Bird Photography ChallengesI have been photographing birds for the past ten years. Unlike other forms of photography, the challenges faced by a bird photographer are unique. Here, you don’t get the luxury of making the subjects pose. In this article, I will share some of the challenges I face during bird photography and how I overcome them. So, if you are an amateur who is interested in doing bird photography, then you will find these seven tips very useful.
1. Understanding Bird Behavior
Initially, I missed many great photographic opportunities since I didn’t have a good understanding of bird behavior. The behavior varies for various species of birds and at different times of the year. For example, birds are bolder and camera-friendlier during the nesting season than at other times. Learning bird behavior will help you predict what the bird will do next based on its current action or position. This will help you to be ready with your camera to get great bird shots.So, if you are passionate about bird photography, I strongly recommend learning and understanding about bird behavior.
2. Good Understanding of Your Camera Controls and Settings
During my initial days of bird photography, I used to miss a lot of great moments while photographing birds. At those times, I used to feel that my camera was not good enough. Later, I understood the fault is not my camera but me: I was simply not familiar enough with many of the controls and settings of my camera to make the best use of them.
The right settings — and a sound knowledge of — your camera’s different controls will help you capture the intended shot. It is also a good idea to carry the soft copy or hard copy of the camera manual with you if you are new to a particular camera.Spending more time practicing in the field with your new camera will help you to become more familiar with your camera settings and a better (bird) photographer.
3. Patience Matters
Bird photography requires lots of patience. You can’t expect the bird to be there in the place where you are going at that time. You may have to wait for hours to sight the bird. Sometimes, the bird may not show up at all. So, you may have to return and come back the next day.Patience is key to successful bird photography.
4. Photographing Birds in Flight
When you photograph birds in flight, you must use shutter speeds of 1/1000 sec. and above. This will ensure that you freeze the wing flap. A fast shutter speed helps avoid unwanted motion blur in your picture. You can use the Shutter Priority mode or the Manual mode to select a fast shutter speed.
If you are using a heavy telephoto lens, you may have to use a tripod with a gimbal to successfully photograph birds in flight. You can try to shoot handheld if the combined weight of the camera body and the lens is easily manageable for you. It is also a good idea to use Burst mode (continuous shooting) to capture many flight shots with one press of the shutter button. You can then pick the best image from the series of burst shots.To capture birds in flight, use a fast shutter speed of 1/1000 sec. or above, Burst mode and a stabilized camera/lens combo.
5. Photographing Perched Birds
When the bird is perched on a tree branch or a rock, it is an excellent opportunity to capture a portrait shot. Initially, I never cared about the background while capturing bird portraits. Later, I realized that the background can make a big difference in such type of images.
Whenever you have this opportunity, try to get a good background by moving about and changing the angle of capture. You want to always ensure that there is no clutter in the background. Blurred shades of green or brown work best for the background. The angle of photography must also ensure that the catch light falls onto the bird’s eye.For perched birds, get a good angle so the background is not cluttered.
6. Camera Factor
I started bird photography with a Canon EOS 500D APS-C DSLR and a Canon EF 55-250mm telephoto zoom lens. It was my first camera. This crop body camera uses an APS-C sensor with a 1.6x crop factor, which means that you need to multiply the focal lengths by 1.6 to get the 35mm focal length equivalent. So, I get a maximum equivalent focal length of 400mm, which helps me get that extra reach.
The crop body DSLR cameras have a good noise performance up to ISO 800. After this threshold value, the image starts becoming grainy. It can be difficult to remove this noise in post-processing without compromising the image quality.
A full-frame sensor gives better noise performance. Currently for most of my bird images, I use a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II full-frame DSLR with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM telephoto lens.For better noise performance, go with a full-frame camera.
7. Lens Factor
When it comes to lenses for bird photography, you will have two options: You can either go for a prime lens or a zoom lens. Both these lenses have got their advantages and disadvantages.
The lens plays a vital role in the quality of a photo. When it comes to image quality, a prime lens has the upper hand over the zoom lens. But zoom lenses are less costly when compared to their prime counterparts. The main advantage of a zoom lens is that it allows you to get the desired composition by varying the focal length. In the case of a prime lens, you will have to physical move closer or farther away to get the same composition. From my experience, it is not always possible to do this since the bird may get disturbed by all this movement.A prime telephoto lens gives the best image quality, but a zoom telephoto lens is more affordable and easier for composition.
I hope these tips will help you capture better bird images. Remember, there is no substitute for practice and experience. So, whenever you get the opportunity, get out and start capturing beautiful bird pictures.
NOTE: All Images were captured in RAW and post-processed in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.
Equipment mentioned in this article:
– Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM
– Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS