Learn about bird behavior, the right equipment, photographing birds without a tripod, how to identify birds and more in this episode of the Understand Photography Show. Professional photographer Peter Brannon gives us ideas on apps, bird migration and nesting seasons, how to tell when a bird is about to fly or do something interesting and how to photograph them.
*Please scroll to the bottom of the post for more images from our guest.*
Preparation Tips for Bird Photography in the Field with Peter Brannon
Learning Bird Behavior and Habitats
- Even birds of the same species can have different behaviors in different locations.
- Birds can be found farther from their usual habitats during an “eruption year”.
-A large boom in population causes birds to migrate further in search of territory.
- Watch and learn to identify repeated behaviors and patterns.
– Finding a pattern of behavior (feeding and courtship displays, for example) makes it easier to anticipate and capture a shot of the action.
– Perching birds can be much more challenging. They don’t stay still very long and some don’t like to stay in the sunlight.
- Spring is the best season for bird photography.
– Birds are in breeding plumage and usually exhibit a change in color of their beaks and eyes as well as acquiring special feathers that are not seen the rest of the year.
– Courtship, nesting, and parenting behaviors create wonderful visual stories.
– Chicks are always wonderful subjects.
– Migration season – birds are travelling north from South America. You will see birds that are not normally found in the area.
– Migrant traps – areas where the migrating birds stop along the way. Sometimes birds are forced to land due to weather events. You could see hundreds of the same species in an area for one day up to a week.
- Winter settings create a clean composition with snow covered landscapes.
– Winter also provides a longer time frame for good light.
- Connect with your local Audubon chapter. Attend talks about life cycles and behaviors to learn about your subjects. Meet other birders and bird photographers.
- Use apps and guidebooks – Peter recommends Sibley’s.
“Just sitting down and letting the whole environment get comfortable with your presence and then just watching the behaviors unfold around you is the best way to learn.”
Tips for Great Compositions
- Rookeries are places where large numbers of different species of birds nest together.
– Can be difficult to get a bird isolated.
- Zoos can give the opportunity to get closer to your subjects.
- Look for a clean environment. You don’t want elements in the frame that take away from the image.
- Tell a story with behaviors.
- Use changes in depth of field to create stunning portraits.
- Use a single point focus – constantly move it to keep the eye in focus.
- Track diving birds with continuous autofocus.
- Lens size depends on the size of the bird and how close you can get to it.
- I usually use a 300mm lens with a crop-sensor camera. It gives more reach.
- Peter uses a Nikon D500 and D850. He uses a battery grip – it gives 2 extra frames per second with the extra power. It is also easier to get steadier shots with a heavier camera.
- A third party Battery Grip is cheaper – and lighter!
- Peter also uses a 500mm f/4 (8.5 pounds!)
- A zoom lens will not be as fast or as bright, but they are getting better.
- Tack-sharp, a beanbag accessory that you put on top of your tripod that gives the flexibility of lifting your camera when needed. Created by Will Randall.
– “Having the freedom to quickly take the camera from a standing height to ground height is essential and is the reason I don’t like to use a tripod.”
Some of Peter’s Favorite Birds to Photograph
King Eider and Golden Eye Ducks
Great Blue Herons
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