While I am in Maui, I wrote this helpful post on photographing birds. Each year I offer more information to those just starting out. Photographing birds may look easy but not so without a few tips on setting your camera for the greatest success.
Bird photography is addicting too. It is a continual learning process where each new species and weather condition presents its own set of things to consider. I recently learned a few new things while photographing eagles.
The first tip is having the right equipment. If you are just shooting perched birds, most cameras work fine. Photographing eagles I learned just how important having the right equipment is for success.
If going for fast flying birds, equipment matters.
And if you shoot raptors, it matters even more.
You need advanced autofocus for both camera and lenses. Otherwise, the camera will not key in on your subject. Vibration Reduction on the lens can be helpful as well. I did not really use it much before I was shooting eagles handheld. It did make for better focused pictures.
I am working on getting a faster, longer lens, but 300mm and up is a good place to start for many bird subjects. The equipment can often make the difference between getting a shot or not.
Shoot in Aperture or Shutter Priority Modes when first learning to shoot birds in flight. It helps you get the hang of optimal exposure settings. It is also useful for action too. But you will find it does not work for all species of birds equally as well. Speed matters, so make sure the shutter speed is 1/1000 and above depending on the species. Eagles should have 1/2000, but Great Blue Herons can be 1/1000.
Find the sweet spot of your lenses. You will have your sharpest image. I use f8 on my telephoto lens because it keeps birds sharp and usually has sufficient DOF.
Use single point focus to focus on the eye of the bird. If blurry, it throws off the whole image.
Shutter speed should be the equivalent or greater to the focal length of your lens. This is really important and where many make their mistakes. If you have a 400mm like me, make sure the shutter speed is higher than that number. I almost always have it higher for birds in flight, and I even keep it fast when birds are just swimming around, just in case they take off.
Shutter speed can be increased by increasing the ISO. Famous wildlife photographers will increase ISO because they often shoot flying birds early in the morning or late in the afternoon for the prettiest light. Adjusting the exposure compensation down or up works on the fly too. I overexposed the eagles so I could bring up the shadows in their dark plumage. The problem then becomes the white head. It is a balancing act for sure.
When learning, start with plentiful birds like gulls, or with big birds like herons.
I know this is one of opportunity, but shoot with the sun at your back. When shooting eagles the place was sited perfectly with the sun at our backs. Blue skies are a nice background. Birds tend to take off and land into the wind, so having the wind at your back is also preferable.
Take lots and lots of photos, especially when photographing a bird in flight. Set the camera to Continuous to click off multiple frames per second. The more photos you take, the likelihood of keepers increases.
When reviewing your images, delete the ones that you don’t like immediately so you are not revisiting them later.
Don’t be timid, ask for assistance. I learned so much from the helpful pro photographers in Maryland. I changed a few things on my camera settings at their suggestion. But long before shooting eagles, I learned how to photograph birds from a few others, including this famous photographer. I have his books, took his online courses and one day hope to take one of his classes on location. I even spoke to him on the phone. Really nice guy. I wrote this post before he posted his post, but here it is so you can learn from him too. Go see of whom I am speaking.