Photography - Knowledge

Bird Photography: The Ideal Guide for Beginners

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Have you ever seen the pictures of animals and birds shot by wildlife photographers? It seems as if the animals pose for them. But, that is definitely not what happens. Photographers spend days and weeks and put in all their hard work to get that perfect shot. If you too are interested in bird photography and wish to shoot some amazing pictures yourself, there are a lot of things that you need to learn first. Birds are very beautiful creatures but it is pretty difficult to photograph them. They won’t pose for you like humans and neither would you be able to get close to them to take quality photos. So, what is to be done? Go through the detailed guide below and prepare yourself to shoot astounding pictures. 

Equipment Required for Bird Photography 

With proper gears, you would be able to click sharp and astounding pictures of the birds. Listed below are the things that you would need. 

Camera 

All kinds of DSLR’s are usually great for bird photography. If you do not own a DSLR, it might be a good idea to get one. This is because SLR’s and the camera of the mobile phones have a rather slow autofocus and that can make getting good pictures quite a difficult task. If you wish to click birds in flight, you would have to pay close attention to the frames per second, the camera’s accuracy regarding autofocus and the results that it produces with high ISO. And that’s why DSLR photography for birds is the best choice for all shutterbugs. 

Even if you do not an own a very good camera, don’t give up. It all depends upon the skills of the photographer and the effort that he/she puts in to get that perfect picture. Some of the best cameras for beginners are Nikon D3400, Nikon D5600, Nikon D5300, Canon EOS Rebel T7i, Canon EOS Rebel T6i and much more. However for experts and elite photographers we recommend, some of the best Nikon camera such as D300/D700/D3 or the Canon 50D/1D/1Ds. All of these are best suitable for wildlife photography. 

camera for bird photography
Right gear for the perfect click

Lens

As is quite obvious, the next thing that you are going to need is the lens. Lenses with a longer focal length would allow you to take the pictures from a long distance while also blurring the background. For instance, for those shy birds, you are going to need a minimum of 200mm to 300mm lens so as to capture sharp pictures. A 100mm lens would perfectly fine to click the images of large birds that are more courageous and allow people to get close to them. 

The larger the aperture of the lens, the heavier, larger and more expensive the lens would be. As it is a huge investment, it is best to consider all the factors and then make a purchase. As discussed above, a 200mm or 300mm is a good choice, but the 400mm f/5.6 lens would work even better. 

You can opt for best Nikon cameras with different lenses and click the best shot. The Nikon 300mm f/2.8 or 200-400mm f/4.0 would give you excellent results. The Nikon 500mm f/4 and the 600mm f/4 are also excellent choices but are rather expensive and are mostly chosen by photographers who make really good money. If you are a Canon person, the 800mm f/5.6L might be a good option. 

Other than the lens and the camera, you can also get a tripod or monopod, a flash and a remote control. This might turn out to be beneficial but aren’t as necessary. 

Nikon 300 mm lens for bird photos
Nikon 300 mm lens 

Bird Photography Camera Settings

Now that you know which is the best camera for the beginners, it's time to learn about the settings. To be able to click breathtaking pictures, you need to know the appropriate settings of the camera that would be most suitable in certain situations. 

Exposure 

Usually, people interested in bird photography, use lenses that have long focal length. If you are using such lenses, it is essential that you do not set the exposure too long as that might result in blurry pictures. As a rule of thumb, you are not supposed to set the exposure longer than your lens’s focal length.

Let’s say for instance that the focal length of your lens is 400mm. If so, you would be required to set the exposure to a minimum of 1/400 so as to get clear and sharp pictures. However, if you do not use a DSLR to click the pictures of birds, you wouldn’t be required to multiply anything at all. The camera lens usually has the focal length mentioned on it and is multiplied already. Most of the cameras and lens in today’s time have the feature of image stabilization which is actually quite beneficial in low light conditions. By using it, you would be able to get sharp images by setting as many steps of longer exposure as you can find in the specifications of the lens or the camera. 

To understand this in a better way, let us consider an example. If there is a 2 steps 400mm lens stabilizer, you would get the chance to set 2 steps of long exposure. However, when you are using a tripod, these rules might not be as important. This is because the tripod itself would prevent any kind of shake. In case you wish to freeze the action of the bird, you would be required to set 1/1000 or a longer exposure. But, if you would like to show the movement of the bird, using a 1/60 or longer exposure might be the best idea. 

camera settings for bird photography
Know the right camera settings (source)

ISO 

With capturing the images of the birds, the best bird photography tip regarding ISO would be to lower the speed of the ISO. The lower it is, the better and sharper pictures you would be able to get. ISO 200 would most probably give you blurry pictures. Therefore, try and set the ISO to somewhere around 800 or 1600 to get sharper pictures. 

