Birds have been one of the greatest subject for photographers for years now because they have an inspiring beauty and mystify us with their gift of flight and diversity.
When it comes to photographing birds and their behavior, catching it on film will add a tremendous visual impact and feeling to any picture. There are different locations where birds gather, but really the best place to start is your own backyard. The thing about birds is that they are busy little bodies and a bird feeder in the backyard is a great place to get a picture when they are feeding or even the bird in the air getting ready to pounce one of the birds that is currently feeding.
I have yet to venture out of my backyard to look for birds to photograph. But when I do, my vehicle may just become my newest piece of equipment. Birds see our cars less of a threat then a person carrying a long lens underneath their arm. A vehicle makes for a great blind and along with this patience is a virtue. I’m going to be scouting around to find a location such as a prime feeding ground where I can park a bit of a ways from it. I’ll be sure to stop my engine to cut down on noise that may scare them.
One such place I’m going to scout is the Great Plains Nature Center located near my home.
Since the birds you’re photographing will be some distance away, you’ll need to use a telephoto or zoom lens to photograph birds. For serious bird photography, a quality telephoto lens is ideal.
I’ve been using two telephoto lenses on my Nikon D5600 DSLR.
The Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR lens is my current main go-to lens. I like using the back focus mode in the camera to improve the sharpness of the photos. Exposure is done using Shutter Priority mode because I want to select a fast enough shutter speed to freeze any motion of the bird.
I also have an older Nikon 500mm f/8 N Reflex-NIKKOR that works great in manual mode on my camera.
The 24-1440mm (35mm Equivalent) zoom lens built in to my Nikon Coolpix B700 is also a great option. I like using this camera for it’s portability. It’s a great camera for those quick grab and shoot situations. I keep mine sitting by my back door so when I see and interesting bird, I can grab it, quickly compose and focus, and hopefully catch the bird before it flies away.
Although the images are slightly smaller in resolution compared to the D5600, this camera has performed very well for me.
Some Challenges when Photographing Birds
Unlike landscape photography and portraits, photographing birds has a few unique challenges.
Getting the bird in focus is a challenge because, unless perched, they are always on the move and it’s difficult to predict where they may land. Even more challenging is getting a bird in focus while in flight because it’s difficult to predict the focus point while they are constantly moving. What I attempt to do is to pre-focus on a point and wait until the bird flies into my focus zone and then shoot multiple exposures hoping to catch the bird in focus and configured correctly.
Depending on the bird being photographed and in what environment it’s being photographed, shutter speed can become a critical factor in getting a good shot. If the bird is perched, slower speeds can be used. If in flight, higher speeds are required. Hummingbirds for example require a high shutter speed to freeze the motion of their wings.
Since many birds are commonly found in trees, it can be difficult to isolate the bird in that busy environment. Also the background is important because you don’t want it to be overly busy. I’ve found that setting up perches in select locations makes it possible to choose the backgound as well as isolating the bird in a more natural looking habitat.