An Introduction to Bird photography

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A Guest Post by Lithuanian Photographer Tadas Naujokaitis.

Birds are very interesting creatures, but it’s not so easy to photograph them. Wild birds usually don’t pose where you want and, moreover, it’s often difficult to get close enough to take quality pictures. But if you know some basics of bird photography, it becomes much easier to capture amazing moments of the birds’ life.

Equipment

It’s not necessary to have an expensive camera of lens, however the proper equipment lets to take bird photos easier.

Lens
Most birds are quite shy, so you need at least 200mm (300mm is better) to take pictures of them. Longer focal length not only lets to photograph birds from larger distance, it also gives more blurred background. However more millimeters (or larger aperture) means more expensive, larger and heavier lens. Knowing all that, I think that 400mm f/5.6 lens is the best, if you want to have as much millimeters as possible, not too small aperture and still want to be mobile. Of course, you can make magnificent bird images with 100mm or less, just you should find more courageous birds or compose them to landscape.

Grey Heron is landing far enough where it feels safe, but with 400mm it's possible to capture it with all the details.

Camera
In bird photography, almost all DSLR’s will make a good job. However, if you’re planning to photograph birds in flight, pay attention to fps (frames per second), high ISO results and AF (autofocus) system’s accuracy. If you don’t have a DSLR camera, then bird photography becomes a bit more difficult (especially due to slow AF), but don’t give up – a good photographer, I believe, will make better bird photos with mobile phone than a poor one with the most expensive equipment.

Tripod, monopod, flash, even remote control sometimes help much, but usually aren’t necessary.

Camera settings

It’s very important to know what settings to choose in certain situation to get most from your camera.

Exposure
In bird photography lens with long focal length are usually used, so it’s very important to set not too long exposure, if you don’t want that camera shake would cause blurry pictures. The rule is to set expose not longer than focal length of your lens. For example, if your lens focal length is 400mm, you need to set at least 1/400 exposure to get sharp images. However, it is valid only if you have a full-frame camera. If your have a DSLR with smaller sensor (e.g. APS-C DSLR – with 1.6 crop factor), you need to multiply millimeters of your lens from the crop factor. This time that would be (400 x 1.6 = 640) 1/640 exposure. If you don’t have a DSLR, you usually won’t need to multiply anything – the focal length, written on your camera lens, usually already is multiplied (actually it’s 35mm equivalent). Today, most lens or cameras have image stabilization (IS, VR…), and that helps much in low light conditions. Using it, you can set as many steps longer exposure, as you find in your lens/camera specifications, and get sharp images. For instance, if there is a 2 steps 400mm lens stabilizer, you can set 2 steps longer exposure (1/400-1/200-1/100, with APS-C camera: 1/640-1/320-1/160). When using tripod, of course, these rules to minimize camera shake are not so important.

If you want so freeze action, set 1/1000 or shorter exposure, if you would like to show movement, use 1/60 or longer.

Aperture
As you may already knew, aperture controls DOF (depth of field). That means, if you want a more blurred background, set the largest aperture (the smallest number). However, when using telephoto lens, some parts of bird’s body may appear out of focus, so pay attention where exactly you are focusing (that usually is the bird’s eye). If necessary, close aperture a bit.

When photographing these young Swallows I needed to set f/8 aperture to get both birds in focus.

ISO
In bird photography, as in anywhere else, the lower ISO speed, the better. However, it’s much better to set ISO 800 or 1600 and get a sharp picture, than ISO 200, and get the blurry one.

This photo of Black Redstart was made with ISO 2000, because there wasn't much light, and I believe it was worth it.

Some other notes
When photographing birds, three modes work the best. If you want to control aperture (depth of field), choose Av (aperture priority) mode. For shutter speed controlling (especially useful when photographing birds in flight) use Tv (shutter priority) mode. If you exactly know what settings you need, choose M (manual) mode.

If you photograph dark bird in light background or want to get more details from dark areas, set the positive exposure compensation value, if you want to avoid overexposed areas, set the negative one.
I recommend you to always shoot in RAW, if possible, because later you can easily fix such things as WB (white balance) with computer.