Aperture

If you are into DSLR photography, you must already be aware of the fact that aperture is responsible for controlling the depth of field (DOF). What this means is the fact that you would have to set the largest aperture in order to get an image with more blurred background. But, when you are making use of a telephoto lens, a few parts of the bird might not be in focus. Therefore, in order to get sharp images, you would have to pay close attention to the point where you are focusing. 

camera settings for bird photography
Focus on the bird

Most Suitable Shooting Menu

  • Image Quality: RAW, 12-bit on Nikon D300 and 14-bit on Nikon D700
  • NEF (RAW) recording: Type: Lossless compressed, NEF (RAW) bit depth: 12-bit on D300, 14-bit on D700/D3
  • White Balance: Auto
  • Active D-Lighting: Off
  • Vignette Control: Normal
  • High ISO NR: Normal
  • ISO Sensitivity: 200
how to click bird photographs
Know your basics

Post-Processing of the Pictures 

Most of the professional photographers use Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom to give some finishing touches to their pictures. Photoshop is amazing to fix pictures that the Lightroom cannot and Lightroom is what people generally opt for organising their images. The best thing to do would be to shoot every image in the RAW form. But why is it so? This is because this way you would be able to manipulate images in a better way using post-processing software. You would be able to work with the maximum of the image quality as you would have a large spectrum of colours. 

Cropping the Images 

When it comes to bird photography, cropping is a crucial part of it. This is because birds wouldn’t pose for you and therefore you wouldn’t be able to fill the entire frame. If you click the image of a bid from far away and then resize it to a smaller resolution, the bird would appear way too small. With appropriate kind of cropping, you would be able to highlight the image of the bird and bring it much closer to the viewers. 

So, how much is the right amount of crop? Well, it entirely depends on the amount of space that the bird takes up in the picture taken by you. For example, if the bird has taken let’s say about 10-15%of the total frame, cropping wouldn’t work for large prints. It would only be suitable for the web. But, if the bird has taken almost the entire frame, you would only be required to get rid of some of the unwanted things in the picture. With such good resolution, the picture would be great for work of the web as well as for getting large prints. 

Tips on How to Capture Birds in Flight

Shooting the pictures of birds in flight is something that would give you true pleasure if you can get the shot right.

You can choose to either portray the gracefulness of the birds in motion or freeze that motion. The choice is entirely yours. What you must understand that shooting birds is a difficult task already and capturing them in motion is even more difficult than that. This is because you would have to focus on their heads and then most of the times try to picture them against backgrounds that are absolutely clear. You would be required to anticipate the direction where the bird would fly and also while picturing, give space to the bird. 

birds in floght
Freeze the motion

Bird Photography Tips for Beginners 

When it comes to bird photography, as beginners, there are quite a few things that you need to learn. Wildlife photography isn’t as easy as it seems and requires a lot of patience and hard work to get the picture that you want. Now that you are aware of all the basic settings of the camera, the next step is to focus on learning how you can get closer to the birds. Most beginners often wonder as to how they can approach birds and if there’s any special technique to get close to them. Once you learn that too, you would surely be able to click quality pictures. 

Listed below are the tips that you can consider:

1. Proceed Ahead Cautiously

A few birds allow people to get close to them as long as you do not scare them and do not make any kind of sudden movements. 

2. Patience is the Key 

As discussed above, when it comes to clicking the pictures of birds, you need to be extremely cautious and patient. For instance, the Mute swans do allow people to get close to them. But, you need to be very patient. Do not expect to succeed in the very first attempt. If you didn’t manage to get a good picture the first time, don’t shift your attention from one bird to another. You might need to go back the next day or wait for more days before you finally manage to get a quality picture. For a flawless bird photography, you definitely need loads of patience. 

bird photography
Capturing the White beauty 

3. Follow the Bird Around

At times, stalking does help. However, you need to ensure that the bird hasn’t seen you when you are trying to follow it or trying to get close to it. It would be a good idea to dress according to the surroundings. Once you succeed in getting close to the bird, take the picture. 

tips on bird photography
Follow the bird (source)

4. Conceal Yourself 

Taking the pictures of rather small or shy birds is a difficult task. However concealing yourself is the best solution to picture the bird up close. Most photographers interested in clicking the birds in flight tend to opt for camouflage clothing. Camouflage net or a hunting blind could also be used. Keep the blind really low and you would notice that the bird feels quite courageous to come near you. You could choose to hide near objects which the birds are attracted to. Food like sunflower seeds could also be scattered in the place where you wish the bird to come. 

5. Lie Down and Don’t Move 

At times, birds do tend to come really close if you lie down still. All you would need to do is find a good spot, scatter some food there and lie down. Also, do not look directly at them as they feel threatened by it. Wait patiently and you would definitely be rewarded. 

As you could guess from the above, the key to clicking some amazing pictures is remaining patient. It is possible that you might not be able to get satisfactory pictures on the very first day. But, you need to understand that wildlife photography is something that requires a lot of effort. At times, the photographers remain in the same spot for a week in order to let the animals trust them. Therefore, you need to prepare yourself and put in all your effort.  

bird photography tips
Click smartly (source)

Ethics of Bird Photography

One thing you must remember: The birds are beautiful creatures and must never be harmed. When you are taking pictures, do not try to scare them or hurt them in any way. Also, it would be advisable to not go too near the nests of the birds as that would disturb them and might even scare them. Getting that perfect shot is essential but the life of a bird is way more precious than that. 

ethics of bird photography
Mind your camera (source)

Summing Up 

Bird photography is an interesting thing and would let you enjoy a lot of adventures. Be prepared to be a part of them and get some beautiful shots that you would admire. We really hope that this guide has helped you and that it would now be easier to take the pictures that you wish. 

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