Photographing birds is a huge passion of mine, and judging by the interest I see on Twitter, it’s becoming a passion for many other people too. My account (@CarlBovisNature) has recently passed 100,000 followers; I’m not famous, that’s just how popular photos of birds are.
Everyone has a camera, even if it’s just the one on their phone, and therefore we all have the ability to take our own photos. Taking pictures of wild birds is about as challenging as it gets, so the sense of achievement when getting a photo of one of our feathered friends is greater than that of most other forms of photography. Social media makes it easy to share any photos, and get instant feedback. The whole process is addictive, and more and more people are delving into the interesting and rewarding world of bird photography as a result. I’m lucky enough to have a decent DSLR camera and zoom lens; while nowhere near the perfect set-up, and certainly not the most expensive, it does help me to take some lovely pictures. Most people won’t have the same quality of equipment, so here are five bird photography tips that are not dependant on equipment or settings used.
1. Find the birds
Seems obvious; after all, with no birds, there’s no possibility of bird photos! However, you can greatly increase your chances of getting a good bird photo by going to the right places. Most birds are small, so getting as close to them as possible, without disturbing them, is important. Therefore, areas where birds are used to humans are ideal. Village and town ponds are great for this. Ducks, swans, geese and gulls are great photography subjects. Closer to home, your garden is perfect. Instead of going out to find the birds, you can attract them to you with food such as sunflower hearts and fat and seed blocks. A bird bath will also be popular; a plant pot base with an inch or two of water is ideal.
2. Get low
Being at eye level with birds will make your photos more dynamic. Not only that, when you’re low the birds will not see you as so much of a threat and may even walk (or hop) closer if you stay still. I’ve used this technique to photograph many species on the ground, Including ring plovers, bearded tits and pied wagtails. The hardest part is getting up again, especially if you’ve been laying on your front for a while!
3. Watch the light
Photography is all about making the most of the available light, and none more so than with bird photography. On a sunny day, the position of the sun in relation to your subject is vital. Ideally, in most situations, you want the sun behind you, unless you’re wanting a silhouette image with no detail on the bird. If the sun is to either side of you, the bird will likely have a harsh light on one side and shadows on the other. When the sun is low, there’s a more diffuse light that can make your bird photos more striking, so shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset are great times for bird photography.
Birds move quickly, especially small species. In the blink of an eye, a photo opportunity can come and go, giving you no chance of capturing the moment. The answer is to predict the movements of the birds you are hoping to photograph, you won’t have time to react otherwise. In this respect, it’s worth taking time to get to know the birds and how they behave. If you feed birds in your garden, it’s obvious that they’ll regularly land where the food is, but often they’ll have a favoured spot where they’ll land briefly to check that the coast is clear before coming down to feed. This could be anything from a branch to a shed roof. Once you have identified a favoured perch, set your camera on that perch and wait…
Composition is always important in photography, and bird photography is no different. There are no hard and fast rules, but in general you want a bird to be looking ‘into’ the picture, not out of it. If the bird is looking to the right, for example, then position it on the left hand side of the image. If it’s looking to the left, then position it on the right. If it’s looking straight ahead, position it front and centre. Backgrounds can make or break a photo. I like to change position when photographing a stationary bird so there’s a nicer looking background – ‘busy’ backgrounds can be very distracting, and the aim is to make the bird the star of your photos, not the clapped out Ford Escort behind it!
It’s never all about the equipment
So there you have five easy tips that have nothing to do with camera equipment or camera settings. Remember these and you’ll soon be getting fabulous bird photos, no matter if you have a huge lens the size of a bus or a humble camera on your phone. Good luck, and most importantly, have fun!