Ways to photograph birds

The next step is to learn, how to get to the birds closer, so then you will be able to take quality pictures of them.

So you can:

Don’t do anything exceptional
Some birds are courageous and let you to come close enough. The best example is Mute Swans.

Move carefully
Many birds let you to come close enough if you simply don’t make any sudden movements.

Stalk
Sometimes this really works, just make sure that bird doesn’t see you when you are getting close and then, very carefully, take picture.

Lie without any movements
Birds sometimes come surprisingly close, when you lie. Just find a good place or put some food and be patient!

Hide
When photographing a shy bird or wanting a small bird to come very close for a quality photo this is the best technique. You can hide using hunting blind, camouflage net or the blind you made yourself from surrounding materials. The lower is blind, the more courageous birds feel. If you use surrounding materials to camouflage the blind or to hide yourself, that is another advantage. You can hide near various objects, which attracts birds. Also, you can put some food where you want for birds to come. Sunflower’s seeds are the best food in most cases. If you want that bird would sit on the twig or something similar before taking food, put that twig above the food.

Here you can see the photo of Great Tit and how it was made.

Sometimes it's enough to put some sunflower's seeds on the grass! And this is the result.

It doesn’t matter which way you choose, be patient. Don’t wander from one bird (birds) to other (others), if you didn’t succeeded from the first time. Sometimes it’s a good idea to go back next day and try again.

The Image

Now, lets talk about the image itself. We know what equipment we need, what camera settings to choose, how to get to the bird closer, now it’s time to find out how to make the image of the bird look attractive.

The light
Everything starts with a good light. The best time for photography is morning or evening because the light is soft and has a pleasant hue, shadows are not so distinct, it’s easier to get details from very bright and dark areas.

In this example you can see that this White-winged Tern has both black and white feathers, but because it was photographed in the evening, there are no pure white or black areas.

Composition
It is usual to leave some space in the direction the bird is looking or flying. Rule of thirds sometimes helps too. Simply try some different framing to see when you get the best result. In addition, try to avoid any distracting elements, when you are taking the picture. And one more thing to mention: when you are taking the photo of the bird, try to be in it’s eye level.

The bird’s sitting place and the background
It’s the best, when the place, where the bird sits, shows bird’s natural habitat. It can be almost anything because birds live in very different habitats. The background shouldn’t be distracting and usually it looks better when it isn’t the sky (but not always!).

Capture something more

Ethics of bird photography

Birds are wonderful creatures. When you are taking photos, don’t harm them. I strongly advice you not to photograph birds near nests (except when the distance is large and bird isn’t sensitive to disturbance – there are only very few such species). Even if you don’t harm birds, you can show the place of the nest for predators. The life of bird is more important than a photo.

Conclusion

Bird photography is exciting and full of adventures. I hope after this article it will be easier for you to take beautiful bird photos.

About the Author: Tadas Naujokaitis lives in Lithuania. See more of his work at www.tadasnaujokaitis.tk and connect with him on his Facebook page.

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  • Kathleen Mekailek

    Barred Owl

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    Eastern Screech Owl

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    Screech Owl

  • Guest

    tocu toucan, a budgier and an ostrich – taken at Seattle zoo

  • rachna

    a tocu toucan

  • Chirantan Dutta

    I TRIED SOME EYE LEVEL COMPOSITION WITH BIRDS….

  • Debbie King

    Caught this little cardinal in my backyard.

  • Cedar Waxwing in Northern Virginia; Nikon D70/Tamron 300; not my best, but one of my favorites!

  • LunaStar Photographic Memories

    Here are some of the photos I took at a recent walk to a local park in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. My favorites were the swallow tailed kites. To see more birds and other sites around where I live, please visit my “Beauty of Florida” page at lunastarphotos.weebly.com. I am putting this site together and more photos will be added as I go out. Hope you enjoy.
    BreAna

  • These were supposed to go with my last post! LOL!

  • Amy Strally-Hawker

    Tufted Titmouse….Early morning in the Finger Lakes of New York.

