How to Photograph Wild Birds

How to Photograph Wild Birds
Wild birds are captivating, whether flying high and free, nesting or gathering food, or calling to each other. Photographs can help recall the magical things we see and hear in the field, but birds--since they're often in motion--can be tricky to get right. Here are a few simple pointers for great bird photos.
 

Instructions

Difficulty: Moderate

Things You’ll Need:
  • Camera with wide-angle and zoom capability Map of the wildlife refuge or other area you're going to Flashlight and/or headlamp Tripod and cable release
  • Camera with wide-angle and zoom capability
  • Map of the wildlife refuge or other area you're going to
  • Flashlight and/or headlamp
  • Tripod and cable release
 
Step 1
Do your research before leaving home. Know what species will be at your destination, and what they will be doing. This includes seasonal migration and behavior (for example, when is mating season, and where does it occur?), as well as daily behavior patterns. Look at other peoples' photos from your destination or of your target species, and think about shots you may want to try.
Step 2
Dress and behave appropriately. In the U.S., winter is often the best time to see migratory birds. Remember wind chill--you'll be stationary much of the time, so it will feel colder. Dress in layers, and don't forget face, neck and head protection. Be quiet and unobtrusive; use a blind if needed. Camouflage is generally not necessary.
Step 3
Be in the right place at the right time. A lot of birds are most active, and their behavior most interesting, around dawn and sunset. Know what time sunrise and sunset are at your destination for the dates you'll be there. Don't leave too soon afterward. Often, the best shots happen right when you think it's all done for the day. Sunset is great for dramatic silhouettes.
Step 4
Decide what kind of shot you want, and try various camera settings. Try stop-motion shots, partial blurs or complete blurs. Wide angles or panoramas are a dramatic way to show large masses of birds in an area. Look for attractive or interesting groupings of birds, and for great backgrounds.
Step 5
Go with their flow and have some fun. Don't harass or feed the birds trying to provoke behavior. Use whatever they're doing to make your shot. Most important, take lots of shots, especially when the birds are active.
 

Tips & Warnings

 
Know how to change your camera's settings quickly (shutter speed, ISO). Experiment with different shutter speeds and apertures.
 
Know how to change your camera's settings quickly (shutter speed, ISO).
 
Experiment with different shutter speeds and apertures.

Article Written By Peggy Hansen

Peggy Hansen holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from UC San Diego, Doctor of Medicine from UCLA, and completed postgraduate training at Stanford, Duke and Harvard. An award-winning writer and photographer, her work has been featured in Catnip, Herbalgram, Porter Gulch Review, and many online pieces. She's also a commentator for KQED-FM

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