In this post, avid bird photographer Nisha Purushothaman shares some bird photography tips with us.
Equipment for Bird Photography
You can start with a medium telephoto lens like 18-200mm. With this you can cover wide, medium & telephoto range of shots. After using it for a while, you will find out what type of photography you enjoy, and then you can decide on which one to go for. I use Canon 600mm F4 IS II USM, Canon 100-400 f 5.6 IS, and Canon 24-105 IS USM. Canon 100-400 is a very good lens, and it can make decent shots. I have used my 600mm only for a month and I am really happy with the results. Longer focal length helps you to get more reach. In bird photography more reach helps a lot often because birds are very sensitive.
Locations for Bird Photography
Internet is my main resource for finding locations. Do research on the location you are going to visit. I visit the same place several times. A new place is also exciting to explore. But the plus point in bird photography is even if you shoot a bird 1000 times, the next shot can be completely different, the unpredictability is the challenge. I suggest you to do regular visits; since, it helps in developing a co-operative relationship with the birds and helps you to learn birds’ behaviour.
Apart from the location, what is more important in bird photography is the time of shooting. Birds are usually seen in early morning and evening. I prefer shooting from morning 6 am to 10.30 am and evening 3 pm to 5pm. Avoid harsh sunlight since it washes out the colours.
Preferred Camera Settings
I use manual mode. I choose ISO around 320 to 400. For shooting birds in flight, shutter speed will be at least 1/2000s in 600mm and the aperture will be f4 or f5.6. This helps you to get a nice blurred background in the photograph. However, the selection of shutter speed depends on the speed of flight, and the exposure settings differ depending on the available light.
Photographing Birds in Flight
As I mentioned above, shooting birds in flight depends on the speed of flight, available light. Distance between you and the bird also matters for the choice of shutter speed. I would suggest you to set a shutter speed of 1/1000s. An aperture of f8 helps you to capture the details.
Preparations and Planning
You need to plan and prepare yourself properly before going for bird photography. Photographing every bird is an experience and, at the same time, challenging. Since birds are highly dynamic, every time you photograph a bird, you will feel like you are photographing it for the first time. Learning their behaviour will help to know how to approach and photograph them. This takes a lot of time and effort, but it can be very interesting. Most of them are very shy. But they don’t mind you around if you are inside a vehicle. I try to establish a connection with them first by becoming their regular visitor. Once they get a bit familiar with me I try to get more close to them. I love ground level shots, and there are occasions when I used to lie down for more than an hour for getting a bird‘s close-up eye level shots. It often hurt my elbows, but when you see the result, the pain just vanishes. Some bird photographers use techniques like feeding to attract birds. But I haven’t tried it yet.
Composition in bird photography
Compose the shots using the rule of thirds. But it’s not a must-rule to follow. Break it whenever you need to. It’s the way you see the subject and how you are presenting it. Leaving negative space (rule of spaces) around the subject always enhances the beauty and makes the photograph minimalistic. Always try to show the natural habitat of the subject. Keep an eye on both background and foreground since they can spoil a good chance to make a wonderful picture. Depth of field plays a good role in a beautiful picture. A shallow depth of field makes the subject stand out. Moreover, it is all about capturing the right moment, angle, and a right frame with the right spirit. Catchlight in birds’ eyes adds life to the images. Try to capture an image which can tell a story.
Pre-visualization and Practice
Bird photography means a lot of patience. Believe it or not pre-visualisation is the key to make great images. Nature has its own rules. A strong pre-visualisation often turns to reality. This is my experience. This is the most important and valuable tip I get from all photographers I love and admire. One should fall in love with nature to become a good nature photographer and to capture the beauty of the nature in its right spirit. Lots of practice & experimentations is the only key for success. The more and more you practice the quality of the images improves. Always remember, a beautiful shot is always a combination of action, emotions, colours, depth and clarity.
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