  • Jack Shipley

    Using baits is problematic with many species. http://www.naturephotographers.net/codeofconduct.html

  • Christine Miller

    Practiced using AF to get sharper photos vs Manuel focus

  • Christine Miller

    Photo of wrentit at Santa Cruz natural bridges California

  • Sunilkaru

    good guide for bird photography. this photo was taken using D 7000 at place near colombo sri lanka. (Royal Green pigeon) – locally known as “batagoya”

  • jonathan

    thanks

  • Ezhil Pragatheesh

    Myna

  • Ezhil Pragatheesh

    Myna

  • Bumpaj

    Tricolored Heron

  • Sven Scholz

    Main thing you need : patience 🙂

Some Older Comments

  • dave June 19, 2013 06:48 pm

    Brilliant and innovative. Great detail of procedures. Excellent !

  • Rodney June 15, 2013 10:24 pm

    The last picture of the duck (?) with its new born is truly a superb shot. Very different to most bird shots and captures a magical moment. I like how you have cropped it tight to concentrate on the closeness of mother and baby. Well done.

  • Gayle A Brandt June 14, 2013 07:36 am

    Some great tips! I love taking photos of birds! At present I am completing a birding quest of photographing all birds of northern indiana

  • Susan Bettis June 14, 2013 06:11 am

    The new super zooms that Fuji, Canon and others have developed are a good way to capture birds.. Fixed lens with an optic zoom up to 1000 to1200mm. Pict may not be DSLR quality but an inexpensive alternative to the the price tag on that kind of magnification.

  • Wendy Erickson June 14, 2013 05:25 am

    Tadas, you are amazing! It's so nice to see you contributing to this site!

  • camacho9999 June 14, 2013 05:22 am

    To bring closer and feed small birds try banana. They love it and it is good for them. Because it is long, many birds can stop at the same time to eat from a single piece. You can also capture feeding each other or defending territory for good action images. In Latin America banana is really cheap not so in other places but it is worth. You will get many small birds near with it.

  • Moe June 13, 2013 11:16 pm

    Thanks, this article was very informative. I didn't know the bit about the relationship between focal length and shutter speed. Is there a certain focus setting best for bird photography? You mentioned focusing on the eye, do you use single point focus?

  • Seb June 12, 2013 07:14 am

    Very nice article, thank you !
    I started wildlife photography last year, and I found useful tips here.

  • Brian June 11, 2013 09:15 pm

    This was a wonderful article. Thanks so much for doing it. I went out the same day I read this to do some photography and this helped a lot.

    One question though...You mention that 800 ISO was used for some of your shots. What did you do post processing to reduce the noise that I found in my shots where I also used 800 ISO?

    If you want to do more articles on bird photography please do. :) It seems like there was a lot of interest.

    Brian

  • raghavendra June 10, 2013 06:26 pm

    Wow, Stalking tip is fun :)

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2012/07/sparrow-in-home.html

  • David Wahlman June 10, 2013 05:59 am

    Very informative and in depth! Best quality article on this subject I've seen. Thanks

  • Michel June 10, 2013 01:48 am

    Some birds are *really* courageous : Mr swan attacked our boat because we were too close to the nest where Ms swan was incubating the eggs :)

  • Ankaj Dandage June 9, 2013 07:18 pm

    Very good article, Here is the link for few photos I clicked at weltvogelpark.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/anksme/sets/72157631785856678/

  • Steve June 9, 2013 06:29 pm

    It certainly helps if you have a 400mm prime lens but beware they can be very heavy

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/African-birds/G0000XwUHH9qS0yY/I0000ygkP_vLy4AY/C0000bdEkyK_8Dzs

  • Antanas Vipartas December 16, 2010 11:41 pm

    An awesome article, Tadas. Congratulations!

    For those who don't know, I have to tell, that Tadas is only 16 years old, from little country called Lithuania.

    And being so young Tadas is able to deliver outstanding images and share his experience. This is wonderful! Good look to you, mate, and don't stop in the future!

    s?km?s :)

  • Paul August 14, 2010 04:20 am

    Great article. I love bird watching, now I will try to take some bird photos.

