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8 Tips for Better Bird Photography
1. Wait for the birds to come to you
Instead of trying to approach birds on foot or by some other method, wait for them to come to you. This usually works a lot more successfully. You can often find a place that birds frequently come to, either a food source, swamp, stream or something else. If the birds are already present, and moving in a consistent pattern (such as down a shoreline), predict where they will go and “set up shop” ahead of them and wait for them to come by.
2. Attract birds with food & water
Many different species will come to different kinds of bird seed, and even more will come to water. It’s sometimes nice to setup a way where the water can “trickle”, the birds can hear this and will come to it. Once you have the birds coming to you, your next step is to set up or locate some good options or places for shooting.
Whether it’s setting up a branch, placing a rock in the right position, or just repositioning where you sit can really make a big difference in your photographs. You’ll want to be sure to avoid a distracting background. Usually distant trees or bushes make a nice soft, pleasing background.
3. Shoot at the right time of day
If you’ve done any other kind of photography, you’ll probably already be familiar with this one. Shooting when the sun is low in the sky (early morning/late afternoon) yields much more attractive photographs. If you have an overcast sky you will also be in luck. Whatever you do, avoid shooting during mid-day in the bright sunlight, you’re wasting your time!
4. Disguise yourself
There are many ways to do this, some prefer to simply make themselves blend in to their surroundings. Others like to use a hunting blind/hide, or even a vehicle. Whichever way you choose, be sure to avoid “reflective” and “shiny”objects (maybe you’ve heard about using discs in your garden to ward off birds). Covering up your eyes, or not looking directly at the subject is usually a good idea as well.
5. Keep low
If your shooting ocean or water birds, keeping low to the ground is definitely a good way to give a new dimension to your bird pictures. Generally, whether your shooting water birds or not, you’ll want to stay at eye level with the subject. Shooting up at or down on the subject is generally not desirable. For birds on water, or on the ground, this is a “must do” in order to get better pictures.
6. Practice with common birds
Shooting common finches, sparrows, chickadees, juncos etc. may not be very interesting, however, it prepares you for when that “rare” bird finally does show up. It’s a good idea to work on one bird species at a time – when you have one species down, you can move onto another species. This is an excellent way to improve your technique.
7. Use the equipment you have
Yes, even if all you have is a 50mm prime, use it! It’ll force you to get close (very close!) to your subject. Then when you know how to use it to it’s “fullest potential” you are free to buy your next dream birding lens. Diving straight into a 500mm f4 may not improve your pictures. However, learning to get great pictures with what you have and THEN upgrading will most certainly show a “leap” in the quality of your pictures.
8. Be patient!
As with any kind of photography, patience is definitely a major key to taking great pictures. There’s no fast food when it comes to photography! It may take 1 week or maybe 1 year to get the picture you’ve been wanting, either way, you have to stick with it in order to make that “dream picture”. Patience is also required in a more “short term” kind of way. It can take hours of sitting and waiting in a blind to get an awesome picture.
Questions? Comments? Ideas for future How-To’s? Let me know by commenting below!