Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Backyard Bird Photography

Photographing Birds in the backyard
by Elaine Wells

This talk is for taking photos of birds in the backyard or at the zoo with basic equipment and a zoom of up to 300mm. It takes a lot of patience and practice to get great bird photographs.

The object for today is to discuss:
Camera Settings Places to get bird photos
Tips for approaching birds
When to use flash
Photographing birds in flight (BIF)

1) Camera settings
Have camera ready. Point and shoot cameras set to sport mode  and zoom. Use sport mode even for sitting birds because they move a lot.

DSLR Cameras- Zoom or prime lens anything up to -400mm and maybe a converter. Converters work best with f number lower than F4, for single shots, with prime lenses, and still subjects. A 1.4X converter reduces the amount of light getting in by 50%. A 2X converter by 75%. Image quality may be lost because lens shake is increased, slower shutter is needed. Autofocus is slower with converters.
Manual-can use aperture or shutter speed
Auto focus for Birds in flight (Bif) manual or auto for still.
Spot metering. Use small part of picture for setting exposure.
Histogram display is handy 
Fast shutter speed-500-1600
Aperture- low f stop for still and small birds.
For Bif and large birds f5.6-f8-f16. Don’t want it too low because it may blur the moving bird.
ISO in auto or as low as tolerated in the situation
AI Servo (or AF-C mode) for Bif-constantly adjusts focus
One central focus point.
Can use multiple for Bif
Can use Tripod with Lens stabilizer off for still birds.  Use hand held for Bif and fast shutter speed.
Review the images (chimping) and make any necessary changes to shutter speed, light, background etc
Continuous (burst) mode for Bif.  Continuous doesn’t work well with converters or with flash.
Have sun behind you so you get light on bird.
Check the meter or histogram for light exposure and adjust 
Use exposure compensation or mid tone metering for white or black birds.

Use remote shutter cable for still birds in low light conditions to prevent camera shake.
Set up where birds are landing or perching and wait.
It is easier to use eye view rather than live view for bird.

Pre focus on the perch or something about the same distance as the bird and shoot as they fly into view. Or for still birds, on the birds head or eye.

Don’t try to track or follow a fast action bird when zoomed in very close because the telephoto lens will lose focus.
Do not under expose- you will lose detail and create noise.
Increase ISO to avoid underexposure.
Can use auto ISO but know when your camera starts to get noisy
1) Place-Backyard or a park is good for practice.

 Practice on sparrows, magpies, or whatever hangs around. I have lorikeets, blue eyed honey eaters, noisy minors, pigeons, magpies, fig birds, willie wagtails sometimes wrens sometimes galahs.
Mornings are the best time when birds are feeding. Evenings are good also. But not too early or too late that you don’t have enough light.

1/250, f4, iso 320

Controlled environment. eg the zoo, Garden parks, Currumbin wildlife
Depending on which birds you seek.

 beach for sea gulls, pelican
1/1600, f5.6, iso 125

Bush gardens and rainforest and shrubs for wrens and robins etc.

1/160, f5.6, iso 100
 Water holes and wet lands for waders

1/1600, f5.6. iso 400 
Google for best bird locations
Logan City Council web site lists bird areas in Central, East and West Logan.

4) Attracting birds. Feeder- perch and dish or hanging pot or log with sunflower seed, soft food such as lorikeet mix, bread, grapes, apples, fruit, or pellets. Place it in a known bird feeding area.  Plant native trees and shrubs in your yard.  Water bowl or bird bath.

1/500, f2, iso 200

1/1000, f5, iso 200
 Birds Queensland-www.birdsqueensland.org.au gives a good guideline to attracting birds. It categories bird foods as: fruit, seed, insects, and nectar.
Then it lists the plants that supply that food and the birds that are attracted to those plants. For example, wrens, robins and willie wagtails are insect and berry eaters. Plant low shrubs, creepers, tea tree and eucalyptus. Keep the leaf litter after pruning and don’t spray for insects including spiders, snails or ants. These birds need shelter from larger birds, cats and dogs.

