With photo editing software you can crop and enlarge, and still end up with a high quality bird photo at the end of it.
There are many free photo editing software packages out there, and whilst adequate they are not that great and I would not recommend any of them. At the other end of the spectrum, there are some exceptionally expensive photo editing packages that are very powerful (too powerful than you actually need) and also very expensive. I would not recommend these either.
The photo editing software I use, and one I highly recommend, is Photoshop Elements which is a cut down version of Photoshop. Elements is powerful, has a user friendly interface and is a doodle to use and it is affordable too. If you want some top photo editing software that won’t break the bank Elements should be at the top of your list.
Other related bird photography articles
If you found this article interesting/useful below are some other related bird photography articles you may want to take a look at.
“How to photograph birds in flight” is an article that focuses on capturing awesome photos of birds in the air. Photographing birds in flight is a real challenge, however the tips and tricks in this article should help you along the way.
“Best lenses for bird photography” is an article focused on the best birding lenses. The lens you use plays a big part in the photograph and choosing the best lens for the job at hand can make or break a photo. For the best type of lenses for different bird photography situations (and the lenses I use) you may want to take a look at this article.
“Best camera for bird photography” explains the features your camera needs to get the best bird photos possible.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.