Here are a few very basic yet important Bird photography tips for beginners, which would not only help you capture good quality photographs of bird, but would also help you choose photography equipment and location for your first Bird shoot.
Bird Photography Equipment: One of the most important aspects of choosing a camera/lens for bird photography is the reach i.e. the optical zoom. For beginners on budget, a good prosumer camera like the Canon Powershot SX10IS with 20x zoom (28-560mm, 35mm equivalent) would suffice. While for digital photography enthusiasts, a DSLR like the Canon XSI (450D) with a Canon 55-250IS lens (88-400mm, 35mm equivalent) or Canon 100-400L (160-640mm, 35mm equivalent) should be a good starting point.
In case if you don’t own a camera/lens with that sort of reach and aren’t planning to upgrade to one, don’t loose hope and read on!
Bird Photography location: There are plenty of places where one can spot local and migratory birds, which one to choose, depends on the weather, habit of birds and your equipment.
For instance, if you have a camera with limited zoom range, then it does not make much sense to go to a Bird Sanctuary filled with exotic migratory birds. Since these birds aren’t used to humans and are likely to fly away as soon as they spot one and with limited zoom range, this would be the kind of photographs you will end up capturing majority of the time.
While in a park where birds are used to the company of humans, you can expect to capture a photograph like this, even with a camera with 6x zoom (200m, 35mm equivalent).
In fact, parks and zoos attract decent number of local and migratory birds and should be one of the first few places you should visit, if you intend to start shooting bird photographs.
Timing and weather: After equipment and location, timing and weather play a crucial role in bird photography. Majority of the birds are quite active in the morning and evening, add to that, lighting is prefect for photography. During the day, birds aren’t that active and lighting conditions are harsh, which tend to overexpose photographs. On the same note, weather also plays an important role and foggy days tend to be the second worst time to indulge in bird photography (first being rain). Overcast days can also wreak havoc if you don’t have a fast lens and a camera which can shoot clean photographs at high ISO.
So make sure when planning a bird photography outing, you keep the weather and timing in mind and make/change plans accordingly.
Camera modes: While majority of the digital cameras work fine when put into Auto or P (Program) mode, it is better to use a bit of manual control over the camera. Av (aperture priority) makes for an excellent mode to shoot bird photographs with, while for fast action shots, you might want to experiment with the combination of TV (shutter priority) or M (full manual) mode to bring creativity to your photographs and control bokeh and motion blur. In case your camera does not have manual controls, try using the sports mode to increase the shutter speed.
Also if you are shooting JPEG’s, you might want to switch the color mode to Vivid or enhance saturation and contrast to ensure the photographs of birds, come out vibrant and colorful.
Multiple shots (burst mode) also increases the number of keepers one get by drastically increasing the number of photographs and is something you should use while trying to capture a flying bird.
Image Stabilization: Image Stabilization can help a lot while shooting in bad lighting condition with slow shutter speed, so make sure you switch it on and while buying camera/lenses; make it one of the important criteria governing your buying decision.
At the end of the day, when you go out there for a shoot, make sure you enjoy the outing and don’t put too much stress on yourself. Remember to just lower the camera and look around before picking it up again and start shooting, this will help you spot opportunities you might have other wise missed.