Bird Photography


posted on 6th of january, 2013



I've always been interested a lot in observing birds. Sitting with a pair of field glasses or binoculars and watching out for a single little bird for hours and hours...that was when I was 12 years old. Now after 6 years I can combine it with photography and get some decent shots out of my hobby. Birds are wonderful. Camera can capture them in such astounding detail that you'd be surprised you saw the birds every day but failed to notice the true beauty of their eyes.

I'd like to share some of my tips. I've gotten as close to little birds as you'd have to go to even touch them. It was unfortunate I didn't have a good camera then. Otherwise I could have built a colorful portfolio. (back then, 2 years ago, I was in a forest area full of animals from leopards to woodpeckers - everything in between too. Right now, stuck in a city)

The first thing that people often neglect is the fact that birds are just like animals, like dogs or cats. They don't look like they really understand much like dogs do, but believe me, they understand better. The more defenseless a creature is, the more intelligent they are. If you behave creepy or try to stalk birds around, you'll neither enjoy your work nor get many good shots. You have to bear in mind you love the birds and you are interested in just observing them, not trapping or troubling them. Just think about it and it somehow reflects in your body movements. Birds notice that. Every time I've gotten after the birds trying to catch them somehow, it has never worked. But if you are genuinely interested, you can get REAL close to them.

Another important thing is - don't wear bright clothes. I've seen birdwatchers who look like a lit Christmas tree in the midnight sky in a forest. That is definitely not the right approach. Wear a green shirt and brown pants. It usually works best if you're hiding in the bushes. Avoid red/white/blue. Nothing shiny either (watch, for example) and never try to cover your face. Obviously they know you're there, well hidden you are. The dull colors don't help blend into the surroundings but rather help NOT to scare the birds away.

As for the camera settings, use Av mode and set the aperture to widest you can if it is a small bird. Set the ISO to 200, etc and check the shutter speed you get by pointing to some branches. If it is 1/250 or faster...you're good to go. Always be ready to use the EV settings in between shooting.

EV settings:
For sunny days the camera exposes the birds correctly.
If it is cloudy, you better double check the EV settings.
Set EV to +1/3 or more if the bird is dark and surroundings are bright. This might blow the background but at least the subject remains correctly exposed.
For storks, etc (white birds), set EV to -1/3 or lower. Doesn't matter if background is underexposed. You can do a shadow/highlights in Photoshop later.

Not sure what to do? You may use exposure bracketing with -1/3, 0, +1/3 settings. Annoying but it would help you understand this EV thing like nothing else ever can. And you'd not lose any shot either.

If you have birds in your backyard, set up a perch with green plants a little farther away from it so that it can serve as a green, blurred background. If the backdrop is artificial, you may want to use a zoom blur to take care of that. Always track down the nesting places of birds and wait for them nearby.
Sometimes you just have to wait and wait. If you run after birds they would always stay a step ahead and a little around the bushes...there goes your shot. So just be patient. Let them see you're no threat and that they can feel free around you. This hardly takes 15 minutes if they are nesting close by or there is a water source they must visit.

NEVER go in pairs or groups. It is always less productive. But safety first. If the place is too wild, better go in pairs and watch where you step. Where there are birds, there are snakes. I ask one friend to accompany on such places to spot the birds and threats while I can focus on the camera. So I haven't fallen off cliffs or stepped on snakes yet. I get too engrossed in birds.
(As a tip, let a girl accompany you. They alert the whole forest if they see a snake. Might even stun a lion and buy you time to escape. Interesting screams.)

Those are the basic tips. The rest...just cannot be told. Once you develop that understanding, you can just almost push a macro lens into the bird's face without much objection from the latter!

The close up shots below were taken at a very close range. About 3 to 4 feet. The bigger birds were about 10 feet away.



