26/06/2009

Bird Photography (made difficult)

One of the most challenging and rewarding photographic activities one can involve themselves in is, in the wild, bird photography. Challenging being the operative word for most novices and you could perhaps also throw in frustrating, disappointing and the desire to give up and go home.
Bird photography, in the wild, regrettably can be all of those things and more. It requires a lot of dedication, can be very time consuming and quite heavy on your pocket. And on occasions it can also demand a good head for heights and a certain amount of agility.
It is exceptionally challenging and frustrating attempting to photograph small birds, as they are constantly darting about and on the move.
For this, you need to be extra patient, do some research about the birds you are going for and where you are likely to find them and their habits. Your equipment should include a long 600 to 800mm prime “fast” lens (“What’s that?” You ask, see “Lenses”) with an extra sturdy tripod. I say a fast lens because you are shooting under low light and sometimes dark forest like conditions. Not to mention the possibility of a hide and you may need to set it up a couple of weeks before hand, so that the birds get used to it and you being around. There may also be guidelines you need to follow if your location is in a state run forest.
Then, after all that, if you happen to locate the birds you are after and they just happen to be a nesting pair, you cannot disturb anything around the nest that might question your ability of getting a clear shot at the birds whilst on the nest or feeding their young. Such as an overhanging branch, for instance. The birds might have built their nest in that particular spot because that branch will shelter their young from the sun and if removed or even bent out of the way, the young birds could fry in the hot sweltering sun.
So, with all that, I have probably put you off the whole idea of bird photography for life. But, if it all does seem a bit daunting, you may want to consider taking it up more earnestly a little later in life and meanwhile, spend some time visiting the local wildlife centre or bird sanctuary.
Some of these places have a walk-in aviary, but you might have to ask one of the attendants about taking photographs or using flash.
Also if you are hoping to enter the photos into a nature competition some competition guidelines are such, that you will have to try and eliminate any man-made objects from the background. Including bird wire, breeding boxes, sawn-off branches, bird leg rings, etc. It may take some time for you to get the right shots in, but it will be worth the wait.
Another thing to look out for in the background is other birds and in particular brightly coloured ones getting into shot. Try to have only one kind of bird at a time unless they are a mating pair, of course.
Here, you won’t need that enormous, expensive lens, but you will still have to fill most of the frame with your subject, who, although will be more at ease with people being around them, could still be a bit scatty, so a zoom lens up to 300mm or at least 200mm, with fast shutter speeds and wide apertures are also the order of the day.
If there is a lack of light you may need to up your ISO rating a couple of stops.
It is disappointing that you can’t get these small birds so easily in the wild, but you can get some pretty good results photographing larger birds like Pelicans, Storks, Egrets, Herons, Cormorants, etc. And if you can’t fill the frame with your subject, at least include some of its habitat. Like the Pelican on the jetty by the sea or the Heron fishing on the edge of the leafy lagoon.
You can even set up a bird bath and feeder to entice local birds into your own garden and photograph them as they perch on a nearby tree branch.
Native flowering trees will also entice birds into your garden. Particularly the nectar and insect eating species.