6 tips for better bird photos

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2020 has been an unusual year for many annual occasions, and this Saturday 9 May, World Migratory Day, is set to join the long list of altered events. This year, bird lovers will likely be celebrating the day of awareness from home, when normally, we would see bird watchers and photographers venturing out into the wilderness to admire unique and beautiful birds in their natural habitats.  

As everyone’s movements remain somewhat restricted, Nikon is encouraging photographers to brush up on their bird photography skills, so they can put them into action when lockdown guidelines begin to ease.

Nikon photographer Rob Ainsley has compiled some helpful tips for capturing incredible shots of native bird life in their natural environment. 

© Rob Ainsley - Satin Bowerbird: Shot on Nikon D5 with 300 f4E PF ED VR – 1/500, f9, ISO 14,400
© Rob Ainsley - Satin Bowerbird: Shot on Nikon D5 with 300 f4E PF ED VR – 1/500, f9, ISO 14,400

Birds are not all the same size

A bird like a Wedge-Tailed Eagle can have a single wingspan of 1.4m and a body height of 1.0m. When they take off to fly, it can be incredibly hard to capture the whole bird in a frame.

By using your camera in landscape, you’ll be able to fit more of the wingspan in your image, but you will need to be ready to change your view and zoom dimensions very quickly as the bird acquires flight.

© Rob Ainsley - Wedge-tailed Eagle: Shot on Nikon D5 with 200-500mm f5.6 – 1/1600, f9, ISO 800 (Shot from a “tinnie”)
© Rob Ainsley - Wedge-tailed Eagle: Shot on Nikon D5 with 200-500mm f5.6 – 1/1600, f9, ISO 800 (Shot from a “tinnie”) 

Nail your lighting

When shooting in the wild, you can’t control your lighting and will be fighting time before sunset. Aim for a f/9-f/16 with a lower shutter speed or higher ISO to achieve a good depth of field in tricky lighting conditions.

© Rob Ainsley - Great Egret: Shot on Nikon D5 with 180-400mm f4E TC1.4 FL ED VR – 1/800, f8, ISO 125
© Rob Ainsley - Great Egret: Shot on Nikon D5 with 180-400mm f4E TC1.4 FL ED VR – 1/800, f8, ISO 125

Camouflage

For the best, most unique shots, you have to commit to becoming one with the natural environment of the species that you are ‘hunting’. This can mean sitting for hours in a camouflage set up, hoping for the best.

It’s taken over seven hours to get some of my favourite shots. When your specific bird does come along, it means they will also be more relaxed, act naturally, come closer to you and likely be able to use a shorter lens.

Do your research

To get the best shot, you have to understand your subject (aka the bird). Identify its location, habitat, food source, seasonal changes in appearance, variety of calls for contact, socialising and danger.

Use your knowledge to tell your story in the image, creating a contextual representation of the bird in its environment. A clean, uncluttered background is preferable in this instance to minimise distraction.

© Rob Ainsley - Gang-gang Cockatoo: Shot on Nikon D5 with 800mm f5.6E VR – 1/400, f8, ISO 320
© Rob Ainsley - Gang-gang Cockatoo: Shot on Nikon D5 with 800mm f5.6E VR – 1/400, f8, ISO 320

Get your creativity flowing

Use your creative skills to create impactful images, ones that are a blend of nature and fine art photography. Colour, form, composition, structure and textures can all be used to produce a powerful photo that tells a story, giving the viewer an insight into the world of the subject.

Remember that the time of day, ambient seasonal conditions, light source and positioning can also alter the mood of your photograph.

© Rob Ainsley - Pacific Black Duck: Shot on D5 with 800mm f5.6E VR – 1/2000, f5.6, ISO 1600
© Rob Ainsley - Pacific Black Duck: Shot on D5 with 800mm f5.6E VR – 1/2000, f5.6, ISO 1600

Be Prepared for The Moment

Birding is a game of chance. Set up your camera, shutter and aperture, and make sure that your ISO settings are ready to capture no matter what the light. If you’re using flash, make sure it’s got fresh batteries and is set to go too.

Take a couple of test shots in the back of the car, so as not to alert any nearby subjects. Action can happen in the first couple moments. Tread carefully and be alert!

© Rob Ainsley - 
Little Kingfisher: Shot on Nikon D500 with 300mm f4 PF VR – 1/1600, f5.6, ISO 2000
© Rob Ainsley - Little Kingfisher: Shot on Nikon D500 with 300mm f4 PF VR – 1/1600, f5.6, ISO 2000

This guest post is courtesy of Nikon and has been shared with permission.  

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