Bird photography is one of the most accessible and rewarding forms of wildlife photography. At the same time is also immensely challenging. Here are five tips to help you along your journey (I am going to assume that you already have the gear and know the basic principles of photography):
1. Understand and use your sources of light effectively
This goes with all forms of photography, but for bird photography, understanding how to work with natural light is critical. Chase good light and work with the light in the early morning and or the late afternoon, when it is softer and more diffuse. Use front lighting when you can but try to experiment with side lighting to enhance textures in feathers. Use backlighting to create more dramatic visuals and rim lighting around features such as bill and feathers.
2. Remove all the clutter
Simplify for visual impact and remove clutter which doesn’t add to the image. As a rule of thumb, two to three interesting things in the frame is a good baseline.
By stripping away all the unnecessary elements, you can create greater visual impact. This Brown Snake Eagle in isolation is a good example.
3. Work with visual lines
The best bird images draw the viewer into and through the frame. Work out how to use leading lines and diagonals to build impact. Position yourself carefully in relation to perches, branches and natural features to ensure that these form interest components to the image.
The diagonal line of the perch creates interest in what would otherwise be a fairly plain front lit portrait of this Pearl Spotted Owl.
4. Don’t be lazy and rely on cropping
If you are cropping more than 60 per cent of your image, you need to get closer or reassess how you are composing your image. Birds are difficult to approach, so consider using hides and blinds near good locations. There are a range of commercially made nets and portable hides available on the market. Anticipation and preparation is critical as birds seldom give you a second chance.
When you crop experiment with different aspect ratios to create variations in the visual balance. The 16:9 and 5:7 cropping ratios work well but there is no hard and fast rule .
5. Understand birds and their behaviour
You are not going to capture award winning images with just a basic understanding of bird behaviour. Spend time studying and watching bird behaviour without a camera. Find out where species are distributed, what they feed on and when they breed. You don’t need to be an expert ornithologist, but a good understanding and appreciation of bird behaviour is vital to bird photography.
This Double Collared Sunbird was captured by setting a hide close to the flowers it was feeding on. With a bit patience it returned several times to the same flower without being disturbed.
When you head out to photograph birds, photograph for yourself. Don’t mimic the style of others or try and try to appease a particular audience. With time, you will be able to forge your own unique style and in turn build a dedicated audience. Most importantly, enjoy yourself. Birds are fascinating creatures and we can play a critical role as both photographers and conservationists in helping to preserve the legacy of birds for future generations.