Bird and wildlife photography tips

If you like a challenge then bird photography may be exactly what you’re looking for.

More often than not, taking a good picture of a bird is simply a case of being in the right place at the right time. However, if you looking to regularly take good pictures of birds is simply can’t rely on chance to hopefully deliver the goods.  Essentially, you need to create your own luck, to significantly increase your chances of getting a great shot.

To get really good photographs of birds, you often need to be able to get fairly close to your subject and that can be a great challenge in itself.  If you’re not close enough, the bird and any wildlife is usually just a speck in the photograph, but get too close and it’ll probably take flight so you won’t be able to photograph anything at all.

Basic Photography

As with all photography, you need to consider the basic elements that make for a good photograph, including lighting, exposure, composition, colour, details etc.

Basic Bird Photography

What makes bird photography especially challenging is that as well as taking in the consideration all of the above factors, you also have to make allowances for the nature of your subject.

Finding Great Bird Photography Sites

Look out for evidence that birds and wildlife are in the area. Owl pellets, lots of bird droppings on a branch, footprints in soft mud etc are all good indicators of recent activity. Many birds will stop on a perch, to quickly survey the area, before they enter their nest to feed their young. Luckily, for us photographers, not only will this carefully chosen perch branch/rock/wall be used many times throughout the day, they will also stand on almost exactly the same spot every time.

Simply set up your camera on a tripod with the correct exposure settings, composition, light and focus, and then just sit and wait.  However, make sure you don’t disturb either the nest, the perch or any of the surrounding area.

Composition

Rather than simply placing your subject in the centre of the frame, you can often get a more interesting photograph if it is positioned slightly to one side.  Where possible, you can also get great photographs if you’re able to take a picture of the bird or wildlife from above or below, as opposed to just being at eye level.

As well is getting the bird in your photograph in positioned correctly and in sharp focus, you may also need to consider the position and focus of surrounding objects, that could enhance or distract from the main subject. Big branches that draw a line across the back of the photo, or man-made objects in an otherwise natural backdrop (like traffic signs and cars) can soon spoil a great picture.

Time for Great Pictures

When choosing the best time to take photographs of birds, you need to consider several factors, including the position and strength of the sun, the behaviour of the bird and the special characteristics of the season.

Essentially, you should be relying on natural daylight to illuminate your photographs, and the time of day to get the best light is usually the first few hours after sunrise, and the last few hours before sunset. During these times, the sun will provide even lighting on your subject with warmer colours and soft shadows.
During summer, with considerably brighter sunlight and far more daylight hours than winter, you have the opportunity to take photos for longer periods of time. Unfortunately, this can also bring problems with the sunlight being too strong, creating harsh shadows and high-contrast images. The birds will also have significantly more places to hide amongst lush foliage, compared to the relatively bleak landscapes of winter.

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