  • Tadas Naujokaitis August 6, 2010 12:35 am

    Thank you very much!
    I'm also grateful for all of you who shared your wonderful bird photos! :)

  • Insiya August 5, 2010 08:27 pm

    Birds are one of my favourite subjects, and a graceful when perched or even in action. Some shots of enthusiastic gulls chasing breadcrumbs over the Bosphorus Sea

  • Gilles Felten August 2, 2010 02:13 am

    I've got some of my bird shots on my website : http://web.me.com/gfelten/Website/Birds.html

  • potterm July 31, 2010 06:44 pm

    A great article with some useful hints and tips. Thanks!

  • Wayne Brabin July 31, 2010 05:51 pm

    Tadas, a wonderful and simple explanation for this topic, thank you. I recently bought a canon 50D, my first SLR after having used a few panasonic digitals for the past 6 years. My first exposure to SLR photography was at the Adelaide Zoo in Australia, photography birds. Had I read this prior to going it would have been a great help...there will be many more opportunities.

  • Amlan July 31, 2010 04:23 am

    The picture is here.

    http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4147/4843778899_86c5fb2ffb_m.jpg

  • Amlan July 31, 2010 04:18 am

    This is a result of 30 minutes and a set of 62 snaps.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/05071976/4843778899/

  • Nubie July 31, 2010 12:02 am

    Thank you, Tadas, for an excellent, comprehensive and accurate tutorial, with beautiful examples to demonstrate each point. I love nature and have been doing bird photography for a few years, in one of the best locations for it, East Coast Florida, USA. I don't know how to post photos, otherwise I would send a couple for your critique

    Thanks,

    Nubie

  • Howard July 30, 2010 11:40 am

    Hi Mark: You are correct, of course. I was just trying to give a little helpful advice. In my experience, birds taking of and landing move in both horizontal and vertical dimensions.
    I have a series in my photostream on Flickr if you are interested:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/hplatt/

  • Carol Thomas July 30, 2010 11:30 am

    Your pictures are wonderful. I was impressed that you mentioned the safety of the birds as a consideration. I can see from your pictures that you respect your subjects and their habitat.

  • Mark Pashia July 30, 2010 10:21 am

    @howard
    That is not totally true. I have the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS that has two IS settings. One for total IS and another for Panning IS. So you need to check your owners manual of your IS lens to learn the best way to use them. Good luck shooting, Mark.

  • Howard July 30, 2010 07:18 am

    To Guy:
    If you are panning the camera when you try to take the birds landing you must turn off the image stabilization.

  • Adelmo Silva July 30, 2010 06:32 am

    Hello all,

    Great article.

    Here is a shoot taken today, I hope you like.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/7TyF46POAtHlHf967vliLw?feat=directlink

    Adelmo

  • Paul Collins July 30, 2010 04:34 am

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/48436433@N08/4834943068/' title='gull-in-flight' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4106/4834943068_c7ea287203_b.jpg'], practising with my pentax KM And Sigma 70/300mm APO

  • Skip Nelson July 30, 2010 04:21 am

    Tadas thanks for posting the article on bird photography.
    I am a 'birder' first and a photographer second. My bird photography started after a fall in northern Peru pretty much ended my expedition birding life style.
    As a birder I notice that my bird photography centers more on catching small plumage details that helps separate species and sub-species more so than on artistic concerns. But, I can appreciate a good capture when the light is perfect.
    Besides the gear, which photographers tend to lust after (I am not immune to this either) I believe that understanding something about birds is important also. I am constantly amazed that a photographer will spend hours and hours photographing a 'mutt-bird', not even knowing what they are photographing when within an hours drive of their home they have the opportunity to be photographing beautiful birds in the wild.

