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Photographing Birds

When photographing birds, patience and perseverance are the keys to getting the right shot. The first step is finding a location that attracts the bird I am seeking. Once that is established, the stakeout begins. Invest time into watching their habits. When do they eat, fuss, bathe or fly. Being creatures of habit, once the pattern is understood, you can anticipate the action and be ready to hit the shutter.

Be quiet! You want to avoid disturbing their natural habitat. Put your cell phone on vibrate. Walk gently and avoid sudden movements. Assemble your equipment before leaving the car. This keeps fiddling to a minimum and provides a comfortable and clean place, out of the wind, to change lenses. If you are going to use food as an attractor, stick to items the birds would find in the wild. A bait shop is a good resource for tropical birds. Stay away from sugary foods, bread and crackers. In Florida, some birds can be quite the beggars!

The birds in the background are out of focus. Fast lenses help you create a shallow depth of field when using them at their wide open f-stops.Fast lenses are desirable but heavy to carry. They allow you to use lower and even less noisy, 100 and 200 ISO settings and still give you the ability to use high shutter speeds. The faster lenses give you more control when you are trying to separate a single bird in a flock.

Higher shutter speeds help to stop action. With the new digital cameras, you can use higher ISO settings up to 1600 without too much noise, to achieve the shutter speed you require for using long lenses. I am amazed at the quality of the lower priced 300mm zooms. Some of my students are just starting out and the shots they are getting with these lower priced lenses rival some I've taken with pricier equipment. For those with a bigger budget, there are longer lenses. These require a heavy tripod. Best for birds who are gathered around the watering hole.

Stopping flight in action requires very high shutter speeds of 1000 or more. Use a monopods to keep you steady and to keep the lens from becoming too heavy. Lenses seems to gain weight over time!

Overcast days are friendlier to most shooting. On clear days, early morning and late evening provide the magic lighting. Because light fluctuates, especially on those bright and beautiful but slightly overcast days, shoot in a Semi automatic mode. The camera can respond to these subtle changes. Aperture preferred allows control over your depth of field while monitoring the shutter speed. Some may choose to shoot in a Shutter Preferred mode or Time Value mode in order to keep the shutter safely at a very high speed. This is a personal preference.

You can try and spot meter, but the birds are moving so fast, You can use exposure compensation for the tonal range of the bird. For white and brightly colored birds, set your exposure compensation at a minus one (-1). For dark colored birds, use a plus one (+1) compensation. keep checking your histogram in case you need to adjust this setting. You want to move that graph as far to the right as possible, without clipping. Always..... always shoot in RAW. I Set the white balance for a cloudy day as a starting point.You can re-balance later in the RAW file processor (make sure to take at least one shot of something white or gray for each lighting change).

A wildlife photography"rule" I like to break states that, even in flight, all of the bird's body parts must be in the shot. I think it important if you are documenting a specific bird. This type of shot would be an encyclopedic representation of the bird. I'm often after a more emotional effect or a more aesthetically pleasing image. Look for a bird with that mimics human behavior or expression.


Check out my Florida Photo Safari for some great picture taking opportunities


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