How to capture amazing images of birds: Part 1

bald eagle 2

What does it take to capture a fantastic bird image?

Many people ask “what does it take to create a great image of a bird”? There are several things to consider when going out on an expedition to capture images of a specific bird and what makes for a “great photograph”.

In this two-part article, I will cover some of the finer points and things to consider before going into the field to shoot and things to do while in the field shooting. While style is up to the creativity of the person behind the camera there are some things that when executed properly, take an ordinary image and make it extraordinary. Being able to take images that have a “wow” factor is what this article is all about. Whether you’re a seasoned outdoor photographer or a beginner this article can assist you in taking your images to the next level, from oh that’s a cool pic to “wow look at that”.

Your Research

How do I find my favorite bird?

 Wood Thrush
Wood thrush singing in a tree

The first thing every photographer needs to do when seeking out and photographing birds are to know their habitat and what attracts them to it. In the case of the pelican on the top of the post, it is an ocean/gulf of Mexico bird. You are not likely to find it in the mountains of Tennessee. I know too  many of you this is a very basic truism but you need to do your homework and research your subject. There is nothing more frustrating than to search and search for a species of bird and then, later usually, realize there was no hope of ever spotting one where you were looking.

Your Gear

What kind of gear do I need for great images?

I will not enter into the debate, at least in this article, between point and shoot types of cameras and D-SLR’s. This section has been written primarily for D-SLR camera owners. Lens selection is very important in Bird Photography. While there are many different types of lenses available for DSLRs fixed focus lenses as a general rule are not a good idea. They take exactly one image size that being the size that the lens is set for. This size limitation requires you to be in a specific range to capture the image you want, however, it does have an advantage the glass is usually very quick so capturing and in a motion picture is slightly easier than with a telephoto zoom lens.

Telephoto zoom lenses give you a good range on the fly. Personally, I use general (g) glass my lens selection is on 18-105mm and 70-300 mm which the 70-300 is my primary lens for shooting images of birds. The only drawback to telephoto lenses is that they are slow. it takes the image a longer time to imprint on the sensor based on how far the lens is extended. The further it’s extended the less light reaches the sensor. You can compensate for this by using a longer exposure time. 1/5 sec to 1/4 a sec for example at iso 200. You could also raise the iso, however, the more you raise the iso the more grain or artifacts you introduce into the image. The best choice is lengthening the exposure by a fraction of a second.

Most individuals shy away from using tripods, for me my tripod is my camera’s best friend. The tripod helps you imprint the fine details into the image without having to photoshop them in (and add artifacts). I would suggest you get the best one you can afford. I have shot with cheap tripods and on many of them, the shutter opening and closing cause blurriness. Which wouldn’t be bad if that’s the effect you’re going for but in many cases it’s not. I travel quite a bit so I personally prefer graphite or heavy aluminum tripods with a monopod center. The center of the tripod pulls out to make the monopod. But just like camera selection which I didn’t really touch on in this article its a personal preference based on intended use.

Shooting Basics

Is there anything I should be mindful of while shooting?

canadian goose landing
Canadian Goose landing in a lake

There are a few major focus areas for photographing birds, which we will get into in a minute but first, the primary thing is loose the auto-focus on the camera and focuses manually. Why? On auto-focus, you generally cannot isolate your subject. Now like every general rule there are exceptions but as a general rule isolation caused by a manual focus enhances the image. It’s an effect that is difficult to reproduce in photoshop and is much easier and natural looking when done at the time you’re shooting the image. You can only accurately generate a shallow Depth of Field with auto-focus off. When it’s on the camera averages all the elements in the image and will usually try to pull all the components into focus, this will give you a soft focus and will not allow for the details to be as sharp as they should be.

How to capture amazing images of birds part 2

Author: Chris Flees

I am an artist, art promoter, and art marketing professional who specializes and blogs primarily about art topics and the "behind the scenes" of my subject and images. Occasionally I blog about Christian topics.

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