  • Peggy Collins July 30, 2010 03:03 am

    Really good article on photographing birds! I think the number one necessity of bird photography is patience. Sometimes I just luck out but often you really have to be sneaky to get a good shot. Some birds are really tricky to photograph (like kingfishers, which somebody mentioned above). I was hiding behind a bush when I got this shot ~ [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/peggycollins/3659956514/' title='Belted Kingfishers' url='http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2468/3659956514_6c304cf64a.jpg']

    Closeups are great and I do them a lot, but I also like to incorporate a bird's surroundings in the photograph to give the image more emotion. Here's an example of what I mean ~
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/peggycollins/4045627909/' title='Eagle in the Mist' url='http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3529/4045627909_1971cc65a3.jpg']

    I also like to use humor if possible ~[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/peggycollins/2943675929/' title='Taking a Stand' url='http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3073/2943675929_b7bac7f525.jpg']

    And showing birds interacting is always interesting ~ [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/peggycollins/4685204908/' title='Osprey/Gull Piggyback Ride' url='http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1266/4685204908_37443d7148.jpg']

    Cheers, Peggy

  • al tuttle July 30, 2010 02:49 am

    I use just a medium priced point and shoot (10Xzoom), but get some great results....I love stalking the birds and making sure I have good compositions as well. its all in the approach!
    some examples are here....

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/al-ien/2439006805/in/set-72157604317335532/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/al-ien/3250580330/in/set-72157604317335532/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/al-ien/4022598391/in/set-72157604317335532/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/al-ien/2506255554/in/set-72157604317335532/

  • Jason Collin Photography July 29, 2010 12:51 pm

    @Mark Pashia -- Thanks about the anhinga, however, really it was just standing there and I happened to be in the right spot at the right time......I can see that a duck taking off and landing would also include the water in the background which may be similar in color to the duck (dark-ish tones) which could confuse the multi-point autofocus.

    @Tadas Naujokaitis -- Right, with any DSLR and lens combo it is possible to make a great photo, it's just my belief that gear does matter significantly for bird photography if one wants to increase the percentage of great photos one is able to make. In controlled and/or calm shooting environments, gear matters less, but as a professional photographer I am very rarely doing paid work in such conditions, so that's where my belief that gear really matters and helps comes from. For example, shooting a high school championship baseball game with a body that can only shoot 3 FPS is going to require a lot of luck to capture compelling images, whereas a body with 6-10 FPS will allow the photographer to rely less on luck.

  • kaushik samanta July 29, 2010 03:51 am

    wonderful tips

  • Bill B. July 29, 2010 02:54 am

    This is a great article on photographing birds. I will probably be directing my students here, also.

    Two things I try to teach my students when shooting birds in flight or on the ground, and this will help with both tracking and getting landing / taking off photos of ducks:

    Set your camera for manual focus. Then pre-focus your lens, taking into account the depth of field you'll get. This takes practice to figure out, but eventually, based on where you are and what you're shooting (birds in flight or birds landing on water, for example) you'll get a feel for where to set your lens focus for the shot you're trying to do. Pre-focusing your lens also eliminates the time your camera spends trying to focus, which results in the camera being ready to shoot sooner.

    Try to train yourself to shoot with both eyes open. That way, you can see the whole sky or scene and easily track the target with, in my case, the left eye. The other eye will be looking through the viewfinder and will superimpose the rectangle of the viewfinder scene over the full view of your other eye. All you need to do then is to make sure the "viewfinder rectangle" is over the bird. When it is and you take the picture, the bird will definitely be in your photo. It's way easier to find and track your subject this way as the full view from the left eye plus the rectangle view from the right eye allows you to quickly see where you have to aim the camera to track, follow, or find the bird. It also allows you, again with practice, to keep an eye on the entire scene and see potential shots developing that may be worth going after instead of the bird you're tracking. I've used this technique with birds, planes, cars, people, and animals that are moving, often erratically and I can often acquire and track a bird in flight much faster than the photographer beside me, usually shooting pictures before he's even found the bird.

  • SachinGupta July 28, 2010 06:45 am

    A very nice post, has definitely highlighted enough key points, to not only get you started but even go a long way.

    I am a nature enthusiast and I love birds and animals (and not because they are delicious). 2 - 3 years ago, before I discovered DPS, I had learnt about bird photography through experimenting, and took pictures of birds, mostly the common types, as I live in the city, where you dont find many exotic types. I have OFTEN "befriended" completely untrained, stray / free, rock pigeons, sometimes to the point that they come to me in response to my call, and can have them stand on my palm and eat grains from my palm.