5) Background should be considered when placing the feeder. You will aim for a smooth Bokeh(not cluttered). Put a good distance between the bird and the background. Winter branches are good because there are less leaves to block view.
There is not enough distance between the bird and the background in the photo below.

1/1000, f5, iso 2000

1/1000, f5.6, iso 400 
6) Consider direction and amount of light. Have the sun behind you or to the side.  A dull sky or late evening will give silhouette (black) bird in flight.
1/400, f5.6, iso 200 
7) Approaching the birds. Some birds let people get pretty close. Practice on them. Don’t include the person in the shot. Others are harder to get close to.
      Approach slowly-one foot at a time.
Don’t look directly at them-they see it as a threat.
Wear environmental grey-blue clothing-not bright colours.
Don’t stop walking suddenly or make sudden movements.
Have mobile phone turned off.
Walk in a zig zag rather than straight line and not when the bird is looking at you.
Can hide behind a tree or your car to get your shot.

1/1250, f5.6, iso 640 
If a bird stops what it is doing then it is scared and will probably fly off.
Do not fill the view finder will the bird or some will blur unless you have a large f number.  Crop later.

8) Camera flash for birds under tree shade or dark areas, or cloudy day.  Also use flash when you have a strong backlight and bird in shadow or you want brighter background. Off camera flash is best so you won’t get steel eye (like red eye). If using flash drop shutter speed to 1/250 and set drive mode to single shot because the flash can’t keep up with continuous (burst) mode and fast speeds. Check the previews- if background too dark lower the f stop if it is light or bird ghostly, increase f stop . Extender such as Better Beamer on the flash if using 300mm lens or more

Better Beamer on flash unit
 9) Composition- Leave space in the direction the bird is looking.

Shoot at eye level if possible.
Have a good view point eg. Not shooting up or down. Focus on the birds nearest eye. The eye of the bird matters so have it in focus and with catchlight.
Simplify the image with simple uncluttered background, no bright distracting blobs of colour. Some people like a good bokeh.

1/1000, f5.6, iso 160 
Capture the bird with its head slightly turned. i.e. Not face on and not side on.
Tell a story by catching the bird doing something. E.g preening, feeding, building nest etc.

1/1250, f6.3, iso 400 
1/200, f5.6, iso 400
 10) A bit more about Birds in Flight (Bif)

This is when you may need bigger heavier lens to reach the distance.
   Settings as already mentioned- fast shutter speed 800-1600, continuous, auto focus, al servo mode. F stop about 5.6-8.
       Can change to all focus points.
Pre focus on an object at about the right distance and right background. If tracking a bird wait for the lens to focus.
Check the metering and don’t under expose.
Don’t shoot on cloudy day. White or grey backgrounds don’t look good. Have a clean uncluttered out of focus background.

1/1600, f5.6, iso 400 
Position yourself with sun behind you.
Shoot them flying across the lens. Don’t shoot them coming towards or away from you. The focus will blur.
Track the birds’ eye, like panning. Practice tracking while zoomed out.
Handhold camera or use monopod.
Look for large birds. Find their roosting sites and flight path. Small birds are hard to photograph in flight. It is easier to capture them just before take-off or as they are landing.

1/2500, f5.6, iso 100

11) Post processing-Everyone has a different opinion about post processing. Here’s just one general idea if you do post process.
Don’t overdo it. A raw image is flat compared to the actual scene so in raw adjust exposure and whatever you need to adjust.
Be careful with noise reduction and sharpening. They can make you shot unnatural.
If you don’t shoot in raw then you might check your levels.
Most bird shots need to be cropped. Remember the rule of thirds and composition when cropping.
Zoom in on the eye of the bird – if it is not in focus then you probably should delete that shot.