What Is The Best Focusing Method For Bird Photography

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Bird photography, especially wild bird photography tin can be quite challenging. At that place are many articles on the Cyberspace that cover everything from “bird photography tips” to “the art of bird photography”, but I constitute that many of them are not detailed plenty and do non incorporate as much information for an amateur bird photographer. After several years of photographing birds, I decided to write this “How to photograph birds” guide and include everything I know about taking good pictures of birds, so in a way, information technology is an introduction to bird photography. Parts of this article besides apply to birding or bird watching, and so if y’all like birds and just want to exist able to approach and watch them closely, read the Locating Birds and Approaching Birds sections beneath.

Note: This guide could be used for any type of wildlife photography, only I volition be concentrating on fast-moving birds and birds in flight, so if you are taking a picture of a fast-moving animal, experience gratis to utilize the same camera settings.

NIKON D300 @ 200mm, ISO 200, 1/250, f/5.0

Camera Equipment

Unfortunately, photographic camera gear is a very important office of wild bird photography. Unless you are standing close and photographing ducks and geese that are not afraid of people, gear up yourself to invest in a solid photographic camera and i or more than long telephoto lenses.

So, what camera is good for fast-action photography? I would recommend a camera that tin can handle at least 1/2000 of a second shutter speed with 6 to 9 fps (frames per 2d) and a big plenty photographic camera buffer to exist able to handle big bursts, if you want to get the best results, plus a good autofocus system for quick focus acquisition. Any modern digital camera (whether DSLR or mirrorless) should be capable of shooting at 1/2000 of a 2nd and faster. Fast frames per second and good autofocus mean professional cameras such as the Nikon D500 or Canon 7D Mark Two that are suited best for fast-action and wildlife photography. Merely if you lot already have an entry-level DSLR, it doesn’t hateful that you cannot capture birds – information technology just means that you might miss a good shot, just because your camera is not fast enough. The most important thing to keep in mind – the speed of focus acquisition both on camera and on lenses are far more important than frames per second.

Clark's Nutcracker
NIKON D300 @ 370mm, ISO 450, one/250, f/8.0

Which brings us to the adjacent question:
What lenses are proficient for bird photography?

It is tough to answer this question, considering it all depends on how much money you are willing to put into a lens. The all-time bird photographers in the world will tell you that they cannot alive without their 200-400mm, 400mm, 500m, 600mm or 800mm lenses, preferably with optical stabilization + teleconverters. The Nikon 500mm f/4E FL VR currently sells for approximately $10,299 USD, while the 600mm f/4E FL VR is about $12,299 USD, while the 800mm f/5.6 costs as much equally a new motorcar! That’s very pricey and but professionals who make money by selling their images and people with large wallets can buy those lenses. If you are one of those, the best combination for bird photography would exist something like the Nikon D5 or D500 + i of the above-mentioned lenses + i.4x TC (TeleConverter), which will give yous the best functioning and reach. In addition, y’all will have to buy a good heavy duty tripod + accessories (batteries, memory cards, etc). The small and lightweight Nikon 300mm f/4E PF VR + 1.4x/1.7x TC or telephoto zoom like the Nikon 200-500mm f/v.6E VR will also yield excellent results without breaking your banking company.

Rough-Legged Hawk
NIKON D300 @ 400mm, ISO 200, one/1600, f/4.0

On the Canon side, the choices are going to be similar and equally abundant as Nikon’southward, with plenty of great options. Aside from the 400mm to 800mm super telephoto exotic glass, in that location are other great budget options, such as the Canon 300mm f/4L IS + 1.4x TC, or the Catechism 400mm f/5.6L (but no IS).

Also, don’t forget about third party lens options. Both Tamron and Sigma produce superb telephoto zoom lenses that are wonderful for bird photography. Tamron’s 150-600mm VC G2 is fantabulous and if you prefer Sigma, you take two options – the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary and the 150-600mm Sport.

Other camera systems from brands like Sony and Fuji might not have professional-class super telephoto lenses yet, merely you will come across other solid offerings suitable for bird photography, such as 100-400mm variable discontinuity lenses, which might exist excellent candidates for bird photography.

