Birds offer a great subject for those wanting a challenge for expanding your photography skills. Birds are fast, alert, and reflect light. While fur on mammals tends to absorb light, a birds feathers tend to reflect and become brighter in light.
1. Start early or late in the day– Most wildlife is busiest during the morning or evening hours as they feed. Most wildlife is less active during the heat of the day.
2. Patience– Setting up and becoming part of the environment is an important part of good bird photographs. While waiting, you have to be as quiet and still as you can be.
3. Find your shutter speed– Trying to isolate the wings of a hummingbird is different than photographing a duck on the water. taking practice shots and looking for the right exposure will make it so you aren’t searching for settings when the birds show up. While one rule of shutter speed is to double focal length (300mm 1/600″), that may not be fast enough to capture a flapping wing sharp. Some captures may need that 1/2000th. Adjust aperture and ISO accordingly.
4. Set Focus Points– Set the same focus point in your camera so you know where it will focus each time. When your subject arrives, try and focus on the eye. Focusing on the eyes makes for the best photos.
5. Take many shots– If birds are in flight and moving, you may have to use the “spray and pray’ method. That is taking a whole run of shots in hopes of getting the right one. Also, adding a pan/follow, could make the background blur and really make you subject bird stand out.
Bonus Tip: Cheat!
You can use a feeder if in an area where it is appropriate. During the summer months, I can only have hummingbird feeders because I live in bear-rich territory. When winter time rolls around and the bears are in hibernation, I hang a suet feeder and draw the birds in that way.
If you live close to a zoo with bird exhibits, this is another great place to practice. If you don’t have long lenses, this is also nice because you can get great pictures without spending thousands. A beginner kit lens may be enough to take stellar shots.