There are 5 basic steps to great bird photography.
Most bird images are much more dramatic when you come close to filling the frame with the bird or birds. This does not mean that you need a huge lens. Getting close means that you physically get close to the birds.
- In many locations this means staying in your car. Your vehicle is a giant rolling bird blind. Birds are generally so used to vehicles that they pay them little attention. Be careful if shooting through glass. If you shoot through a glass window you may get visual distortion of the image depending on the quality of the glass.
- Get a pop up blind. Hunting suppliers offer a wide array of inexpensive (starting around $30) and quick blinds that work just as well for photographers. I am particularly fond of the umbrella style blind that has two small cutouts in it for placing camera lenses through. I also like the one-man surrounding pop up blinds as they weigh under 10 lbs and I can place a chair inside it. With blinds you may have to arrive at your intended destination a bit earlier to set up before the birds arrive. If you will be shooting on land you own, set up the blind a few days ahead of time and let the birds become used to it. Once they are completely used to it you can shoot with them very close to the blind.
- If you are not using a blind you will need to approach the birds carefully. Walk in a zig zag pattern towards the birds so that you are never walking directly towards them. They will fly much less often if they don’t think you are coming for them. Also, do not look directly at the bird. If you stare at the bird and walk directly towards them you become a predator in their minds. By using your peripheral vision and walking at an angle you greatly reduce your threat profile.
Rules of Composition
As with any image, following good compositional rules will help you add impact to the image. The rule of thirds, centering, and horizontal vs vertical orientation all work towards creating a very strong image. If your subject is in motion, there are special considerations of composition for action photography.
Watch for Background Clutter
While some bird images can be very compelling with man-made items included, this doesn’t extend to background clutter. Cars, trash, roads, and people in the background of bird images can completely detract from the subject itself. Even natural settings can be distracting at times. The best way to avoid background clutter is to control your aperture. By blurring the background you can turn most cluttered backgrounds into a pleasing blur of color.
Make Sure the Eyes are in Focus
Keeping the eyes in focus on a bird is extremely important. While images can, at times, still be powerful with blurred wings and wingtips cut out of frame – a blurry eye makes the entire image feel unfocused. Out-of-focus, or blurry, images can be caused by several factors. The most common of these are camera shake, and poor physical focus.
Static portraits of birds can be very beautiful. However, catch them doing something and you have the makings of an outstanding image. Preening, singing, feeding, flying, scratching, anything a bird does adds a sense motion and gives more of an insight into the bird’s world. If possible, behavior shots involving two or more birds adds even further interest.