I recently purchased a refurbished Canon 70-300mm f4/5.6 IS USM at The photography show and have wanted to try it since. On Friday 7th March, I was trying to find places in and around Manchester where I could do some wildlife photography. Although I did find some RSPB nature reserves, Chester zoo and other water parks, I could not go to any of those on the day, because it was too far and difficult to access by public transport. I finally decided to go to our local park due to lack of time. Was there a surprise in store for me! There were so many different birds to shoot!! Although they were shy at first, as I sat there for a while, they began to come closer and I even managed to get some head shot close-ups of the geese. So here is a list of reasons why you should not ignore your local parks when you consider taking bird photographs.
- Convenient commute: The less time and energy you spend in traveling to your location, the more you are able to invest in actually taking photographs of those beautiful birds and animals.
- Opportunity to perfect your skills: Skills like finding the bird, approaching it, tracking its movement, and photographing action shots take a considerable amount of time to perfect. Once you have got the basics right, you can then go on to more exotic places within or outside of your country.
- Familiarity: Since it is local to you, you know the place well. You can try different perspectives for better backgrounds and such. You can spend more time to get the birds used to having you around. You can learn over time about what places and what times are the best to take different types of photographs of different birds.
- Light and weather: If you happen to live in places like Manchester, you know that it can rain on any day and it takes planning for your equipment to not get wet. You can do so with short notice weather you want to shoot on an overcast day, when it is misty, or with different light like the golden hour.
- Opportunity to review and redo: You can check your photos on a big screen with ample time and if you are not completely satisfied with a particular action photo, you can always go back and take more photos to perfect it. Since the time and money needed to go to the location are limited, this is the best way to perfect your skills as a nature photographer so that you can then graduate to the super shots!
PS: Feed the birds grains or carrots. Don’t feed them bread because it is difficult for them to digest it. Patience is a virtue. Sit there and wait till they get comfortable around you. Follow their sounds and look high up in the trees for their nests.
Use a polariser filter for photographing birds in water to avoid glare in the background. Also use the filter for photographing birds in trees when sky is the background for it to look more vivid.
Here are pictures from the outing:
For tips on bird photography on a budget, refer to this very informative article by Scott Contini:
Excerpts from his article (without his awesome photos):
- Camera settings: Use Aperture priority mode with shallow depth of field. This gives a nice blurred background. Use the lowest ISO you can(preferably 100 or 200). This ensures maximum dynamic range and photos that are not grainy. Use either spot metering or partial metering. Compose the photo with the bird in the middle of the photograph. This can be changed later by cropping. Shoot RAW if possible, else set the appropriate white balance. Set the camera so that only the centre focal point is used. Always have your camera on the maximum image size settings.
- Approaching the bird: He gives detailed instructions on how to get physically closer to the bird. This is very useful.
- Bokeh (blurred background) and Catchlight : Get down on your belly, so the camera is at the same level as the bird’s eyes. You need to be paying at least as much attention to your background as your main subject. Ask yourself “Where can I go in order to get that messy background out of my picture?” The most important part of the bird to have in good detail is the eye. “Catchlight” in the eye means the light reflecting off the eye which draws the viewer’s attention directly to it, feeling a connection with the subject. Here too, he writes in detail as to how to get the catchlight while taking the picture.Take your photography to a higher level by going beyond the simple existence shot (for example, a sitting duck) and capturing a behaviour, feeding, singing, or flight.
- Post processing: Setting the maximum image size lets you crop out messy parts and still have the bird in fine detail. Other image adjustments commonly used are sharpening, adjusting shadows/highlights, and a minimal amount of cloning out background distractions. If the image was shot in RAW format, then a white balance correction if necessary.
- Display: Show off only your best work. About 1 in 50 is a good number.
With this knowledge, I hope you will set off to explore your neighbourhood parks and find success in photographing birds. The experience of listening to the birds chirping, photographing them and getting to know their names and details is a joyous one. I hope you will enjoy it thoroughly like I did. Please leave in the comments if you have any additional tips about nature photography in your local area.
Happy shooting! Do the best with what gear you have!