Bird Photography – Get Your 3 Rules Right

Before you start with bird photography, there are certain points to keep in mind –
1. Use a good zoom lens, at least 300 mm to get optically close to the object.
2. Select AI Servo (focusing mode) in your camera for continuous focusing. 
3. Use fast lenses.
4. Make sure your lens supports some sort of Image Stabilization.
5. Wide Angle Lenses can be of help some times, be ready for close encounters


Camera Settings

The first part to be considered for bird photography is how fast the shutter speed should be. One must consider using optimum shutter speed. If the shutter speed is kept very high it would reduce the amount of light entering the camera and if shutter speed used is too slow then it would not freeze the fast motion of birds.

ISO should be kept to the minimum to avoid noise or grains in your bird photographs. Little increase in ISO can help in low light conditions like dawn or dusk and it also allows the use of faster shutter speed.

It is difficult to focus birds in flight. Sometimes autofocus may fail completely if you are shooting in low light. Manual focusing always helps no matter what lighting condition you are shooting in. If you still want to use autofocus then it is recommended to use AI servo (continuous focus) mode. This makes sure that the camera maintains its focus even if the object keeps on moving but is still in the frame.

Most of the lenses are now equipped with some sort of Image Stabilization. Canon calls it IS – Image Stabilization, Nikon calls it VR – Vibration Reduction. Each brand has its proprietary version of the same function, dedicated to reducing the shake in the image. Prefer lenses that give you this additional benefit.

Bird photography or for that matter any wildlife photography should be attempted using fast lenses. A lens that opens aperture below f/2.8 is generally referred to as a fast lens. The name comes from the lens’s ability to allow the photographer to use faster shutter speeds because there is a wide opening aperture to compensate for the loss of light.

While shooting, make sure all autofocus points are activated. This will help the camera to track the subject no matter where it is in the frame. AI Servo, if selected as focusing mode, will keep on following the subject and reduces your effort of re-focusing for every click or even while tracking the subject. Usage of a good, sturdy but lightweight tripod will definitely add a lot of stability to your camera. A lot of people think of Image Stabilization as a substitute for tripods. But do not make this mistake; there cannot be a substitute to a tripod. Bird photography demands you to shoot at the extreme end of focal length that is available to you, at such high magnifications, shakes are inevitable. A tripod may weigh you down a little while you travel but it will definitely give you shake-free images. Using a ball head tripod is advisable while attempting bird Photography.


Close up of Birds

In case of clicking any creature, make sure you focus on the eyes, as it is the only part of their body that shows liveliness. A good telephoto or zoom lens can help you get close to the birds, at least optically. You may need to wait for your chance to get a good angle and good light to fall on the bird, be ready to follow the bird around sometimes. Patience is the ultimate key.

Sometimes, the birds are so comfortable even in the photographer’s presence that you may get a treat of shooting birds at a very close distance. In such cases, a telephoto lens may be a drawback due to its minimum focusing distance criteria. Keep a wide lens or a kit lens handy all the time.


Freeze Motion

Flying birds create amazing images. Birds in action photographs are catchier than steady sitting bird photographs. Faster shutter speed is always required to click action photos. Reflex helps to capture the exact specific moments. A delay in capturing images would cause either an empty frame or blur as the birds are very agile. Aperture plays a major role as well. Keeping aperture at the widest opening (f/2.8) helps you to have a higher shutter speed. If light permits the use of narrow aperture, then consider going till f/7.1 or even f/8 to achieve deep depth of field, resulting in complete sharpness.

Sometimes little motion blur can also create dramatic effects in the picture. As birds flutter their wings, it can be motion blurred by using comparatively slower shutter speed. This gives a true sense of action and creates hazy looking wings.

For more such Photo Productive blogs visit PhotoHelp.
Image Credits: Abhijeet Pandit

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Angad Joshi

Angad Joshi

Angad Joshi is a freelance professional photographer. He runs photography studios by the brand name TimeFrame Studios in Pune and Dombivli. He indulges in Food, Fashion, Product and Wedding Photography and has a team of his own. He loves conducting indoor and outdoor photography training programs and photography tours of various genres across India.

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