I am not a birdwatcher, unless you count my childhood days of watching Big Bird, Tweety, Woody Woodpecker or Chilly Willy on TV. However, photography makes us look at the world around us in a more detailed way and that is why I consider it a powerful too for mindfulness. You become aware of many things that could have gone unnoticed if you were not purposefully looking for subjects.
I don’t specialize in bird Photography, but it is certainly a growing part of my portfolio. It all started with pelicans at the beach, and after I sold my first one, they started selling consistently, which made me pursue it more. Then came the seagulls, many Florida birds and even tropical species from Brazil – all made their way into my lenses.
I enjoy observing them before trying to get my shots. I feel weird even saying “shooting birds”, or any animal for that matter, so I’ll go with the standard term, photographing. Hypocritical, I know, as I am not a vegetarian, more like a quasi-vegetarian? The stubborn carnivore inside is finally content with a couple of servings of chicken or fish a week. Red meat once or twice a month… That’s the best I can do for now, and my mind’s defense mechanism (defending me from my guilt) dissociates animals as photography subjects from animals in meals. Not the case with macarons, as I mercilessly and shamelessly eat such subjects after shooting them.
Less about eating and back to photography. I use a bit faster shutter speed – 1/500 and above – for “still” birds in general, to make sure focus is sharp. But for birds in flight, go faster. 1/1000 at least. Like with any animal, including the human kind, sharp focus in the eyes are essential. If they are still, very still, you can go to slower speeds, but birds move a lot, even when they seem quiet. They turn their heads quickly and often, always aware of noises. They clean feathers, practice preening and are always looking for prey. Oh, and they sing.
You never know when they will take off. It is important though to allow yourself to observe them first, before worrying about the camera. Study their habits and understand their moves. That is a tip for pretty much any kind of action photography. Because yes, birds are always in action.
Most importantly, respect them and make sure to not disturb their environment. A good telephoto zoom lens like my 70-200 mm is always helpful in getting close without being too close. It’s general consensus that feeding wildlife can be harmful and even alter the ecosystem. I choose to not do it, even fish and birds. I prefer to be merely an observer, not a participant.
I keep my aperture small for decent depth of field, around f/8, and the bigger the bird… While editing, a bit of a touch up on texture and clarity usually makes a nice effect for enhancing their beautiful and unique patterns.
The constant advice is, experiment. Try, as a small weekend project, to photograph some birdies in your backyard, at the park or beach. Observe and practice without pressure. Feel free to make mistakes and do over. Free as a bird should be.