it comes to photographing small birds there
are a number of techniques you can use to
improve your chances for getting sharp images. Of all wildlife subjects,
birds are at the top of the difficulty list - they are
wary, have great vision, never stop moving around, and
have a foolproof method of escape, at least from us.
Your first tip is the most obvious, start
out using the longest telephoto lens you
own. Bird photography is addictive,
and if you don't own a long lens you will
soon! My lens of choice for all
wildlife, including birds, is a Nikon 500mm telephoto lens (Nikon). But whatever
you have - start there.
Birds are always moving
- flying, fighting, changing positions, etc.
If they aren't moving, they are about to
move. You can use your ISO setting to
improve SS under lower light conditions.
I almost always am shooting birds at my
lenses largest aperture, trying for at least
1/2000 SS. On brilliant, sunny days
even low ISO settings (ISO 200) will achieve
that. When your SS falls below 1/2000
you will be shooting more blurry images.
Birds in flight, landing on the water,
hunting insects in the air, etc all require
maximum high SS.
If lighting is not a factor (as in there is
plenty of light) and you own both a
fx-sensor (full-size sensor) and a dx-sensor
(crop-sensored) choose a dx sensored camera
body that will add a magnification factor to
your lens. If I use my dx-sensored
Nikon D500 and my Nikon 500mm telephoto lens together - then I achieve
an actual length of 750mm. The Nikon
dx-sensor has a 1.5x magnification ratio,
while Canon dx-sensors have a 1.4x or 1.6x
4 TRIPOD or
Use a tripod to secure your
camera. I know that tripods are slowly
falling out of favor with telephoto lenses
getting lighter glass, vibration reduction,
and new camera bodies ability to shoot at
higher iso settings - but use it anyway.
After awhile you will get used to it and the
percentage of image keepers will go up. If
you use your vehicle as a blind, use a bean
bag or a rifle rest.
5 USE A BLIND
Rarely can you stand in the open and get
songbirds to come close enough for great
portrait images - that means a blind of some
kind. A car is a great blind, or a house
porch, or even a deck chair - something you
can be immobile in (movement scares birds).
I started with a blind described by John
Shaw using a projector stand covered with
camo material, then moved on to a Leonard
Lee Rue Ultimate 2 blind (more space,
shooting windows all around) which I still
use on occasions - but now I primarily use
my vehicle. A vehicle allows you to
park (if practical) in a way as to provide a
perfect angle with the light, which is
something every bird sees a million times
A food source (different types of bird
feeders) can attract birds. This could also
be a water source, such as a drip from a
hose or water source into some kind of
containment basin. This is my
preferred method of finding birds.
Once you locate a food or water source, you
can be assured of regular bird use.
When I'm shooting in the field I regularly
am looking for food sources birds are using
- that could be berry bushes, it could be
leafy bushes where birds are hunting insects
among the leaves, it could be larger bushes
that birds are hunting above in the air to
capture insects rising out of them. My
favorite bird safari is down to Morongo
Valley, CA. As the morning heats up
bugs begin to rise above the honey mesquite
bushes creating a bird feeding station for
phainopeplas, kingbirds, flycatchers,
western bluebirds, and many others.
MOTORDRIVE ON HIGH
Overshoot everything. You will only
have seconds when a bird comes to an area
you are shooting in, getting the most images
is important to capture all the nuances of
body shape, eyes, singing, eating, etc.
A dx-sensored camera also multiplies the
vibration inherent in a telephoto lens so
overshooting will lead to more tack sharp
images. Good Luck. If you have
a great tip that I haven't mentioned here,
send it to me and I will add it to this TIP
USE A BIRD RECORDING
I use the Sibley Bird App in conjunction
with a Sony SRS-X11 Bluetooth Speaker which
puts out 10 watts of volume. There are times when
this is inappropriate, like during nesting,
but the rest of the time this is an ideal
way - sometimes the only way - to attract
birds to photograph. The Sibley app
for my iPhone is expensive, about $21 (the
most expensive App I own), but it has
recordings for every bird in North America.
No only that, but species maps, general
information about the bird, usually multiple
calls, and the ability to loop the calls
(most are about 12-15 seconds long) to play
10 times continuously.
Another important feature and use of the
speaker is to not place it on your vehicle,
but to put it near the preferred shooting
location for the birds. The Bluetooth
speaker and phone will stay connected out to
about 45-50 feet, some even farther, which
allows you to place it carefully, retreat to
your blind or vehicle, then play it as
photograph the birds that come to it.
Good Luck. If
you have a great tip that I haven't
mentioned here, send it to me and I will add
it to this TIP Page.