Female Mountain Bluebird
NIKON D300 @ 400mm, ISO 280, 1/250, f/5.0

And then far, everything that I have mentioned above in terms of focal length is for lenses alone. Once mounted on a camera body, the camera sensor size will also impact field of view, meaning what you lot really see in the frame and in the image. Compared to full-frame sensors, smaller sensors will generally provide improve accomplish. If this sounds confusing, run across my DX vs FX, Crop Cistron and Equivalent Focal Length and Field of View articles. All Nikon DX cameras accept a ingather factor of one.5x, while Canon’s are 1.6x. And so, the actual field of view, which some photographers phone call “equivalent focal length” (meaning equivalent compared to 35mm film/full-frame) can exist approximately calculated by multiplying this crop gene past the total focal length of the lens (which includes the teleconverter). For example, the Nikon 300mm f/4 lens with a 1.4x teleconverter (420mm total) mounted on a DX camera would have an equivalent field of view equally a 630mm (420mm x ane.v) lens on a full-frame (FX) sensor. Significant, if yous were photographing a bird from say 10 feet away and yous could fill up your frame with the bird using a Nikon 300mm f/4 lens with a i.4x teleconverter on a DX camera, you would demand a 630mm lens if you were shooting with a full-frame / FX camera to fill the frame the same way.

Beingness able to reach birds from distance without distracting them is a major part of bird photography and this combination of a long telephoto lens with a DX sensor camera definitely provides more opportunities for successful birding. The downside of a crop-gene sensor, withal, is the amount of dissonance on images at high ISO levels – so ameliorate achieve does non necessarily translate to better quality. Every bit I have pointed out in my DX vs FX article, full-frame sensors control noise better than cropped sensors, especially in challenging light. So both have advantages and disadvantages – DX by and large gives y’all improve reach, while FX gives you lot meliorate quality. Keeping a fast shutter speed and retaining depression ISO requires lots of low-cal, peculiarly on a lens combination with a maximum aperture of f/5.half dozen. Therefore, in low-light situations, I would recommend to shoot on a tripod at slower shutter speeds rather than cranking up ISO and having images with a lot more than noise. Birding is all nearly retaining the particular and having sharp images – nobody likes bird pictures that are soft or out of focus. Noise tin can often be dealt with in postal service-processing, merely lost detail cannot be recovered.

Harris's Hawk after lunch

What virtually tripods? If you apply heavy 500mm or 600mm lenses, a good tripod system (a tripod and a tripod head) is a must, simply because hand-holding these lenses is not applied. If you don’t know where to starting time when it comes to tripods, check out our detailed guide on choosing a tripod. Ideally, you desire solid carbon fiber legs that can concur a lot of weight and a gimbal caput, such equally the Wimberley WH-200. Such a setup would be able to handle heavy lenses very well and provide plenty flexibility to shoot birds in flight. Lastly, go for the Arca-swiss quick-release system, because that’s pretty much the standard now for handling heavy gear.

Camera Settings

Maintaining fast shutter speeds, especially for birds in flight and small birds that motion very quickly is extremely important – you lot cannot fix motion blur in postal service-production. In some cases, photographers shoot at slightly slower shutter speeds simply to get the bird’s wings slightly blurred, to create a feeling of motion. But in all other cases, y’all desire to freeze the action. To achieve this, I typically set up my shutter speed to something betwixt 1/yard and i/1600. Most digital cameras have the following photographic camera modes: “Manual“, “Shutter Priority“, “Aperture Priority” and “Programme“. The photographic camera manner I utilise the most for my photography, including birding is “Aperture Priority”. Many cameras today come up with the Motorcar ISO feature that automatically adjusts photographic camera ISO based on light conditions. You can set your minimum shutter speed, which tin be prepare to a loftier number for bird photography and maximum ISO to retain the item. This feature is very useful and I utilise it all the fourth dimension, setting the Auto-ISO to on, maximum ISO to something like 1600, and minimum shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second.

