If you're like many photographers, knowing how to photograph birds sounds like it should be easy. I am mostly a portrait photographer and I've made my share of mistakes when it comes to taking pictures of birds.
If you read these photography tips on taking bird photos before you begin shooting, you won't waste as much time as I did by using a trial and error approach.
This is the most important consideration for taking good bird photos. Also the most limiting because of cost of big lenses and full-sized sensor cameras. Lens choice is the most critical of all. The more glass you have,the better your results. Here is more on the best lens for bird photography.
Unless it's a unique situation like a bird feeder just outside your window, you usually need a lot of zoom or telephoto power to get close to your subject.
This photo of a baby robin is an exception. It had fallen or jumped from it's nest higher up in the willow tree. Not a great photo because of the background and lighting. but the lens didn't limit me in this one.
It was still too young to fly, so it sat there nervously perched on a branch for me, too frightened to jump or move.
I used my standard 24-105 Canon lens from a distance of about 5 feet. If you are shooting with a compact point and shoot camera, you will need it to have a 10x zoom or better.
Serious bird photographers need to shoot with a DSLR and interchangeable lenses. I recommend a zoom lens of at least 300 mm or a tele-converter to get that extra power.
You will also need a tripod to prevent motion blur, unless you are taking pictures of birds in flight while using a very high shutter speed to freeze the action.
Along with the tripod, use a shutter release cord to prevent camera shake. Even with a tripod, you can lose small amounts of sharpness when pushing the shutter release on your camera.
Optional equipment: A remote shutter trigger or a motion activated camera for photographing birds at pre-determined spots like a distant bird feeder or bird nest.
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Both the time of day and the time of the year need to be considered when you photograph birds. Bird's behavior and their physical appearance are different at different times of the year.
Bird activity and lighting conditions change dramatically during different times of the day as well as the time of year too. Knowing or observing a little bird behavior will save you countless hours of boredom, waiting for activity at the wrong time.
This applies to many other types of wildlife and nature photography as well. A little advanced planning and thought will increase the likelihood of taking a great photo.
Location, location, location. The kind of birds you wish to photograph dictate your location where you may have to travel.
The location for this finch photo on the left had boring lighting and a bad background.
This was taken through a partially opened window in my television room. These bird photographs were taken with a 70-200mm Canon lens. The 70-200 is not a traditional bird lens but works when you are in those situation where is your subject is unusually close to you.
The photo of the yellow-breasted bird at the very top of this page was photographed inside a walk-in bird cage exhibit at our local zoo. The location gave me a little more dynamic lighting.
The next location to consider is the specific likely landing location of the birds within the area you have chosen. Determine or guess the spot where your subject is probably going to land.
Finally, plan where to locate yourself. Determine what is the best hiding spot or best angle to take your photograph.
Make sure you enjoy the peace and tranquility of nature while you are waiting for the right moment to squeeze the shutter. Birds are easily frightened and often move from one spot to another.
You may spend 98% of your time waiting patiently and 2% of your time clicking away.
Two final tip on how to photograph birds:
1. Always focus on their eyes. Just as it is with portrait photography it is the most important part to focus on with bird photos.
2.Try to find a vantage point that won't frighten away your subject. This may mean shooting through your open window from a parked car. It may be hiding in your garden shed with the door partially opened. Camouflage yourself and your camera. Birds don't like shiny reflections and unusual colors.
It may be sitting quietly, hidden in some tall grass. Use a little ingenuity when attempting to take pictures of birds. And as always, above all, make sure you enjoy the process as you discover new tips on how to photograph birds!
Pictures of Birds Are you looking to see some more sample pictures of birds? I've started an online photo gallery and you can view it here. It's also an opportunity for you to share your thoughts on how to photograph birds and post your bird pictures.
At the bottom of the "picture of birds" page I've included two great books on bird photography. One is purely incredibly detailed bird photos against a white background, without text or how to information. The other is a great how to photograph birds resource called The Handbook of Bird Photography.
Nature Photography. You can see more of Ron Jone's amazing nature photography here.