More coming up...when I find time to upload them. :/

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Comments (15)

Posted by Wildphoto2 on December 22, 2013
Enjoyed this blog. Birding is lots of fun but requires patience to reap the best rewards. It is best to wear clothes that blend into the environment.
Posted by Cmoulton on January 08, 2013
Thank you for this wonderful blog! Birds are a subject I enjoy attempting to capture with my camera as well, but so far, I have not had a whole lot of success. I think your blog will help me, lol!
Posted by Robinstockphotos on January 08, 2013
Sure, humans always behave like animals. They are just not careful enough as animals are. ;)
Babar760, you're right. At least 600mm lens is needed to get very good closeup shots without cropping. A 400mm with 2X would be even better. But the cost.... :/
I'd rather just watch birds. haha!
Posted by Martingraf on January 08, 2013
I'm also stuck in a city - used to do much more nature - now these days I do more photos of city and people - who sometimes behave also like animals ;) I like your block and also your portfolio - and I also like taking photos of birds - but haven't got as much patience as you seem to have
Posted by Babar760 on January 08, 2013
The most important thing Pratik, get yourself a 300mm f/2.8 lens with a 2X extender ( when you can afford it! ). Or do like I did, buy an Olympus E-M5 and with an adapter, you can buy a "cheap" old Nikon 300mm f/4.5 lens on E-Bay( $ 175.00 ) and the 2X factor of the m4/3 will turn it into a 600mm lens!
Posted by Robinstockphotos on January 07, 2013
Well birds are good to watch. Though I usually manage good shots in 30 minutes anyway.
Posted by Egomezta on January 07, 2013
Amazing blog, Beautiful images... Thanks fos shraing.
Posted by Mike2focus on January 07, 2013
Bird photography is a favorite pastime for me, especially birds of prey such as the osprey which I've spent countless hours trying to get good photos of. After a year of trying I finally got one shot of an osprey in flight that was good enough to submit. I don't feel like I've wasted a single second chasing after that shot, because it's such a joyful thing to simply be near these beautiful creatures.

Thanks for writing this article, some really good tips!
Posted by Robinstockphotos on January 07, 2013
Yeah, make it clear that "I want to photograph you, not shoot you or eat you." I usually point the camera elsewhere and use the flash a few times or just click away randomly. Soon they know the camera just makes sounds, nothing more. So they are fine with it after 10 minutes. If you act like a creep and jump out of a bush like "fire! Fire!!", you'll get back home with photos of branches and tree leaves only. ;)

And I have a plum headed parakeet at home. It is far more intelligent than a 5 year old. About 6 to 7 cm body length, yet it knows if you're eating something and hid it in your pocket. It can actually even find it out if you refuse to show what it is you are hiding. It also knows how to turn off the TV and walk straight to get out of a towel thrown over it.
Posted by Physi28 on January 07, 2013
very interesting and knowleadable tips, it is clear to me that you have a lot of experience!
and you are very right when you comment about how you approach wildlife: it is proven that magpies, which are really clever birds, differentiate clearly between a man with or without a gun, for example. I use to go to a nearby river where people like to practise jogging and cycling, as long as you walk evenly,,the birds don't bother, just stop to rise your camera and everything disappears! Also Imhave experienced that approaching an animal on a diagonal is less frightening for it than if you go on a straight direction. And so on and so on....
Posted by Rigsby8131 on January 07, 2013
Nice photos and great tips!!! Thanks for sharing.
Posted by Peanutroaster on January 07, 2013
Good article although I wouldn't confuse "intelligence" with "wary". The more defenseless the more scared they might be of being eaten but I'd give the predator more credit for intelligence.
Posted by Unteroffizier on January 07, 2013
What i enjoy shooting in nature (be it landscapes, insect macro or bird photography) is the serenity and fresh air. For secluded and more isolated locations yep it is recommened to go in a pair - with someone who also understand and respect nature as yourself. Keep shooting and uploading.
Posted by Robinstockphotos on January 07, 2013
I went through your port. For someone starting out in around 2008, you're doing too good. Better than most people I've seen here. And yeah, hummingbirds are nightmare. At least butterflies sit. They don't sit or stop fluttering like they are drowning. Lol
Posted by Starletdarlene on January 06, 2013
Nice article, thanks for the tips. I too enjoy bird watching, and have had a hard time photographing them, the smaller the bird the harder the shot. But I keep trying.

Happy Bird Shooting :)

Starlet



Comments (15)

This article has been read 836 times. 4 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: Pratik Panda.

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