When shooting in “Aperture Priority” mode, which I use the most, I set Machine-ISO minimum shutter speed to i/one thousand and shoot wide open, i.e. at the maximum aperture. The prissy thing about shooting in “Aperture Priority” way, is that if there is too much light, my shutter speed increases to a bigger number and if light weather deteriorate, the camera’s Auto-ISO characteristic increases ISO automatically and tries to keep the shutter speed at whatever I prepare information technology to. If the highest ISO is already reached and there is still not enough calorie-free, it will evidently decrease the shutter speed, while withal keeping images bright plenty. Some other reason for using the “Aperture Priority” mode has to do with total control over depth of field. For case, if I’m shooting broad open up at f/four and continuing close to a bird, my depth of field is very shallow and if I focus on the eye of the bird, I might non be able to capture its dorsum or tail in total detail. By stopping down lens discontinuity to something similar f/eight, I tin capture more than of the bird without blurring parts of it. Personally, I practise non find “Shutter Priority” to be useful for bird photography, because I do non want my camera to fix the aperture for me. However, now that cameras are equipped with the Auto ISO feature, you can set both your Aperture and Shutter Speed to certain values in Manual Manner and let the photographic camera command the brightness of images by changing ISO automatically for you.

What about shooting hand-held? If you accept a light enough camera setup and you are shooting at fast shutter speeds, shooting paw-held should not be a problem. Unfortunately, sometimes lighting conditions are poor and you lot cannot use fast enough shutter speeds. Once your shutter speed drops to a certain threshold, you will start getting blurry images due to camera shake. How do yous avoid that? The general formula is to follow the reciprocal rule, which is to keep the shutter speed to at least the full focal length of the lens. This ways that if you are shooting with a 300mm lens on a full-frame camera, your shutter speed should exist at to the lowest degree 1/300 of a second (if the 300mm lens is mounted on a crop-cistron sensor, the shutter speed should equal focal length multiplied by the crop gene). However, when shooting with long lenses on loftier-resolution cameras, you might detect reciprocal dominion to be inadequate to produce abrupt images – you might demand to increment your camera’southward shutter speed even more than to finish upwards with tack-sharp images with enough of detail.

Juvenile Common Pheasant
NIKON D300 @ 380mm, ISO 800, ane/250, f/four.0

Here are my Nikon camera settings for bird photography:
Photographic camera Fashion: Discontinuity Priority with aperture set up to maximum discontinuity (wide open up).
Metering: Matrix Metering for virtually situations, merely sometimes Spot Metering can provide amend results.
Release Fashion: Loftier Speed Continuous (fastest fps).
Autofocus Mode: Unmarried AF Betoken or Dynamic (9).

Shooting Carte:

  • Image Quality: RAW
  • NEF (RAW) recording: Type: Lossless compressed, NEF (RAW) bit depth: 14-fleck
  • White Balance: Auto
  • Agile D-Lighting: Off
  • Vignette Control: Off
  • Loftier ISO NR: Normal
  • ISO Sensitivity: 100 (Base ISO), ISO sensitivity auto control: On, Maximum sensitivity: 1600 or 3200, Minimum shutter speed: 1/grand

Custom Setting Carte du jour:

  • AF-C priority selection: Release + focus
  • AF-Due south priority option: Focus
  • Dynamic AF expanse: nine points
  • Focus tracking with lock-on: Short
  • AF activation: Shutter/AF-ON
  • AF point selection: 9 points
  • ISO sensitivity pace value: 1/3
  • EV steps for exposure cntrl.: 1/3
  • Exp comp/fine melody: 1/3
  • Beep: Off
  • Viewfinder filigree display: On
  • Multi selector center button: Shooting mode: Reset (Select center focus point), Playback mode: Zoom on/off, 100% magnification
  • Multi selector: Off
  • Assign preview button: Preview button press: Spot metering, Preview + control dials: Off
  • No retentiveness card?: Lock

The items I highlighted in ruddy are the ones that are of import for me. I always shoot images in RAW, because it is nearly impossible to recover enough detail and colors from JPEG images. Plus, y’all practice not take to worry about white residuum, and many other things if you shoot in RAW. Some people might argue that shooting RAW is a waste of infinite and is besides complicated, but space is not a problem present as you lot can buy terabytes of hard drive infinite for inexpensive. The only event with shooting RAW is that your camera buffer could quickly make full up, causing your frame rate to drop to merely 1-2 frames per second. I recommend shooting with fast memory cards, then that the memory does not become the bottleneck.

