Two decades ago, bird photography was only limited to those who have high-end cameras with lenses that aren’t available to the general public. But with the advancement of technology and the camera industry more competitive than ever, almost anyone can hop into this hobby without a hitch.
And the good thing about this is that you don’t need to break the bank to purchase a camera that can do the job. An affordable DSLR with a telephoto lens north of 250mm will be enough to satisfy your needs.
Following that, you’ll have to hone your skills in this hobby, which will need your creativity, perseverance, patience, and time. Practice your craft until everything becomes second nature.
To help accelerate your progress, here are 14 ideas on bird photography that will significantly increase the quality of your composition:
Mind the Light
Bird photography – just like any other niche in this field – is largely dependent on light. In this practice, the best time to shoot your subject is during early morning or late afternoon – known as the golden hour – as it provides a soft light that compliments a bird’s plumage.
Immerse Your Audience
What this means is that you have to immerse your viewers through the eyes of the bird, transport them into the world of your subject. Capture their habitat, their actions, the sky that’s their home. The whole composition shouldn’t just be about the bird but every factor that plays a part in its everyday life.
While it’s tempting to point and shoot once you spot your subject, it’s best to restrain yourself and find the perfect angle. See if the background is suitable for what you have in mind or if the overhead canopy is splashing unappealing shadows on the bird. Once you’re in position, take your shot.
Capture the Eye
For a more intimate composition, try and photograph the bird’s eye as it captures the light of the morning sun or the dying afternoon glow. This adds more depth and life to the photo, which will help in immersing your audience.
Set Them Up
If you’re planning to capture your subjects in your backyard, try and lure them with water and bird seeds. Also, provide them with branches to perch on, which will position them on your desired spots where everything is already in place.
Fill Your Frame
One of the best techniques in bird photography is filling your frame with your subject as it’s easy to achieve a blur or bokeh effect in the background. It’ll also highlight the subject’s beautiful plumage and other characteristics that are unique to that particular species.
Birds are skittish creatures, and photographers will need to have a well of patience to capture that perfect shot. If you’re trying to find the right angle, move slow. If you’re trying to get near your subject, stay low, and approach carefully. The idea here is to have your subjects be comfortable with you and decrease the chances of them getting spooked.
The Eye Level Advice
No bird photography tips are complete without this advice. Getting to your subject’s eye level is one of the most common techniques in this area as it gives the composition a more personal touch. It’s even better when the bird is looking at your lens with added blur effect in the background.
Consider The Background
Speaking of background, it’s always important to consider what’s behind your subject as it adds more quality to the composition. This is doubly true if the backdrop complements the plumage of the subject.
In most cases, leaves and flowers and overhead canopies are the best backgrounds for bird photography. But this isn’t to say you’re going to confine your creativity there. Buildings, cars, amusement parks, and other scenery can also act as a great wash of colors for your subject, depending on what you have in mind.
Do Your Research
Always research your subject before trying to photograph them. Learn their behavior, mating patterns, nesting grounds, and feeding habits.
For instance, kingfishers are quite territorial and consume a lot of fish each day. These birds tend to pick a certain spot on a river where there are slow-moving bodies of water. Once you find its favorite perch, it’s just a matter of being patient and taking several shots to capture your desired result.
One of the best photos in bird photography is where the subject has been captured mid-flight, with its wings outstretched, gliding steadily on a backdrop of leaves and trees. However, this shot is one of the hardest to take and requires significant skill to pull off, especially if the subject is small.
As such, it’s best to take photos of large birds that are less swift during flight and are easier to track. Again, learning their behavior – flight patterns, when they’re taking off – will increase your chances of taking a great shot.
Don’t Be Picky
While rarer birds are undoubtedly more appealing than capturing regular ones, it’s important to understand that bird photography isn’t just about the species itself. Even if the subject is commonly found in your area, you shouldn’t ignore them as there are times they’re positioned in such a way that’s perfect for your collection. A house sparrow can still provide a great shot if it’s perfectly perched behind a great backdrop and is bathed in aesthetic lighting.
A Story To Tell
Always ensure that your composition is telling a story. Capture your subjects when they’re performing something, whether they’re about to take flight, diving for a fish, performing a mating ritual, or feeding their young.
Sure, a close-up shot is great, but a composition that is portraying the everyday lives of these creatures is more impressive as it captures their very nature.
Break The Rules
Rule of thirds, golden triangle, and other photography guidelines are there to help you express your creativity. But it doesn’t mean it has to restrict it either. Don’t be afraid to break from the norm and develop your style. Bird photography is an enjoyable hobby but is far more appealing if you can express yourself without being constrained by the rules surrounding it.