    What makes it challenging to photograph birds is the fact that when you want them to, and even say "SIT !......STAY.!", well, they simply dont !!
    There are enough technical tips above, so I'll add some non-technical insight based on my understanding of "bird behaviour", and experience , tho mostly based on the Stalking Style where u set the stage and wait. If the birds are local, or regular visitors of that spot, they will tend to frequent some perches more than others, and there will be common patterns about where they land. Identify their landing spots and take suitable position(explained below), thats where you will get the best pictures.
    Nothing works like putting out food/water where you want them to halt. Place the food strategically. considering the direction of light with reference to its perch, and place the food so that when the bird lands to eat, the food is between the bird and you, and the (sun)light should be behind you, with the bird facing in your direction, esp. when it lands. For high shutter speeds, you need ample light, and raising ISO if needed often helps. You can get truly amazing pictures when the birds are about to perch, in that 1 or 2 seconds before they perch. Set shutter speed to atleast 1/1000, and click continuous, to get that complete landing sequence in its approach to the perch, esp with its feet in front. The direction of the wings flapping will be different at this time, as compared to that during their normal flight, Many bird species, esp. larger ones will slow down their flapping speed at this point, or just hold them close to maximum spread to increase air-resistance. These 2 factors will give the best variation to their wing poses, that you can capture.

    For bird take-off poses, some species will dive a few feet(obviously from a height), to gain momentun before flapping their wings. If you want to take pics of them taking off, here's a trick. If the birds are in pairs, when one flies off, the other one usually will in a few seconds. So watch for the first one to fly as thats your cue. My Nikon Coolpix 5400 camera has a 5-shot buffer mode(under continuous exposure) where the camera takes pics when shutter is pressed, continues to take pics as long as the shutter is pressed, but discards all except the last 5 shots. Use this mode when the first of the pair leaves, while you are waiting for the second one to follow suit, and release the shutter when it does. Even if there's just one, anticipate the direction it will go, lock exposure and use this 5shot buffer mode, while you wait for it to fly. Its a lot easier than guessing when its going to fly.

    I have tried not to repeat what is already said by others, but this I emphasize. Do not try to get close to birds near their nests, some species when scared enough, are known to abandon their nests, sometimes even with their eggs in it.

  • Mark Pashia July 28, 2010 01:38 am

    @RoryMad Studios
    Very good point! A while back I spotted a deer about 1000 yards out and stalked about half of that in cover and then another 250 yards when ever it was grazing bit by bit. Then it caught me standing full up in the open on a sunny day!!! I thought sure it would bolt, but instead it stared at me totally confused because I had the camera up to my face and it could not decide what I was. I snapped off about 10 shots before it got bored and meandered away. I got another 10 or so as it crossed a clearing into the woods. It was still looking back once in a while but did not seem to identify me as a threat still.

    Most birds are harder to stalk but it can be done some. I have found it is easier if you stay low, but that is really hard on me so I don't try very much. They seem to really be alert for upright forms.

  • Santosh July 28, 2010 01:37 am

    A Blue Jay that I photographed in Pittsburgh
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/santoshc/4698039999/in/set-72157624145330937/

    Birds do get fidgetty even if you have the camera covering your face... But yeah it works sometimes

  • Jordan July 28, 2010 12:21 am

    Great read, I've always been fascinated by great shots of birds but have never had the opportunity or patience to go out and get a great shot myself. Your article has given me some tips that will have me taking national geographic quality shots in no time, at least that's what I'll be trying for. Thanks!

  • william lee July 28, 2010 12:13 am

    I have tride (But dont have any good results) to photograph a kingfisher, I even went to the extent of getting camo netting and sitting under it. The kingfisher would never sit where I had the lens pointed.
    I sat at 4am on morning and missed a good few pics, The only good thing was a little wren came by and sat on my head, then popped through the netting and sat on my shoulder, until it saw me.

    Lately I have been taking photos of a housemartin which has nested outside my bedroom window.

