I started taking bird photography seriously about two years ago. I would like to think that in that time my images have improved. Here are a few bird photography tips that I have learned that have helped me get better results. These are really pitched at the beginner level and might help someone just starting out in the hobby.
Fortunately I live in Thailand where there are plenty of birds and a fair bit of sunshine. Two vital ingredients in my opinion when it comes to getting some decent images.
That said I have also learned the hard way that even with these vital ingredients a lot of things can still go wrong. By that I mean being able to make a decent exposure. I am not going to try and tell you how to do this, but I will say that besides understanding the basics of correct exposure you need to practice and experiment a lot.
There are lots of decent photographers who publish tutorials on YouTube and you can watch stuff to your hearts content and learn a lot.
So this post is not about teaching you to become a competent camera operator. Instead it is about a few techniques that have helped me become a better bird photographer & get a few decent images of our feathered friends.
So what makes a good bird photograph then? We all have our preferences but in the next paragraph I will tell you mine.
What Makes a Good Bird Photograph.
Personally I like the bird to fill the frame, have a sharp clear eye and retain as much feather detail as possible on the subject. Sure habitat is important in some cases, but ask yourself what do you really want to see? A tiny bird centre frame surrounded by greenery or something that shows your targets details?
Cropping is fine in my opinion, I do it all the time but it can be a trade-off, introducing digital noise and losing some vital feather detail for example.
I also try to follow the rule of thirds when setting up my image. Making sure that in my quest to fill the frame I do not make the bird look confined in a box with nowhere to move. In other words I give the subject of the image some space.
I usually do this in post not worrying to much about composition when taking photographs.
Making a Good Bird Photograph
Getting Close to Your Subject
As I said above I usually crop my images, birds are usually fairly small and it is difficult to fill the frame. Of course the way to overcome big crops is to get close to your target, fixed bird hides are great for this but living in a country where they are extremely rare I have had to adapt my approach for getting near my subjects. This takes time, practice and patience as well as a bit of field craft and a co-operative subject. I also accept that I will miss the shot on many occasions!
A portable hide might help, but it’s more kit to carry and living in the tropics has taught me to travel light! Often just sitting still in one fancied location pays dividends. Know your species and their habitat. Let them come to you. Your don’t have to dress up like action man but dark clothing and something to cover those beautiful white lens from Canon may well help. I also have a small collapsible three legged stool which is light and easily carried. It is also surprisingly comfortable.
I find my car makes a great hide if the location permits, for some reason most birds don’t mind stationary vehicles and a photographic bean bag slung over the open window frame in the door makes a good support for a long unstabalised lens like my 400mm. That said sitting in a metal box when it’s over 30C outside can be a little testing.
Baiting is a technique some photographers use to get birds close to them. Have you ever marveled at the pristine images you sometimes see on social media, the bird in good light perched on a moss covered branch or log? Yes me too, till I realised that these birds had been baited, often with a mealy worm or two hidden from view. Personally I never bait birds, my loss perhaps but there is plenty of natural food available for birds and part of the fun of bird photography for me is finding where the birds are feeding.
I do however occasionally use playback(of it’s call) to get a bird to show. Not all birds will respond and a word of caution here, this is something for the odd occasion not a general tactic to be used in place of good knowledge of habit and a bit of field-craft. Wrongly used you are just as likely to scare a bird away or cause it stress if it is territorial and thinks another bird is looking to move in.