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TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING BIRDS

You don’t have to travel far from home to hone your skills in bird photography. A local park, nature reserve or even your garden is the perfect location to get started and get practicing. Over the past few years the term ‘Bird in Flight (aka BIF) Photography’ has become rather popular, to the point at which it’s sometimes referred to as a genre of its own. A mere 10 years ago, with the technology at hand at the time, photographing a bird in flight was a great challenge and achievement if you nailed a shot. In all honesty, today it is easy – point, pan, focus and AK47 the bird to smithereens. I can’t help but miss the creative process in this style of photographing birds. Rarely do simple bird in flight images share a particular message or evoke much response from the viewer. To truly create powerful and emotive images that capture the beauty and behaviour of birdlife, I believe a photographer has to look beyond BIF and get thinking.
A typical recipe of a wildlife photograph includes a subject and a scene. I tend to be drawn to images that have a 3rd element. The 3rd element in an image sets it apart, it attracts attention, it tells a story and it makes the image a more memorable one. It could be anything from interesting species interaction, to epic warm backlighting. In essence, images with an extra special element immediately sets it apart from the rest. Birdlife images with a 3rd element are refreshingly different, and it’s what I am constantly looking for when photographing birds. That in mind, here are some top tips to guide and inspire photographers keen on photographing the beauty of birds.

TOP TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING BIRDS

1. Scout out locations

  • Look on Google Earth for wetlands close-by.
  • Find plants that birds are attracted to.
  • Keep an eye out for nests.

 

 

 

 

2. Tell a behavioural story

  • Read up about your subjects or learn by observation.
  • Try portray their habits and way of life.
  • Teach the viewer something about your subject – be a story teller.

 

 

 

 

3. Include the environment

  • Look at the big picture.
  • Try zoom out from time to time, or photograph a distant subject.
  • Try avoid busy scenes, include surroundings which compliment your subject.

 

 

 

 

4. Capture interaction

  • Be ready for action!
  • Keep your shutter speed high and focus ready to track.
  • If possible, try increasing your depth of field to f/8 – f/11 when shooting multiple subjects interacting (but watch your shutter speed in these circumstances).

 

 

 

 

5. Try setup a perch

  • Find a nice branch and place it where your subject frequents
  • A flowing branch can add to your composition.
  • For landing images try use a vertical branch. That way you’ll know exactly where the bird will land.
  • If you want interaction, setup at perch with space for multiple birds to land next to each other.

 

 

 

 

6. Get creative!

  • Try slow shutter speeds.
  • When your subject is close, use a wide angle lens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Get low!

  • A low angle makes all the difference.
  • Get down at ground/water level to create striking image.

 

 

8. Be selective

  • Your portfolio is only as good as your least powerful image.
  • Keep your standards high. Aim for the best shot – the ideal one you have in your mind.

 

 

 

 

BY KIRSTEN FROST

Kirsten Frost is ORYX Photographic Safaris newest tour leader. Although he holds a strong portfolio of African wildlife imagery, Kirsten is especially renowned for his bird photography. His bird photographs have graced the covers of magazines and have been featured in some of South Africa’s top outdoor and nature publications. Read more about Kirsten on our tour leader’s page: https://www.oryxphoto.com/photo-tour-leaders/kirsten-frost

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