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Photographing Birds



The hummingbird is easily attracted with a feeder. Blur (left) is caused by slow shutter speed in natural light. Flash stops the action and brings out detail and color.
The hummingbird is easily attracted with a feeder. Blur (left) is caused by slow shutter speed in natural light. Flash stops the action and brings out detail and color.

Of all wildlife, birds are both the most plentiful and potentially the most rewarding to photograph. Their colors, antics and melodies bring us great joy. Watching the great birds in flight affirms our sense of freedom. Mother birds tending to their offspring give us a sense of comfort and renewed life. Birds, especially young birds, make us happy.

Photographs preserve our feelings and observations of birds for others to enjoy. People like looking at picures of birds. Small ones splashing in the shallow water of a brook may give a sense of frivolity and playfulness that can be embedded on film or in your digital camera. A flock of birds shot with a slow shutter speed can convey harmony, grace and motion, particularly if you pan to follow the birds’ flight, causing the background to be purposefully blurred. An eagle soaring in a bright blue sky can invoke a sense of liberty and independence.

As you photograph birds, try to capture their qualities and actions that have the strongest emotional and esthetic appeal to you, and also look for the intangibles. When you view a red-winged blackbird clinging to a swaying reed, for instance, you may see delicacy and athletic prowess at the same moment. Or, you might feel the bird seems to be displaying a bold, brazen disregard for its neighbours, or is perhaps showing a fear of being discovered and a readiness to take off at any second to a safer perch. Your photograph should attempt to capture that observation. In doing so, though, you will want to be sure that your picture is well-photographed, and shows all the essential details that contribute to conveying your impression of the moment. Generally this means that it must be sharp and, of course, properly-exposed. But, it also must have been taken close enough so that the viewer is not squinting at your image to try to see what you saw when photographing it, and that its composition is pleasing and well-balanced.

Bird photography provides us with memorable images – whether in flight or simply perched with just the implication of flight and freedom inherent in their being. Many colorful birds can easily be found as near as your own backyard (see our tip on attracting birds to you) and it is always a joy to spot one you have never seen before when you are traveling.

There are several tips on different aspects of bird photography contained in the following sections. (See the links below.) We hope you enjoy reading them and that your photography of birds improves as a result.

SEND US YOUR BIRD PICTURES AND SHOOTING TIPS

We are always interested in seeing how other people do it, and we know there are some great bird photographers out there. You may have taken a bird picture of which you are proud, or you may have a technique or pointer we missed that you would like to share with our viewers. If so, please email us your tips and pictures, and we will be sure you get a credit when we put them up.

The close-up of the hawk on the right was sent to us by Joanne Dickeson of the Sunshine Coast Wildlife Rehabilitation Society in British Columbia, Canada. She says the raptor, although delivered to her in bad condition, was released to the wild, fully-mended and in good health, after a few weeks of her care. Congratulations, Joanne. And you took a fine picture, too.

The lovely picture of a hummingbird and flower was sent in by photographer, Marty Maynard, who wrote "Hello, just wanted to share a photo I got from some of your tips." We congratulated her on an exceptionally fine photograph, which she has entitled "Hovering," and asked for more information. "I used a Canon EOS Rebel XTi with a Canon 100-400 mm zoom lens," she said. "I took this at 1:00 pm on a sunny day at our Kansas city zoo." Marty, who is a self-taught photographer and has been taking pictures for three years, says she used a sensitivity setting of ISO 400 and automatic white balance. "My advice," she says, "you can never learn too much or ever learn it all." You can see more of her pictures at Marty's Photography.

Caught in a moment of watchfulness.
Caught in a moment of watchfulness.

The word majestic comes to mind.
The word majestic comes to mind.

Close-ups of raptors and many other birds are more easily taken in captivity. Photo courtesy of Sunshine Coast Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.
Close-ups of raptors and many other birds are more easily taken in captivity. Photo courtesy of Sunshine Coast Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.

Dramatic splashes of white against a dark backdrop. Birds are always thrilling to watch, and to photograph.
Dramatic splashes of white against a dark backdrop. Birds are always thrilling to watch, and to photograph.

Marty Maynard's photo of a hummingbird is also a beautiful picture of a flower.
Marty Maynard's photo of a hummingbird is also a beautiful picture of a flower.

 
Further information...
Essentials of wild bird photography
Attracting wild birds
Closing in on birds
Include the bird's surroundings
Where to shoot birds in the wild