  • RoryMad Studios July 27, 2010 10:12 pm

    Excellent article :)

    On the stalking part, I have found that if you keep the camera covering your face, you have a better chance of getting closer to the subject (whether a bird or an animal).

  • Saxan Rappai July 27, 2010 04:52 pm

    thanks a million for this very useful information

  • Tadas Naujokaitis July 27, 2010 07:56 am

    @Jason
    Thanks! Good shot of anhinga!
    I agree that the gear is important, but that doesn't mean you can't take good photos with an inexpensive camera. It would be strange to think that if someone doesn't have the best equipment, it's not worth to try to take good photos. Actually I had been photographing birds with a film camera till 2010 06. Now I have Canon 50D and Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM. Of course, I feel the difference. However, I've taken some of my favorite photos with film.
    I don't say in the article that good equipment isn't important. But it really isn't necessary for beautiful photos.

  • Pamela July 27, 2010 07:39 am

    beautiful photos and great writing....................thanks for helping to teach the techniques

  • Mark Pashia July 27, 2010 05:58 am

    @Jason
    I fully agree with your point about single vs multiple focus points in general, however Guy was referring to ducks taking off and landing. Ducks in flight are fast and easily confuse my Canon Rebel XSi so single point is a must for most birds in flight. By the way, beautiful work on the anhinga! I will get there someday!

  • Jason Collin Photography July 27, 2010 05:40 am

    I will recommend my photography students read this introduction to bird photography, as it is well written and states clearly what one needs and what settings one should use.

    Here is an anhinga I photographed earlier this year:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/4/27/anhinga-with-bokeh-in-clearwater.html

    One thing . . . I do not agree with the constant stress of it's the photographer not the gear in so many photography posts, especially since the photographers making these statements always have the best possible gear, though I cannot say if Tadas does or not. Of course without a photographer with good photography skills a Nikon D3s cannot make a great photograph all by itself. However, gear does play a very important role in making a shot, especially in bird photography. I would say gear is at least 25% of the equation to making a good shot. Maybe 50% is the photographer's eye and the remaining 25% can be divided up into a number of factors (including editing skills).

    About how many focus points to use, if the subject is not filling much of my frame, I use a single point. If the subject is filling up most of my frame, then I use multi-point, assuming clean backgrounds.

  • Tadas Naujokaitis July 27, 2010 04:19 am

    Thank you for the comments! :) I'm glad you found the article useful!

    Zack Jones, actually you need to find your longest exposure, because each person holds camera differently, however this rule I've mentioned above is a good starting point. I usually set a bit shorter exposure than I can get sharp pictures (so I set it like the rule says), to be sure I'll get such ones. When I have time, I try to get a sharp picture with longer exposure. Here you can find more: http://www.lensrentals.com/news/2009.08.23/how-to-get-sharp-telephoto-images

    guy, I have Canon 50D and I don't set anything exceptional when shooting flying birds. Servo works good if you track the bird accurately. In addition, I use center focus point, so I exactly know where the camera is focusing.

  • Mark Pashia July 27, 2010 04:07 am

    @guy
    By the way, you are tackling one of the toughest birds to catch when you chase ducks. I have had zero luck with ducks in flight even at 400mm on crop sensor. They are fast and they spook easily. It is hard to sneak up on them. I really think the only way is to use a blind and just do a lot of waiting for the right shot, or have an 800mm lens.

  • fortunato_uno July 27, 2010 04:02 am

    One of the first things I set out to shoot, as I tryed to better my images, was birds. I knew they'd be hard to capture in flight. so I focused on getting them eating. after that I worked on flight. that was a bit more difficult due to the fact of shooting in manual (always shoot in manual is my way). that netted me some really good partials. After many hundreads of shot I finally got what I was Looking For.