Pelican Landing
NIKON D300 @ 550mm, ISO 200, 1/grand, f/5.6

Locating Birds

Now that you have your equipment gear up, you need to find birds to photograph. I recommend starting with the most common birds such as finches, sparrows and robins that are used to people and do not mind cooperating and posing for photographers. Try to develop some skills and techniques by photographing them sitting on benches, eating and flying. The best time for photography is either early mornings or late afternoons, and the same thing applies for birds. Early mornings are typically the best for bird photography, because birds actively wait for food for themselves and their offspring. So try to become out and shoot some local birds and encounter what you tin do. Review your images afterwards and run across what yous don’t similar virtually your pictures. Whether you have a sharpness problem or focus issues, the best way to improve your bird photography is to exercise more!

Cedar Waxwing
NIKON D300 @ 400mm, ISO 400, 1/500, f/4.0

Once y’all are done with practicing, go for a existent photo shoot. Some of the best opportunities for bird photography might be very shut to y’all. First off by just Googling for “best birding in (your state)” or “tiptop birding locations in (your state)”. For instance, if I Google for “best birding in Colorado”, plenty of different links come up up that point to adept birding locations, some only several miles away from where I live. Many of the links will also contain detailed information on unlike bird species, their habitat, migration patterns and a lot more than. Another dandy source of data on birds is to contact your local bird-watching clubs and groups. Some might even have mailing lists for sharing information on rare sightings of birds. Cheers to the big number of bird watchers, there are plenty of other online resources, books, magazines, newspapers and much more, and locating birds is not hard at all. What is difficult, is locating rare and exotic birds and photographing them, especially if they are very shy.

If you accept a difficult time locating birds or want to photograph birds from a close distance, a local zoo or a bird sanctuary might be excellent opportunities for bird shut-ups. The National Audubon Lodge, for instance, organizes various bird-watching activities and tours that you lot tin can sign up for. There are plenty of other organizations that look for all kinds of volunteers and sometimes fifty-fifty volunteer photographers.

Pacific-slope Flycatcher
NIKON D700 @ 420mm, ISO 800, one/1000, f/5.vi

Budgeted Birds

What do you exercise if the bird you are trying to approach gets scared and flies away? There are many unlike techniques to arroyo wild birds and I volition get through what works for me. Pretty much all birds have superb vision, so it is very probable that the bird will meet you first. Also, all birds have their own “condolement zones” and if y’all try to get whatsoever closer, they experience threatened and fly abroad. Unlike birds have different tolerance levels for man interaction. Some birds will let people pretty close, especially if they are used to them – those birds are the easiest to photo. And then there are birds that are extremely shy, that will not let people come up anywhere shut. Those birds are extremely hard to photograph and you will have to understand the bird beliefs to get closer. The key to successful bird photography, is to make the bird feel safe and natural. Some skilled birders can approach birds very closely, sometimes way beyond their comfort zones. How do they do it? Well-nigh of them volition respond that it is all about patience. Birds feel threatened when you approach them also fast directly. They also feel threatened when yous wait direct at them, as whatever other predator would.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird
NIKON D700 @ 300mm, ISO 1600, 1/1250, f/5.6

So, here is my technique to approach shy birds:

