Bird photography can be quite challenging, even for professional photographers. You need patience (and the right camera!) capture their features, sharp colors, and their graceful flight. Sometimes it also means knowing how to be in the right place and the right time and knowing which settings will work for that moment. This article will help you master the basics of bird photography, even if you’ve never used a DSLR camera before.
How to choose the right camera for bird photography
When you choose a camera for photographing birds or any other wildlife, these features are a must.
Durability And Weatherproofing
Your camera should be able to withstand the moist or dusty conditions, especially if you plan to take photos in nature reserves or hiking trails. And while you don’t want to be banging it around, accidents can happen as you jockey for position for that photo.Your camera needs to be sturdy and weather-proofed.
Wide Range Of Functions
Aside from the ability to manually adjust the settings, you’ll want some automatic features that will make it easier to take good photos on the fly. This is especially important for anyone who’s just starting out in bird photography. While you’ve eventually be able to tweak all the elements to your liking, “smart” DSLRs have preset modes that can help you select a setting and let the camera sensors adjust the rest.
Some handy features for bird photography include: preset modes, burst mode, image stabilization, ISO ratings, and autofocus.
Frames Per Second
This is the number of pictures your camera can take in a second. This is very important when you want to capture birds in flight.
The power of your camera’s sensors can make or break your photos. For example, bigger sensors will be able to let in more light, which will allow you to increase your shutter speed or take pictures in imperfect lighting conditions.
The best DSLRs will let you shoot and share your photos to any device. This is helpful for managing your data storage and makes it so convenient to share your best photos to your social media or your blog.
Top Pick For Bird Photography: Nikon D750
The Nikon D750 is one of the best cameras for bird photography—or pretty much any kind of photography, for that matter. The Digital Photography Review gave it a Gold Award and a 9/10 rating, and Imaging Resource named it the Camera of the Year for the Enthusiast Category.
It’s not a cheap camera, but professional photographers say it gives better performance than other cameras in its price range, and even has some features included in some of Nikon’s more expensive cameras. Even the pros will sometimes use the Nikon D750 as a secondary camera on their shoots, because it’s powerful but easy to handle.
The image quality is mind-blowing. It has a 51-point AF system, 15-cross-type sensors, and a patented 3D Color Matrix Metering. That will give you very crisp, vivid colors and an amazing level of detail. And with the improved 24.3 megapixel format, the Nikon EXPEED 4 image processing, and an ISO sensitivity of 12,800, you can shoot pictures quickly and precisely. You minimize noise and moiré, and get accurate colors each time.
The Nikon D750 will also let you take full HD videos, so you can capture their graceful flight or courtship rituals. Try to make time lapses, or experiment with the different still formats. There are so many creative possibilities! Shooting is also very easy, thanks to the tiltable LCD display, and the option to control your camera from your mobile device.
But having the right tool is just the first step. Here are some tips to help you get better shots and overcome the unique challenges of taking pictures of birds or any kind of wildlife.
Use The Auto ISO Mode
One of the difficulties of photographing birds is that these creatures rarely stay still. They’re always flitting about, and will often fly away at the slightest sound. But that’s actually a great photo opportunity! With the right camera settings, you can capture their expressions and movements, and the beautiful feather detail as they stretch their wings.
To get these micro-movements without the dreaded picture blur, you need to use the camera’s Automatic ISO. You can set the aperture and shutter speed through the Aperture Priority Mode (Av) or full Manual Mode (M), but the camera will then calculate the right ISO.
The Aperture Priority Mode is best for shooting in a brightly lit environment, since it lets you set the ISO sensitivity. That controls the amount of light that can enter the camera and prevent overexposure.
Use A High Shutter Speed
This is best for shooting birds in action, and with the Nikon D750’s sensors you can jack up the shutter speed without losing a lot of detail. Most photographers will use about 1/1600 per second and 1/2500s per second. But some birds are quite fast, which may require 1/5000 per second.
Consider The Distance
If you are shooting birds that are quite far away, pick the widest possible aperture. If you are photographing close-up or taking pictures of a small bird, start with f/8. But bear in mind that conditions can change quickly, especially if the bird is very active. It may suddenly fly from a bright field to a shadowed area, which can throw off your settings. In these situations, it is better to use the Auto ISO.
Capture Movement With Burst Mode
Powerful DSLRs like the Nikon D750 have a burst mode, which takes several rapid photos at a time. This is really useful for capturing birds in flight. All you have to do is focus on the bird and then track it, as the camera fires away.
Research about the birds in your area
Find out about the species that live there, and those that pass through there during migration. Make a chart that documents their habits. Where do they like to nest or feed? What do their bird calls sound like? What months and times of the day are they usually spotted? When is their mating season? What are their typical “group” behaviors?
The more you know about the birds, the higher the chances of getting good photos. You’ll know the best time to take pictures and can spot certain signs or behavior that signal when something interesting is about to happen.
Don’t neglect “ordinary” birds that are always in your backyard. Not only will you get to practice on them, but they’re more comfortable in that environment (and you). This means you can get very interesting shots!
Scout The Area
Aside from getting to know the birds, become familiar with the location. Where are the feeders located? What trees do they usually build their nests in? You may also find out that a particular bird has a favorite perch (one major clue: there are a lot of bird droppings in that spot). Those are all good places to position your camera, since you can set up and wait until the birds arrive.
Approach Birds Correctly
Every bird species has a “comfort zone” – and if you cross it and startle it, it will fly away. If you want to get closer to a bird, be sure to approach slowly and cautiously. Avoid sudden, jerky movements. If the bird makes eye contact with you, stop. Continue only when it relaxes and starts focusing on other things.
If possible, crawl towards the bird or take a criss-cross path. That way, the bird is less likely to notice you or to interpret you as a predator. Wear neutral-colored clothes that won’t attract their attention. Some bird photographers actually wear fatigues, but any light or khaki clothes will do.
In some cases, it’s better to stop a few meters away and then just zoom in with your camera. The Nikon D750’s superior image quality will allow you to zoom in without any loss in sharpness or clarity, or increase in image noise.
Get A Good Angle
One of the challenges of bird photography is how to eliminate distracting background details. Check out different angles and positions. You can also use fine tune the Nikon D750’S settings to get a beautiful bokeh effect, which will blur out any clutter. You can fix some photos in post-production and with Nikon’s high quality you can save in JPEG and still have enough elbow room to edit.
Even with the best camera, the best bird photography skills come from many hours of practice. Spend a few hours each day learning your camera controls. Experiment with different light conditions, and the speed or distance of your subjects. You can try to photograph a pendulum, kids riding a bike, a ribbon flapping in the wind, or even someone’s pet cat or dog. These different scenarios can help you know what settings to use whenever you take a picture of a small and rapidly moving object, as well as hone your skills at the composition too.
Practice makes perfect—especially if you have a good camera to start with. It’s just a matter of mastering the controls and gaining confidence.