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In this post, Steve Berardi from PhotoNaturalist discusses eight tips for photographing birds.
Photographing birds can be really frustrating. They never seem to sit still for even just a second, and if you get too close, they’ll just fly away.
It may also seem like you always need a longer lens.
But, luckily, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of getting a good bird photo:
Photographing birds in direct sunlight helps for two reasons: it gets you a faster shutter speed and it creates even lighting on the bird. The faster shutter will help you freeze the action of the bird (since they don’t sit still for long), and the even lighting will help you avoid getting those harsh shadows that hide detail in the bird’s feathers.
Birds will almost always fly away if you get too close to them, so instead wait for them to come to you. If you wait patiently long enough, then birds will often land just a few feet away from you, once they realize you’re not a threat (and if you stand somewhat still).
One way to mask your movement from a bird is to use a blind, and your car can be perfect for that. When you’re on your way to a trailhead, keep your camera close by just in case you see a bird. Then, just roll down the window and take a few shots. Birds will rarely fly away from a car (unless of course you’re about to hit them!).
Since birds like to move around so much, it’s helpful to take a lot of shots to ensure you photograph the bird when they’re standing still in a nice pose. Make sure you enable continuous shooting on your camera, so you can rapidly shoot photos.
The viewer of your photograph will first look at the eyes of the bird, so it’s important to get the eyes tack sharp. To help you do this, set your camera’s autofocus point to the center spot.
Birds are very sensitive to your movement, so to avoid scaring them away, don’t make any sudden movements. Even slow and steady movements will often scare them away too, so again, the best thing to do is wait for them to fly to you.
Most longer lenses have a switch that controls the distance that the autofocus will search at (near or far). So, with birds, since you’re photographing something far away, make sure this switch is set to focus on far objects. This will speed up your lens’ autofocus and prevent it from “searching” for something to focus on, which could cost you the shot.
Sometimes the most perfect bird photo opportunities happen at the most random moments, so it’s important to always be ready for a wildlife shot. When you’re hiking on a trail, always keep your telephoto lens on your camera, and have everything set up for a wildlife shot (exposure, aperture, ISO). That way, if a bird just happens to land on a branch right in front of you, you’ll be ready
About the Author: Steve Berardi is a nature photographer and software developer, who can usually be found hiking in the beautiful mountains of Southern California. You can read more of his articles on nature photography at the PhotoNaturalist.