  1. Practise NOT vesture apparel with bright colors and try to blend in with the environment as much as possible. Although some photographers prefer wearing camouflage, I personally wear grey or calorie-free blueish shirts with bluish jeans, which work neat.
  2. If you are hiking and have been walking fast and all of a sudden you lot spot a bird that you want to photograph, slow down. Don’t alter your walking speed right away – slow downwardly marginally, then that the bird does not detect sudden changes in your behavior.
  3. Exercise Non make sudden moves. If you need to raise your camera and take a picture, exercise it very slowly.
  4. Plow off your cell telephone or put it on silent style. It really sucks when you are close to a bird and your telephone starts ringing…
  5. One time you see a bird, practise NOT walk straight towards the bird, but rather walk
    slowly
    in zigzags. Sometimes walking in zig-zags is not very practical, specially if y’all take already scared the bird by your presence. The key is to walk slowly (sometimes 1-2 feet per infinitesimal or slower), no matter how you are approaching the bird. Likewise, instead of walking from heel to toe, try the other way effectually, keeping your weight on your dorsum pes as yous walk.
  6. Try non to walk if the bird is looking at y’all. The best fourth dimension to approach is when the bird is looking away or is busy doing something.
  7. Go on your noise to a minimum. Noise is hard to control if you are walking through bushes or if yous have to step on fall leaves that create a cracking sound, and so picket what yous are stepping on and do it very slowly to diminish the dissonance.
  8. See if the bird is already scared – if it is staring at you and stopped doing whatever it was doing before, it means that the bird is on alert and might wing away whatever time. Y’all tin can besides tell if the bird is scared if the bird is raising its tail and releasing fecal thing (especially raptors).
  9. Do NOT stare at the bird while budgeted it. Animals in general perceive straight eye contact as a threat and they will flee at their commencement opportunity.
  10. Your camera shutter volition nearly likely scare the bird you are budgeted. Therefore, I recommend shooting the bird as yous approach from the distance, so that the bird gets used to the shutter clicking dissonance. If the bird is perched, you lot might desire to switch to silent photographic camera release mode (electronic shutter), so that your camera does non make loud sounds when taking pictures.
  11. In some cases you might be lucky enough to meet a “YASJ” (immature and stupid juvenile). Juvenile birds are typically very curious and will let you arroyo them very closely. Even if juvenile birds permit you to come very shut, yet attempt to keep your distance. If you are able to fill the viewfinder with the bird, you are already too close. Moreover, standing too close to a bird is also problematic, because only a office of the bird volition exist abrupt, due to a shallow depth of field, then you will then have to stop down your aperture, which also translates to slower shutter speed.
Caspian Tern with fish
NIKON D700 @ 420mm, ISO 250, ane/2000, f/five.6

Photographing Birds

Photographing birds and making beautiful pictures requires good cognition of your photography equipment. For birds in flight, high shutter speeds are required or the bird will look blurry. I find that a minimum shutter speed of 1/1000-1/1600 for birds in flight works swell for me, only in some cases slightly lower shutter speeds are also OK, depending on the size of the bird and how fast it is flapping its wings. For instance, to freeze this hummingbird in flight, I used a shutter speed of 1/1600 and even and so, the wings look slightly blurred, just considering the bird flaps wings faster than my shutter speed:

Broad-tailed Hummingbird in flight
NIKON D700 @ 300mm, ISO 800, 1/1600, f/5.0

Bokeh and clean backgrounds are other key factors to successful bird photography. In nigh cases, it will exist hard to control the groundwork just considering the bird will not let you walk around and plan your shot, simply there are a few things you tin can still do to accomplish skillful subject isolation. First, make sure that there is a good distance between the bird and the objects behind it. The greater the altitude, the amend the background blur (although the distance between you and the bird is actually more of import). Some photographers prepare articulate benches well-nigh bird hot spots or at their houses, which works great because they tin can set up up feeders and take clear pictures of birds with a controllable background. You lot can find similar opportunities with bird feeders at a nearby park. As well, shooting birds in winter (depending on your climate) by and large yields improve results simply because tree branches are articulate and birds cannot hide behind leaves. For shorebirds and other h2o birds that exercise not sit down on branches, the best manner to attain expert subject isolation is by laying on the ground/sand when the bird is out of the water.

