Composition plays a huge part in artistic bird photography but it’s really
tough to think about when you are trying to capture a bird in flight.
Judy Malloch and Peggy Farren discuss different techniques and composition
guidelines to help us improve our bird photography images.
Tips for Better Bird Photography
with Judy Malloch
Judy’s Top Tips
- Make room for the bird to leave the frame.
- Don’t clip anything from the bird -wingtips, tail, etc. – but you CAN crop for a close-up of the head.
- Use proper depth of field to keep the whole bird in focus, but most especially the eye. (Artistically Subjective)
- Have a plan in mind when setting up.
- Get as close to eye level as possible.
- Move back for a better angle when shooting upwards with a long lens.
- Use teleconverters to get the most length from your lenses.
- Don’t do anything to stress the birds, especially if they are nesting with babies. Watch their body language and be respectful.
- Keep your subject as clear as possible. Don’t allow background/horizon objects to cut through the head or beak of the bird.
- You are in control of where you’re standing. Move to get the best background elements.
- The golden hour is always the best light, no matter what environment you’re in.
- Try to get even lighting on your subject – avoid the mottled light under a tree canopy. Bright and dark spots can take your eye away from the subject.
- Keep your horizon level.
“Birds tell us a lot. There’s so much to learn in wildlife, the love
and interactions are incredible.”
- Nikon 300 f/2.8 – fast, sharp, able to handhold
- Nikon D850 Full Frame 45 Megapixel – “The best camera I’ve ever had.”
- Gimbal Head – you need something that will move.
- Recommended lenses:
– Canon 100-400: a great overall wildlife lens
– Nikon 200-500: a good telephoto
– Sigma 150-600: a light long lens, able to handhold
* a 500-600 is recommended for hummingbirds*
Birds in Flight
- PRACTICE. Practice with the slowest birds you can find.
- Stay at a distance so you can follow them and keep them in focus. If you’re standing right in front of the bird as it takes off, all you get are butt-shots.
- Learn to anticipate take-offs. Watch the birds’ body language and learn their behaviors.
- Think about the shot you want to get and be prepared for it.
- Learn to shoot in manual.
- Set a fast shutter speed – especially if shooting for action.
- Then set f-stop or ISO.
- When shooting birds in flight – if the bird moves into a lighter or darker area, roll the dial to change the f-stop. (ISO takes too long to change.)
- Keep your focus point on the eye.
- Use automatic, center square focus and continuous focus mode (AFC on Nikon).
Now or Later?
- Do the best you can in-camera with lighting, exposure, and composition.
- If entering the image in a contest, all they will allow are cropping and adjustments in levels, curves, and sharpening.
What you need to learn for a solid photography education. Watch our free video:
New Book! Peggy Farren and Joe Fitzpatrick have published a book highlighting Florida’s Best Photo Spots!
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