Thursday, March 21, 2013

Backyard Bird Photography Basics

Hello BirdSpyBlog readers!
Today I decided that since I love both birds and photography, I would share some tips with you all concerning backyard bird photography.  I will say from the get go that these tips are meant to help improve your photography skills, but will by no means produce National Geographic cover results from shot 1.  So without further we go!

Tip 1- Know Your Camera
I know this sounds like a very basic, why-do-I-need-to-read-this type tip, but it is something that many people overlook.  Do you know how to set a quick shutter speed? Do you know if your flash is going to fire or not?  Take some time to sit down with your camera.  Whether you have a basic point and shoot digital camera, your phones camera, or a $3,000 DSLR, taking time to figure out what settings are where, what buttons do what, and how to manipulate your camera will save you many a flustered moment and missed shot.   For simple shots of the birds that visit your feeder, setting your camera to Auto mode will be more than fine.  Digital cameras these days are advanced enough to choose the best settings for the picture and you will get good shots this way.  In trickier lighting situations(dusk, dawn, overcast or stormy), you will need to know how to turn off your flash if you are shooting through glass, otherwise you will get a glare in your picture and miss the shot.  A fast shutter speed is also needed to be able to freeze the birds in motion. Auto mode in good lighting will usually be enough to do this, but knowing how to dig into your cameras settings(usually in Manual Mode or Shutter Speed Priority Mode) will allow you to set a speed of at least 1/400th of a second or faster so that you know you will capture the birds in motion with any shot.

Tip 2- Know Your Birds
Again, most of you who are reading this are probably very experienced birders and will scoff at this tip. But for those who are new to birding and bird photography, this is important.  Some birds feed on the ground and will never come to hanging feeders, so if you want a picture of a dove, junco or certain types of sparrows, be sure to set up a platform feeder or spread seed on the ground to improve your chances of attracting these birds to your yard.  If you want chickadees, goldfinches or woodpeckers, put up hanging and suet feeders will bring these birds in.  Some birds are more docile and don't move as much while others are quick in and quick out, so knowing what birds fall into these categories can help you time and choose your shots.

Tip 3- Choose a Point to Pre Focus On
Spraying and praying(photographers term for taking a bunch of shots fairly randomly) will not net you many good photos.  Instead of firing off shots randomly and hoping you get something good, choose a point(aka feeder perch, tree branch, feeder, etc) and focus your camera there, and wait.  That way, when a bird lands at the spot, your camera is already focused and all you have to do is fully press the shutter button. This will greatly increase your chances of getting a clear, sharp photo.

Tip 4- Use A Long Focal Length
Focal length is the amount of zoom/magnification that your lens/camera provides.  The big lenses that you see many professional and top notch bird and nature photographers use are lenses with long focal lengths, allowing them to get a large, close up shot of birds.  If you are looking into buying a camera for bird photography, look for a camera that has 10x zoom or greater.  If you have a DSLR, buy a lens of 200mm or longer. These zooms/focal lengths will allow you to get fairly close to the birds and get good photos.  The longer the zoom or higher the focal length the better though! I personally have a 55-250mm lens that I use, which is good and I can get some great photos with, but I can't wait to save up and get a 400mm or bigger lens.

Tip 5- Make Your Yard Bird Friendly
Birds won't come to your yard, and therefore, you won't be able to do backyard bird photography, if you don't have anything to attract them to your yard! This is another no brainer but can make a world of difference.  Instead of just setting up one feeder, set up two or three and put different kinds of seeds in them.  A variety of seeds will attract a wider variety of birds. Set up a bird bath. Next to a feeder, a bird bath will attract a larger variety of birds than anything else you put up in your yard.  Bird baths will also attract birds to your yard that wouldn't normally come visit your feeders. Bird baths also allow you to witness and photograph some exciting bird behavior as well.

And finally,
Tip 6- Practice, practice, practice
If you are serious about taking great pictures of birds in your backyard, then the more you shoot the better you'll get! You'll learn your camera, you'll learn the birds and you'll learn your eye as a photographer.  The digital age allows us photographers to take hundreds of images without having to shell out tons of money.  Learn from your mistakes when you make them and figure out what would have made the shot perfect.  The more you practice, the better pictures you'll get and soon you'll be taking breathtaking pictures of the birds that are visiting your yard.

Good luck photographing birds! If you read this and put these tips into practice, I would love to see the final results and even publish some of the photos here with the stories behind them!

Happy birding!

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