8 Steps to Perfect Bird Shots

[singlepic=272,320,240,,left]I’m an animal lover. That’s one of the reasons we moved out to the country last year. And since then, I’ve been blessed by having the best neighbors in the world: animals! 🙂 Of course my camera’s been going crazy shooting anything that moves around here. I’ve often been asked, “Yanik, how do you get those lovely bird shots?” and I thought I would share with you a few tips to help you shoot birds or any other critter from a distance. Here we go.

1 – Patience. Yes, that’s right! Patience. These aren’t models in your studio that you can just direct… “move a little more to the left”, “tilt your head to the right”…. you have to wait for them. And once they’re there, you have to wait for the right pose, the right branch, the right light. I can take hundreds for chickadee shots a day but only have 2 or 3 that I really like. Patience also means being in the same spot for a while, so have a seat and get comfortable. 🙂

2 – Get out of town! Yes, some will argue that you can get some great urban bird shots and I agree (like my black bird nest in a brick wall) but, for me, there’s nothing like shooting them in nature. You’ll probably end up seeing more varieties as well. And what’s not to like about a lovely nature hike to clear the mind.

3- Try to blend in. Mornings here are still a bit chilly and the other day I went outside, camera in hand, to shoot a beautiful pair of geese on the river. Usually not too skittish, they’re easy to shoot but this time they started panicking and making loud sounds and flew away. Now, what got them all excited? I looked around to see if there was a predator and could not see one and they really seemed to be looking at me. So I looked at me…. and there I was in a bright red fleece! I stuck out like a sore thumb. They must have thought I was some sort of evil alien hunter.

4 – Get a long lens. Yes, some birds might get close enough for you to shoot them with your 10-20mm or your 50mm but they are the exception. So what’s left to do? Pimp up your gear! 🙂 If you have a point and shoot, make sure it has a good zoom (at least 300mm on the long end) with some sort of image stabilization in the camera. If you have a DSLR, you have many options depending on how much you want to spend. If you use Nikon like me and if you have money to burn then the Nikkor 600mm VR is for you! 😉 I have the Nikkor 80-400mm VR and it’s a joy to work with because of the zoom range. You could also combine a 70-200mm with a 1.7 teleconverter to give you up to 340mm. For a less expensive option, I recommend the Nikkor 70-300mm VR. For Canon users you can check out the lenses here.

5 – Keep your camera close. How many times have we missed out on some amazing shots because we left the camera in the car or didn’t bother to bring it along? More often than I’d like to remember! As humans, we’re just lazy by nature so we don,t always want to bring our gear along.. and then we regret it. When I first moved in to our country home, I kept my camera in my studio… in the basement. After running down a few dozen times just to get back up to take that perfect shot of…. the one that got away, I now keep my D300 with my trusty 80-400mm lens close to the living room window.

6 – Be a rock. One of the reasons I recommend point and shoots or lenses with image stabilization technology is that it allows you to shoot at a slower speed without having movement blur. Remember that the longer the lens, the faster speed you’ll need to get that crisp shot. For example, when I’m at 400mm, I know that even with image stabilization, my shutter speed needs to be at a minimum of 1/250 sec. I know some that can get sharp images at a lower speed but not me (never woulda been a surgeon!). So what do I do if I need a slower speed to get the shot? I bring a tripod and my trusty remote cord trigger. For weight reasons, I always bring my plastic tripod so that’s why I hook up my remote trigger since the camera could move if I press the on-camera trigger. If you don’t have a tripod, find anything that will stabilize your camera. Find a rock, lean it against a tree… Once you’re all set, be the rock! Take in a deep breath and slowly exhale… and take the shot.

7 – Preselect your camera settings. There’s nothing more frustrating than grabbing your camera in a hurry and getting that perfect shot…. until you see that you were at ISO 1600, f22, 1/30 sec. Crap! If you know you’re going out to shoot birds, make sure you settings are set before you leave. Here are my default settings: ISO 400, Aperture priority set wide open (lowest f-stop #), -1 EV. These settings are to ensure that I have the highest shutter speed possible. With those settings, all I need to play with after that is my ISO depending on Mother Nature’s mood.

8 – Build it and they will come. If you can’t get to the birds, brings the birds to you! Get a bird feeder or two. I recommend getting a bird book of your region to know which birds live around you. That way you can get the right food to attract them. Once that’s done, follow step #1. 🙂

This tutorial is also a Knol

6 responses on "8 Steps to Perfect Bird Shots"

  1. Very informative write up !!
    will try some shoots thru my Nikon D5000, and I am sure will get better pictures,

  2. I’ve just gotta say that bird in the hand shot is incredible! Sweet get! Great tips as well.

  3. Hi Tim

    I sometimes shoot through windows. I never get glare. Glare rarely happens. Only at a specific period in the day when the sun reflects at a specific angle but that doesn’t last long.

  4. do you shoot bird images through the glass windows?and if so how do you avoid glare?thanks

  5. Thank you for the tips! You have some awesome bird shots!

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