Photographing Wild Birds

Whether you are a dyed-in-the-wool bird-watcher or just a casual observer, our feathered friends are often a site to behold. We have all stood at the window and watched birds, and many of us have made an attempt to shoot a picture or two. If you would like to take pictures that capture the birds you see along the way, here are some helpful tips to do just that.

Whatever camera accessories you use, the trick to taking great pictures of birds is perseverance and preparation. A telephoto or zoom lens is also helpful. In order to take pictures of birds, it is necessary to keep a fair distance. A conventional lens will simply not give the photographer the shot he wants. The lens need not be expensive or complicated, though. A camera with an 8X to 10X zoom lens should be sufficient. Once you have the photography equipment needed, follow these tips and the pictures you take will be more than you bargained for.

In Your Neighborhood

A great way to fine tune your skills is to begin by photographing the birds around you. Birds that live near people will be more likely to allow you to approach them more closely, and this will help you to frame the shots you take. Walk into the woods near your home, or head out to a park or body of water nearby. Waterfowl are likely to approach you if they are used to being fed by visitors to their habitat, thus allowing for some great shots.

Build a Bird Feeder

Use a bird feeder to attract birds. When positioning the feeder, pay attention to the scenery around and behind it so that your shot will have a pleasant background. Place your bird feeder about 15 feet from the window or deck where you will be watching it. Remember to keep it stocked – especially in the winter months! Feeders attract more birds when food is scarce.

Shooting through a Window

If you are bird watching through a window and want to take pictures through the glass, set your auto-focus camera on infinity mode (mountain symbol) so that the focus locks on the bird outside and not the glass. Extend your lens so that the subject is in focus and the background is blurry.

Get Close

In order to maximize the impact of your shot, fill the viewfinder with the bird. Get as close as possible or use your camera’s zoom to put the emphasis on what is important and exclude the rest. Be sure to check your camera owners manual for the closest focusing distance. Once you have taken the picture, if you find that there is more background than you need, you can always crop the photo to zoom in on your subject.

Take pictures in good light

Shoot early or late in the day. The golden light and long shadows during these times of day make for a far more interesting shot. Midday light makes for flat, uninteresting pictures.

In the Wild

Falcons, owl and hawks will not come to you, and you can’t go to them. Photographing wild birds takes time, skill and the right equipment.

Research your Subject

Pay attention to the habits of the birds you wish to photograph. Practice for their unpredictability by shooting pictures of them in wildlife centers. Study their movements and flight patterns and try to understand their schedule so that it will be easier to photograph them in the wild.

Be Ready to Shoot

Blend with the scenery. Remain perfectly still so that the birds get used to your presence. Neutral clothing is helpful, although not essential. Pre-focus your camera on an area where birds are likely to land so that you will be ready to shoot. Keep the viewfinder near your face and your finger poised over the shutter button so that you can take a picture at a moments notice. Then wait.

Place the Point of Interest Off-Center

Remember that every picture is more interesting if the subject is not at the center of the frame. Place the horizon one-third of the way from the top or bottom of the frame. Or place your subject one-third of the way in from the right or left of the photograph. Composition is subjective, so play around with it until you find what appeals to you most.

Take Lots of Pictures

In order to increase your chances of capturing just the right moment, be prepared to take lots of photographs. Even the pros think nothing of filling an entire memory card in order to capture just the right shot on film.

Pan Your Camera

In order to illustrate speed and movement of your subject, pan the camera while pressing the shutter button. The bird will be in focus, but the background will be blurred, making a more dramatic shot.

Zoom and Flash

Remember to be cautious while photographing wild birds. Remember that there are often nests nearby, and birds are very sensitive to encroachments. They may abandon the nest, and some birds will attack. Use your zoom lens to get close, and respect the need for these animals to have their environment undisturbed. If you are using a SLR camera, try a powerful accessory zoom flash to extend the flash out to 30 or 40 feet. This will brighten the bird and leave the background darker. If the birds are resting in an area that is in shadow, turn on the flash to balance out the scene. Remember that for snapshot cameras, the flash range is only about 10 feet.

Photographing wild birds can be very rewarding and fun. Remember that the best way to get good pictures of animal in the wild is to be still, have the right equipment, and be ready to wait, wait, wait.

Source information adapted from  “Taking Great Pictures.”


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