Monday, 11 June 2012

Photographing Birds

Photographing Birds

You don’t need a lot of sophisticated gear to photograph birds, especially backyard birds. While expert wildlife photographers may insist on a DSLR with a lens more than 400mm, it is not absolutely necessary.

Amateur photographer Kumeran says it is more important to reach your potential with the gear you have rather than learn about the gear you wish you had. He says learning about techniques and practicing techniques can be fun and that is what the hobby of photography is all about.


So if you have a point and shoot with 10X zoom or a DSLR with a lens less than 400mm you can still take good shots of birds. However, a tripod and a remote shutter release are handy items to have for bird photography.

Kumeran says if you don’t have a camera with a long lens then move the lens closer to the bird.


1.    Don’t do anything - some birds come close e.g. ducks, swans (especially if you feed them) and backyard birds at feeders.

2.    Move carefully - many birds let you get close if you don’t move suddenly.

3.    Lie still - put food out e.g. sunflower seeds and be patient.

4.    Hide - put food under a twig or branch and then hide in natural surroundings, or use a ‘blind’ or a net over you. Be patient.

5.    Use a tripod with a remote shutter release.


1. Settings

The focal length should be greater than 300mm or 10x zoom.

 Use auto focus on moving birds. However, in fully automatic mode all the AF(auto focus) points are active and the closest object will be selected to focus. Therefore the camera sometimes may not focus on the subject you want. If you use ‘P’ (program) or  ‘Tv’ (shutter speed) or ‘Av’ (aperture) or ‘M’ (manual) you can select one AF point to focus where you want. The AF points are shown on the LCD screen and in the view finder.

 Select the best AF mode. (Canon Names)

 ‘One Shot’ for still subjects

 ‘Al Servo’ for moving subjects

 ‘Al Focus’ when you can’t decide. The camera will automatically switch from ‘One Shot’ to ‘Al Servo’ ‘Al’  means Artificial Intelligence.

 Use continuous shooting or burst (multiple shots at once) with ‘AI Servo’ for moving birds.

 On Point and Shoot cameras use the ‘Sport or Running Man’ setting and take off the ‘Review’ option to get faster shots.

 Use manual focus when the bird is still or pre-visualize the bird’s intent and focus on the branch, nest, feeder, fence etc where you think the bird will land or take off.
   To get the bird in focus but the background blurry you need a long focal length and a wide aperture (small  f stop number e.g. f2.8 to f5.6). This gives a short Depth of Field but be careful you may not get all the bird in focus so aim for the eye and close the aperture a little (higher number).

 A long focal length and wide aperture also causes camera shake. Make sure the IS (image stabilizer) or for P&S camera the anti shake icon of a hand  is turned on.
Shutter Speed
For moving birds you need a fast shutter speed this will be set automatically if you are using Aperture Setting. If you use Shutter Speed Setting  the aperture will be automatically set.

When using 300mm lens the speed should not be less than 1/300 sec, 60mm =1/60 sec, 400mm = 1/400 sec etc.

To freeze the action use 1/1000 sec. To blur the action use 1/60 sec.
Small aperture for blurry background. Fast shutter speed for in flight birds.
2. The Image

- Morning or evening is best when the shadows are less distinct so there is more detail in bright and dark areas of the bird. Birds are more active at these times too.

Springtime is a good time for bird photography as they are busy migrating and raising chicks.
- active space in front of bird

- rule of thirds

- try different framing

- try to avoid distracting background

- try to be at eye level

- focus on the eye

- try to show natural habitat

- try not to use sky as background (sometimes it works.)

- capture something more “the thing” which creates emotion.
Take care of the birds especially when they are nesting. Let wild birds find their own food.

Photographing birds is a learning curve. Besides equipment and technique you need practice and patience.

These ideas came from Fadas Naujokaitis from Lithuania.