    Here are some of my bird photos'

    http://lafango.com/fortunato_uno#/media/734702-dpp-0907
    http://lafango.com/fortunato_uno#/media/574590-dpp-0112-hawk-eye
    http://lafango.com/fortunato_uno#/media/535794-haron
    http://lafango.com/fortunato_uno#/media/581998-dpp-0215

    I had a great deal to learn about the to close distance, or what I call the one flap (A bird will only let you get as close as is required to escape in one flap). my advice is to wear non-threatening colors (browns, greens ect...). I'll be checking back here to see what you guys put up here. because this is where i relized i have a lot to learn. and I'm sure after I see what you guys have. I'll feel the same way all over again.

  • Mark Pashia July 27, 2010 04:01 am

    @Zack Jones
    Shooting from tripod takes some of the shutter speed considerations away, but if you want to freeze the wings of a flying bird, faster is better. I have also heard that even a perched bird should be shot at 1/400 or faster since their respiration rate (breathing in and out) is so fast that it can cause blur. The trick with a 400mm f/5.6 lens is to have some distance behind the perch as the further away the background is behind the subject, the more the background blurs. I recently shot a Great Blue Heron perched in a tree at 400mm and had no blur because he was directly in the foliage. I cannot remember an exact link, but the general consensus is that you need a shutter speed equal to the effective 35mm equivalent focal length. So on a 1.6 crop sensor it is in fact 1/640 sec at 400mm for hand held unless you have image stabilization or vibration reduction, etc.

    @guy
    The only way that I have had any luck at all is to use only one focal point. On my Canon Rebel XSi, I set the camera to only use the center focal point and then use servo mode. The camera just cannot figure out which point to use when all are enabled for birding. Multiple focus points might be great for other purposes, but just does not work in this case. One point makes it easier, but it still is hard to track small, fast birds in flight. Try to get some practice on the large slower moving birds first to develop your technique. Geese, great blue herons, even hawks move much slower than song birds and can greatly help you learn what works. Also, tracking high flying birds is easier, but you probably won't get a good picture. The point in that is to practice and develop a "reflex" so that you can use it later without "thinking about it". After a while, as you get better, you will find it easier to track the fast little birds to some degree.

  • mai July 27, 2010 03:39 am

    good post! very informative and detailed. thanks!
    i love the photos especially that of the swans! so precious!

  • Guy July 27, 2010 03:24 am

    I have been trying to photograph ducks taking off and landing with a Canon 7D and f2.8 70-200mm lens. I placed the camera in servo mode and played around with some of the other focus related settings but I can not seem to get sharp focus. My shutter speed has been above 1000. I read something about distance to the subject and the relative speed of a object. Example looking out the side window of a car at the guard rail going by verse looking further out. Could someone help with the correct settings of the 7D and also any other tips. Do I need to use a 300-400mm so I can have more distance? What is the best way to track a moving object and keep it on the focus points?

  • ifi_naeem July 27, 2010 02:57 am

    gud effort to explain bird photography
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/ifinaeem/4752818154/' title='Birds with some colors on' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4097/4752818154_9eb0187f55.jpg']

  • Zack Jones July 27, 2010 02:32 am

    Very nice introduction to birding. This is the first time I've ever seen it mentioned that you have to consider crop facotr when determining hand-held expsoure speed. I'd be interested in knowing more about this subject. Can you refer me to some site/link where this is discussed further? My current birding lens is the 400 f/5.6 but I'm usally shooting with a tripod/gimbal head so I don't worry too much about shutter speed.

  • My Camera World July 27, 2010 02:20 am

    Superb article Tadas. I am also a fan of bird feed. If you don't mind the unnatural look of a bird-feeder these provide great year round attractions. Even as background pool can attract geese as in this article.

    http://niels-henriksen.blogspot.com/2010/05/tutorial-extracting-image-with-blurred.html

    I have also placed a chair next to feeder an waited patiently.
    http://niels-henriksen.blogspot.com/2010/03/10-great-photography-projects-setting.html

    Niels Henriksen

  • JJ July 27, 2010 01:34 am

    Great introduction, I myself only have a couple of bird photographs. Luckily, I have a pond in my backyard with a family of geese year.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/11249990@N06/4262667389/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/11249990@N06/4144294794/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/11249990@N06/4202014626/

  • Lolit C July 27, 2010 01:20 am

    Fantastic !!! I've learned a lot. :D

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