Bird photography is an exciting and rewarding endeavor, but capturing your images can be quite challenging. Skill, patience and a good grasp of the fundamental techniques are required to get the best pictures. Birds move quickly and are often unpredictable — making them enjoyable, yet complex subjects to photograph. In addition, finding the best lighting conditions is another challenge which may leave you waiting for the perfect moment for hours on end.
However, all these challenges make bird photography worthwhile when you finally capture breathtaking images. All your hard work and dedication pays off with brilliant images you and others can enjoy. What makes them even more remarkable is knowing the effort it took to capture them.
We’ll go over some of the top tips and best practices to help you take awe-inspiring photos of birds in their natural habitat or sometimes, unnatural habitat. Additionally, we’ll recommend bird photography settings to help you with some of the technical aspects you have to watch out for. While these pictures aren’t easy to shoot, following time-tested techniques can improve your chances of capturing those precious moments in nature.
Know Your Birds
The first tip is to do your homework and learn about the birds you intend to capture. Understanding their behavior allows you to anticipate their actions in advance. Then, you can plan, pick great spots to take your pictures and determine the best weather conditions. Understanding these creatures gives you a better chance of spotting them and framing the best photos.
While waiting, take a moment to observe the birds you’re photographing. You can learn about their behaviors firsthand and compose each shot better. In addition, you can adjust your camera with the appropriate bird photography settings while you wait.
Choose A Camera That’s Best Suited For Bird Photography
What features should you look for in a camera for this type of photography? You’ll be doing a lot of fast action photography, which means you need a camera that can handle shutter speeds of at least 1/2000 of a second. It’s best to pick a camera that can shoot at six to nine frames per second (FPS).
Since you need quick autofocus acquisition, bring a camera with a good autofocus system. On top of that, you should also invest in one or two long telephoto lenses. You can’t always get close to birds in the wild, which is where a telephoto lens comes in handy for elegant zooms.
If you’re using an entry-level DSLR camera, it may not have a faster shutter speed. If your camera can’t shoot at 1/2000 of a second, it doesn’t mean you can’t photograph images with it. However, you may miss out on opportunities to capture more detailed images.
If your subject is perched on a tree, like an owl or a stationary hawk resting inside its nest, then your basic camera will be able to do the job. Remember to use the appropriate shutter speed, which is in the range of 1/40 to 1/640 of a second.
If the bird is on the ground or in the water and it is slow-moving, adjust the shutter to 1/500 to 1/1500 of a second. If it’s flying fast, you may have to change it to 1/2500 to 1/8000 of a second. Always make sure to adjust bird photography settings accordingly.
You may not have enough light when shooting pictures using faster shutter speeds. This is when you should keep your aperture wide open. However, if you need to improve the sharpness of the image, you can adjust it one stop down, which can improve the sharpness. In addition, using a depth of field around f/4 or f/5.6 is best suited for outdoor conditions.
Limiting your depth of field also works well, especially if you want to throw the background out of focus. As a result, you capture a clearer image of the birds, which is the subject of your photos. Setting the aperture from f/8 to f/11 is best to achieve this effect.
Some photographers ask whether they should use manual or auto ISO when shooting pictures of birds. You can choose either of the two options depending on the type of camera you’re working with. If your camera gives you easy access to your dial, you can use auto ISO and then fine-tune everything using exposure compensation. Auto ISO also works best for mirrorless cameras since they have exposure previews on their electronic viewfinder.
However, if lighting conditions are constant, it’s recommended that you switch to manual ISO. It overrides the camera’s metering, which adjusts exposures automatically. This setting allows you to capture minute details of your subject and take better pictures of the birds while in motion.
Use a Wider Composition
You don’t have the luxury of time when shooting photos of birds in flight. You’re not doing landscape photography, where you have several minutes to compose your shot. It’s best to use a wider composition to leave space for the birds to move. It’s also best to use a high megapixel camera so you can crop your photos later during post-processing.
Continuous Autofocus Mode
Today, all modern cameras feature a continuous autofocus (AF) mode, which is quite helpful in bird photography. Use this mode to track the movement of the birds, whether on the ground or in the air.
Using Burst Mode
A camera’s burst mode is also known as high FPS mode. This setting tells your camera to keep taking pictures when you hold down the shutter button. Some cameras shoot photos at 10 to 30 FPS, but each camera is different, so check your camera’s FPS settings as some shoot at a higher FPS.
This camera mode is excellent for taking pictures of birds in flight and other action shots. The downside of this mode is the huge number of images you’ll be taking, which can take lots of space on your memory card, so always bring extras. Taking more pictures also means going over more photos during post-processing, which can be laborious.
Bird photography offers many opportunities to capture these amazing creatures and their quirks. One final note is that you should be respectful of the birds you’re photographing. It’s best not to disturb them in their natural habitat or interfere with their day-to-day activities.
With the tips mentioned above, some patience, and some cooperative birds, you can capture remarkable moments in no time.