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5 Steps to Mastering Bird Photography

What can be more exciting than capturing a good photo of a bird? But how do you do it? Learning the art can be a huge challenge, and so is teaching it. There are so many conflicting elements to master: from camera setting to correct focus, from good composition to capturing fast movement.

When I teach Bird Photography, I break it into five different assignments. I feel that anyone who wants to learn the art should practice these activities, at least from time to time.

First, we focus on bird portraits. As long as the birds cooperate, this is not different from any other type of outdoor photography. Get the camera settings right, get the bird to (nearly) fill the frame, and get it in focus. Voilà.

Then, we try to capture birds in their environment. We are looking for stationary or slow-moving birds, and the challenge is composition. Normally, we look for an environment that would make for a beautiful but mostly boring photo. Then we wait for the bird to add a focal point of interest.

Birds in action is when the true challenge begins. Birds move fast, mostly faster than we can perceive. The trick is to freeze moments out of this invisible to the human eye movement. Luckily, modern cameras provide a burst mode in which you can capture multiple frames in a single click. Some of the cameras allow you up to 60 frames per second or even faster. This is great for small birds and insects, but for the larger birds, I found that shooting at 6-10 frames per second would normally capture an entire movement. You can try and shoot faster, but then you will have to go through hundreds of nearly identical photos to find the one that you like.

Birds in flight used to be a massive challenge. Nowadays, however, many modern mirrorless cameras can automatically identify, focus on, and track birds when the background is smooth. This frees us to focus on the composition rather than the technicalities of the capture.

On the other hand, capturing birds in flight against a difficult background is still a challenge. Even the best cameras get confused. Here is when your skill as a photographer makes a big difference. It requires practice, and it takes a long time to develop your techniques. Everyone ends up doing it differently.

To learn and practice these techniques, you must find a place with a variety and large quantities of birds. It is also important that you can come near the birds for good portraits, but also can find different angles and ‘sceneries’ for your compositions. I have found that large aviaries (many zoos have them) or ponds in parks where birds are used to people are the best. In Sydney, I found that one of the best places is the ponds in the Royal Botanical Gardens. All the photos in this post were taken there during teaching sessions. So, if you are around Sydney and want to practice bird photography, this is probably one of the easiest places to start with.

Do you have any questions about bird photography? Let me know, and I will answer them in a future post. And if you have not subscribed to my blog yet, please click here and subscribe.

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