Bird Photography

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My Love Of Bird Photography

My love of the outdoors comes from my adolescent years growing up on a farm in rural Arkansas. When you combine that with my love of photography you get a lot of time spent outdoors with a camera.

I really enjoy watching and photographing wildlife when I am enjoying the outdoors. I carry my camera with me everywhere I go. And it seems the most abundant form of wildlife I encounter in the outdoors are birds.

Birds are everywhere. You see them whether you are hiking in the woods or fishing the many lakes and streams I frequent. Birds are colorful and come in all shapes and sizes. They can be a challenge to photograph because they rarely sit still for long.

That challenge is what makes bird photography so fun and rewarding. When you get home and find you got that awesome shot it makes the trip even more rewarding. You have a memory of the trip that you can keep forever.

Equipment You Will Need

Besides the obvious need of a camera, what kind of camera will you need?

For starters, it would be best to have a DSLR camera that has the ability to use different interchangeable lenses.

Even though I own two cameras I use my Canon 70D crop sensor camera for my outdoor camera. This is my backup camera for portrait work. It is an older camera that is more than capable of taking great wildlife photos. And it saves me from having to take my main Canon 5Ds full-frame camera out into the elements where it could get dusty or wet.

My main lens when I head out into the outdoors is a Sigma 150-500mm lens. The crop factor of the 70D is 1.6x. On the crop frame of the 70D that gives the lens an effective zoom of 240-800mm.

Sigma has updated this lens to the 150-600mm. If you would like to get one you can purchase it here. There are two models of this lens, the Contemporary and the Sport. The differences between the two are weight and weather sealing. For most of us who don’t take our lenses out in driving rainstorms or dust storms, the Contemporary will work just fine. It’s also around $800 less expensive.

That makes it the perfect zoom lens for taking photos of birds and being able to zoom in close. Very much needed because birds aren’t known for sitting around while you walk up on them to take a photo with your 55mm kit lens.

Settings

Your settings will depend on whether the bird you are photographing is sitting still or flying.

Flying birds are definitely the most challenging. You can pretty much forget manual focus for flying birds. Besides, you are going to be using your hand that would be manipulating the manual focus ring to work the zoom ring. This is especially true if the bird is flying toward you.

You’ll also want to change the zone on your autofocus from spot reading to a zone reading. This makes it easier to keep the bird in focus while it is flying.

My lens has a variable aperture of f5-6.3. It’s not a great low light lens, but you can adjust for that somewhat by bumping up the ISO without too much noise.

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f6.3, 1/1600 sec, ISO 100, 500mm

This Osprey was sitting in a tree while I was fishing. As my boat got closer it flew off the limb and was flying almost directly at me.

You’ll need a fast shutter speed to freeze the wings in flight as with the photo above. When shooting birds with this lens I pretty much shoot in aperture priority mode.

Practice Patience

One thing you’ll need when doing bird photography is patience. Animals almost never do what we want them to do right away. It takes patience to sit perfectly still while holding your camera up with a 6lb lens until you can get the shot.

I had to sit and wait for the Osprey below to come back to the nest after it had flown off the nest when my boat was coming down the river. I shut the boat down and waited patiently for it to return.

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f6.3, 1/1000 sec, ISO 200, 500mm

I had to do the same thing when I saw the Osprey below while fishing. The bird left the dead tree it was perched on but looked like it wanted to return to the perch to continue watching for fish. I grabbed my camera and waited and was able to get a shot of it returning to land.

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On the other hand, sometimes you’ll get a bird that poses for you and lets you get a shot. I got the shot below while fishing on Lake Seminole on the borders of Florida, Alabama and Georgia. This Osprey had just caught a fish near my boat. It took it into a nearby tree to feed.

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If you want to try out bird photography for yourself get out there and give it a try. Maybe some of the tips in this article can help you get started.

If you want to learn more and take your photography journey to the next level you might like the Photography Master Class. This video course will definitely help you on your journey to be a better photographer.

Check out more great photography tips on our Photography Tips & Tricks page.