Bird Photography for Beginners: How To Get Perfect Shots Without a Lot of Expensive Equipment
Interested in bird photography, but don’t have the budget for expensive lenses or other accessories? You’ve come to the right place. This article will help you capture the color, detail and personality of these amazing creatures even if you’re not a pro. All you need is a good DSLR like the Canon 80D and a little practice, and we promise you’ll get pictures that look like they’re straight out of a wildlife special.
How to pick the right camera for bird photography
If you’ve never had any photography experience except for taking quick shots with your smartphone, then it’s best to start with a simple but powerful DSLR. These cameras let you adjust light, shutter speed, focus, and other important details.
There are many DSLRs in the market, but for your purposes, be sure to get one that has a powerful AutoFocus system so you can take sharp, vivid pictures even if you have a fast-moving subject in imperfect light conditions. Birds are not going to sit still and pose while you take a picture. Most of the time you’ll be trying to sneak a shot while they’re hiding in the shadows, or fluttering about in the garden. With a good DSLR, you don’t need extra equipment or expert photography skills. The camera sensors do the work for you!
We recommend the Canon 80D. It’s very versatile, and pretty much fool-proof. It has a 45-point all cross-type AutoFocus system—very good for its price point—and 24.2 MegaPixels. You can even take Full HD 60p movies, which you can save as an MP4. That’s a lot of precision, power, and creative freedom at your fingertips. All you have to do is point and press the button.
You’ve got the tools, now here are the tricks for starting bird photography.
Experiment With Different Camera Settings
One thing you’ll realize as you become more serious about bird photography is that you’ll have to deal with different kinds of environments. You’ll be taking pictures in different times of the day, various weather conditions. Even location—shadowy forests, light-reflecting waters, foggy mountain paths—present their own lighting challenges. In many cases, you’ll have to quickly adjust settings because of the bird’s movement, like when it flies from the shade into the open field.
Play with your DSLR’s settings. The Canon 80D has an intuitive interface is fun and easy to explore and experiment with. You can try adjusting settings to see what works with different kinds of photos. Try photographing kids riding on a bike (to mimic the speed of a bird), zooming in on faraway objects, or shooting at dawn or dusk. That way, when you do try photographing birds, you’re already familiar and comfortable with your camera’s controls.
Finetune Your Eye For Details
We all wish we could take perfect photos of rare birds, but don’t overlook the beauty of the household sparrow or the park pigeons. Photographing these common subjects can actually train your skill in composition. Factors like light, framing, angle can add drama and beauty to an otherwise mundane subject. These skills will serve you well when you go on a nature trail or a bird park to take pictures of more exotic birds.
Use Auto ISO
Even professional photographers will turn on Automatic ISO, either through Aperture Priority Mode (Av) or full Manual Mode. Birds are such fast, fickle creatures who will flit in and out of your frame. When you see them, sometimes you just have to grab the opportunity and take the best shot you can.
But if you put your camera on Automatic ISO, then you have better chances of getting a crisp shot. You can select the aperture and shutter speed, and then the camera will select the ISO in order to compensate. This is the best shortcut for taking pictures of birds in imperfect light conditions.
The only exception to the rule is if you’re in very bright light, or if you’re using the camera’s rapid burst function to take a series of pictures as the bird moves into different lighting conditions. When that happens, some of your photos can become overexposed. In those situations, you can select Aperture Priority Mode, which will let you select the ISO value and an ISO sensitivity. That’s one of the advantages of getting a DSLR like the Canon 80D—you have automatic features, but you can also finetune or change them depending on the situation. You ultimately have more control over your photo.
Patience, Patience, Patience
Bird photography requires enormous self-control and patience. You may be excited to spot a rare bird, but if you approach too quickly (or even make sudden movements) it will fly off.
Professional wildlife photographers say you need to respect the bird’s “circle of comfort.” Don’t go too near, so it doesn’t feel threatened. If you do approach it, don’t make sudden movements, and take a zigzag path instead of heading straight to it. If you can, crawl instead walking. You will feel like less of a danger, and you’ll also have a better chance of getting an eye-level shot.
If the bird’s already spotted you, stay still and wait for it to relax until you take another step. You know it feels safe when it takes its eyes off you to do other things.
Sometimes, it’s safer to just use your camera’s zoom feature instead of physically approaching the bird. With the Canon 80D, you can get a good close up without losing a lot of detail or color.
Know The Bird And Its Environment
You’ll have better chances of getting a good picture if you know a lot about the species’ habits and unique preferences. For example, some birds are more active at night time. If it’s in a zoo, it may also be used to being fed at certain times of the day. A bird may also have its own peculiar habits—like if you see it perching on a particular branch, or spot droppings near a perch, then you know that it’s a favorite spot and will eventually return to it.
If you’re going to a nature trail or bird park, it also pays to ask the tour guides or the caretakers about the birds’ habits. Birds have personalities, too, so they can tell you which one is friendlier and more comfortable around humans. They can also point out nesting sites, or let you know about bird calls, courtship dances, or other cues that something interesting is about to happen. Then, you’ll know where to jockey for position and when to keep your camera ready.
Take eye level shots
This is true of most kinds of photos: taking a subject at eye-level helps create a sense of connection. It feels like you’re looking at the bird face to face.
But even if the bird isn’t directly looking at the camera, eye-level shots will help make the background look more beautiful. Any other details will look farther away and less cluttered, and you can even take a “bokeh” shot that blurs out everything except the bird.
Crop with caution
A powerful camera like the Canon 80D will deliver such good image resolution that you can crop without getting too much of the grainy or hazy effect. But most pros recommend that you never crop more than 50% of the photo. Stick to about 20%, and aim to just straighten the lines or achieve better composition or perspective. Don’t over-rely on the camera’s megapixels to make up for the kind of shot you can take from patiently approaching the bird.
Furthermore, from a technical perspective, whenever you crop a photo you will increase the image noise. That can be a problem when you had to take the image in a higher ISO, which typically happens when you’re working with fast subjects and poor light conditions. A high ISO will always have a higher amount of image noise, and cropping will make it even worse.
Take professional looking photos with the Canon 80D
The Canon 80D is a powerful, versatile camera. It’s perfect for anyone who’s just starting to try bird photography, because of the more intuitive interface and a range of features that are handy for all situations. Whether you’re photographing birds, portraits or your kids’ school event, you can take beautiful images that even a professional photographer would be proud of.
While the Canon 80D not the most powerful camera in the Canon series, it is a practical choice for someone who’s never used a DSLR before, and just wants enough versatility and power to handle subjects with different speeds, environments, and lighting conditions. But that doesn’t mean you’re “stuck” with subpar features. The Canon 80D is a good camera, and once you become more experienced with DSLRs, you can explore and adjust its different settings. As they say, the best photos don’t just depend on the camera but the person who holds it.