White breasted Nuthatch
NIKON D300 @ 280mm, ISO 800, one/250, f/6.3
Western Tenager with a catch
NIKON D300 @ 420mm, ISO 200, ane/250, f/6.3

Here is how I recommend to photograph birds:

  1. Shoot at high shutter speeds of 1/1000 and higher up to freeze the bird. For birds in flight and fast-action scenes, utilize even faster shutter speeds. For birds that are just sitting on benches and not being active, you can employ slower shutter speeds of 1/250-i/800 and lower ISO for better prototype quality (a tripod or a monopod for slower shutter speeds is highly recommended).
  2. Always focus on the nearest (to the viewer) eye of the bird. It is adequate to have a blurred tail or other parts of the bird, but at to the lowest degree one eye always needs to be in focus and sharp. For birds in flight, focus on the bird’s head or chest – whichever provides amend dissimilarity for the camera autofocus system.
  3. Cull your backgrounds advisedly. Pictures with objects behind the bird are non equally pleasant as pictures with a smooth background.
  4. Be patient and expect for the bird to human activity naturally. Images with a bird sitting on a bench are tedious, so effort to capture interesting activeness instead.
  5. Utilize a blind whenever possible. I of the all-time blinds is your machine and you could get pretty shut to a bird without scaring it with your vehicle. Birds are generally not scared of cars and you could drive up fairly closely and take some amazing shots. I accept taken many beautiful shots of birds directly from my car, without getting out of it. Hunting blinds likewise work very well if you lot observe the right spot such equally a pond or a feeder.
  6. Having a camera flash extender such every bit the “Improve Beamer” is very helpful for make full flash, especially to photograph birds under tree leaves or in darker areas.
  7. Shoot lots of images. I typically shoot a single image first, then take a await and make sure that the images are sharp and in focus. If everything looks good, I will shoot the bird in bursts of five-ten frames at a time. Having a fast camera that tin can handle 5-6+ frames per second is very helpful. I then go through hundreds or sometimes even thousands of pictures at home and delete the images that I do non desire.
  8. Try to position yourself with your back towards the dominicus. Sometimes having the sun to the far left or right is OK, merely having information technology backside you lot will give you the best light.
  9. Shoot either early in the morning time or closer to the evening. You will find that early on mornings or belatedly afternoons provide the best opportunities, because the birds are active and are typically busy looking for food. I personally adopt to shoot early in the morning – that’s when the birds are most active.
  10. Try non to take pictures of birds in flying during a cloudy day. Photographs of birds with white or gray backgrounds don’t expect every bit skilful and are hard to deal with during mail-processing.
Mallard
NIKON D700 @ 45mm, ISO 560, one/250, f/four.0

Post-processing and Cropping

I mostly utilize Adobe Lightroom to process my photographs, merely sometimes I also rely on Photoshop for specific tasks. Lightroom is a great and piece of cake tool to organize your images, catalog your bird collection and perform basic editing, while Photoshop is great for fixing images that cannot exist stock-still inside Lightroom. Overall, I probably spend xc-95% of my time in Lightroom and well-nigh 5-10% in Photoshop. Since I shoot in RAW, I have more than leverage in mail-processing, no affair what software I use.

Cropping is a large role of bird photography. Dissimilar people, birds exercise not sit and pose in front of the photographic camera, so filling the frame with the bird is not always possible. If you photograph a bird from a altitude and try to resize the epitome to a smaller resolution for the web, the bird volition wait too tiny. Cropping helps photographers bring birds closer to the viewers and highlight them, rather than distracting the view with unwanted objects. So, how much should you crop? It depends on how much infinite the bird takes in your photograph. If it is almost filling the frame and you simply need to get rid of some unwanted objects, cropping works like a charm; y’all could also make large prints at that resolution. Withal, if the bird is only taking upwards 5-10% of the frame, cropping might work for the web, but not for large prints, so keep that in mind.

Good luck and have a fun time photographing birds!

Burrowing Owl
NIKON D300 @ 650mm, ISO 200, 1/400, f/8.0

Update:
Elizabeth Gray wrote a superb Bird Photography Tips and Tricks piece that is an extension to the above article, and so delight cheque it out!

Source: https://photographylife.com/how-to-photograph-birds

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