Bird Photography – A Beginners Guide

Bird Photography is indeed a troublesome and a very enthusiastic genres for most of the nature photographers. On my road trip to once of most popular bird sanctuary destination “Keoladeo National Park” in Rajasthan, i did manged to capture some spectacular images just by following few simple rules of digital photography. This place is a dream come true for wild life photographers. Hundreds of birds were ducking and diving into the water to score themselves a feed of fish. Ah, the perfect place to spend several hours at a time photographing birds.

Gears Necessary 

DSLR Camera

I have got the most basic DSLR camera which is a “Digital Rebel T5” as called affectionately by a lot of photographers across the world. This amazing piece of equipment is the new entry-level model in Canon’s extensive range of digital SLR cameras, replacing the 3 year old 1100D camera. Believe me you do not need to invest much in expensive piece of equipment to be a good photographer. For me Canon 1200D works just fine and to my amaze, it actually suits every requirement that i have got. While doing bird photography is most important aspect is the “shutter speed”. Now point and shoot camera’s may not offer you the same flexibility which a DSLR gets you. Canon 1200 D has wide range of shutter speeds ranging from 1/4000sec. to 30sec which is perfect for nature/bird photography.

Camera Lens

Camera lens is as important as the DSLR itself. The most useful lens for bird photography is no doubt one that is 400mm or higher. In the very least, a 200mm lens length coupled with a 2X extender would also be sufficient.

Post Processing Software

Three thing necessary for bird photography is skill, gear and software. Personally I also enjoy using a couple of Photoshop plugins from Nik Software called Define and Viveza. Define is useful for times when you need to increase your cameras ISO (for faster shooting), as it helps post processing grainy images. Whereas Viveza works similar to layers in Photoshop, only easier! It will allow you to selectively control light and color in your bird images.

Best settings for bird photography

As i stated in my earlier article “manual mode in DSLR” most of the genres of digital photography revolves around three important contributing factors. ISO, Shutter Speed & Aperture. The key to getting an impressive captured images while doing bird photography is to choose the lowest aperture with lowest ISO and keep the shutter speed to the lowest to capture fast moving subjects such as birds.

Now look at the image that i captured whilst on the road trip.

Cropped bird Photography

This is a cropped part of an image which i cropped with the Canon Digital Software “Digital Photo Professional”. This images software by Canon is a must have and have most of the features which Photoshop has and guess what, It’s easy to use. The original raw image is embedded below with all the manual set components of my camera.

Raw Image

Image Details – ISO: 100, F-Stop: f/5, Shutter Speed: 1/400 Seconds.

The secret to great bird photography (especially those in flight) is to set a low Aperture F number, coupled with the lowest ISO possible that still enables your camera to shoot at 1/400th of a second minimum.

Exposure Modes

There are 3 popular Exposure Modes for bird photography, Aperture Priority (beginners), Shutter Priority (mid – experienced) and Manual Mode (experienced photographers).

  1. Aperture Priority – One of the easiest settings for beginners to start with is Aperture Priority. When using Aperture Priority the following settings are recommended. Change your ISO to 600, set a low Aperture F number (f/4.0 – f/5.6). On a sunny day, these settings should result in your camera automatically shooting with a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second minimum. Fast enough to capture a bird in flight. If you find your camera is shooting faster than 1/1000th of a second, then you can set a lower ISO number (for example ISO 200) which will result in better image quality.
  2. Shutter Priority – Shutter Priority is my personal favourite for bird photography. When using Shutter Priority the following settings are recommended. Change your ISO to 600 (for starters), set your shutter speed to 1/400th of a second or lower. After you’ve taken a few shots, have a look at what Aperture F number your camera is automatically shooting with. If it is a higher F number than say 6.3, then it’s ok to lower your ISO number for better image quality.
  3. Manual Mode – For those choosing Manual Mode, I’ll presume you know your camera well, and repeat what I said in my article about going manual with DSLR. Set a low Aperture F number, coupled with the lowest ISO possible that still enables your camera to shoot at 1/1000th of a second minimum.

Wrapping Up

Focus your time and energy in learning all the core principles outlined above. Prove it to yourself that you have so much passion to go out and photograph the birds every day, or as often as you can. Share your experience with us. Do you go out very often to photograph birds? Do you think technique outsmarts the equipment? I would be glad to answer any questions you have. Do let us know if you have any other suggestions on bird photography.