Bird Photography Tips And Tricks – In this article, I break it down for you Drawing on years of experience as a bird photographer, I share my favorite shooting modes, exposure settings, autofocus settings, and more—tried and tested methods that are practical.
By the time you’re done, you’ll know the best bird photography settings, and you’ll be ready to capture your own sharp, well-exposed, jaw-dropping bird images.
Bird Photography Tips And Tricks
A RAW file contains all the data that your camera sensor captures So when you shoot in RAW, you’re using the sensor’s full potential The JPEG format, on the other hand, compresses data to reduce file size In other words, it throws away some data
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If you’re serious about bird photography – about getting the best possible photos – then switch to RAW
. And if you feel intimidated by RAW or you’re not yet ready for RAW image processing, work on RAW + JPEG, which will give you high-quality RAW images and shared JPEGs. Make sense?
In certain lighting conditions, your photos will look unpleasantly blue; In other lighting conditions, your photo will look ridiculously yellow But thanks to your camera
With Auto White Balance, the photographer requires zero input from you Instead, it will automatically adjust as the light changes With newer cameras, the AWB setting does a tremendous job of getting colors right – and if the Auto White Balance setting fails to produce great results, you can completely reset the WB in post-processing (as long as you’re shooting in RAW). That is!).
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Beginning bird photographers often set their cameras to auto mode But here’s the problem: You have no control over the resulting exposure (ie, brightness and tonal detail in your image), nor control over key variables like aperture and shutter speed.
Instead, set your camera to either aperture priority or shutter priority mode – both are simple to use, offer ample control and will give you incredible results.
Personally, I recommend you start with Aperture Priority (Av/A) mode Most processes use this setting, which allows the camera to choose the aperture while choosing the shutter speed. Note that your aperture affects two aspects of each image:
I recommend setting your aperture between f/5.6 and f/8 That way, you let in plenty of light, but you keep the bird sharp from wingtip to wingtip (a key component of a good bird photo!).
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Note that once you’ve set your aperture, your camera will choose a shutter speed with the goal of producing a perfect exposure. This method usually works well The exception is when shooting in low light; Your camera will set a very slow shutter speed, which will result in blurry birds
So in low light situations, I recommend using Shutter Priority (TV/S) mode instead. This allows you to choose the shutter speed (which helps you freeze the action or blur it), while the camera chooses the aperture with the goal of achieving a perfect exposure.
You see, in bird photography, you usually need a fast shutter speed to freeze the action – which requires a high ISO. But high ISO, especially on APS-C cameras, can cause a lot of noise So bird photographers often set a low ISO and raise it as needed
It technically works, but adjusting the ISO takes time, and when you’re busy fiddling with your settings, you’ll often miss out on great shots. That’s why I recommend a simple, three-step option:
Bird Photography Tips And Tricks
. You won’t have to worry about adjusting the ISO in the middle, and while you won’t always avoid noise, your images will be as sharp, well-exposed, and noise-free as possible.
(What’s a good maximum ISO standard? High-ISO capabilities are always improving, but ISO 1600 is a good APS-C setting, while ISO 3200 is a reasonable full-frame maximum.)
Many cameras allow you to select the lowest shutter speed in Auto ISO mode that the camera asks to use.
It gives you the best of both worlds You can set the shutter speed to the lowest value that guarantees sharp photos, and you can rely on Auto ISO to handle any exposure issues. For example, if you set the minimum shutter speed to 1/1000s, the camera will always try to select the lowest-possible ISO value to meet your needs (while maintaining a perfect exposure).
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It’s important to note: If there isn’t enough light in the scene to achieve the required shutter speed at the maximum ISO for your camera, the shutter speed will drop below the specified minimum. So keep an eye on shutter speed, and carefully consider whether you’d rather sacrifice shutter speed, aperture or ISO when the going gets tough.
But by changing the metering mode, you can tell your camera to prioritize certain parts of the scene when metering. For example, spot metering mode uses a small circle in the center of the scene to determine correct exposure, while center-weighted metering mode heavily dominates the center part of the scene.
There is a general belief that spot metering works best for bird photography I disagree; It has many limitations Instead, I recommend using your camera’s evaluative metering mode (also known as…
) when evaluative metering is set, your camera will analyze the entire scene and arrive at the correct exposure value using complex algorithms.
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No, assessment metering is not complete But it’s smarter than other metering modes, and when used with exposure compensation (discussed in the next section), you can consistently achieve outstanding exposures.
Exposure compensation lets you adjust your exposure in either direction: positive, or +, tells your camera to cleverly overexpose the image, while negative, or – tells your camera to deliberately underexpose the image.
Of course, using evaluative metering, you’ll usually get good exposures – but your camera’s metering system depends on the algorithm that renders the scene as a neutral grayscale. And not everything should look gray; Egrets, for example, are white, while crows are black
That’s where exposure compensation comes in If your subject is very dark, you may want to dial in a slightly negative exposure compensation (to avoid your camera trying to “gray out” the subject). And if your subject is very light, you’ll want to dial in a bit more positive exposure compensation (again, to make your camera “gray out” the scene and capture very dark subjects).
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So start using exposure compensation to improve your bird photos You’ll see incredible improvements with occasional exposure tweaks of +/- 1/3 stops!
A histogram is a simple graphical representation of all the tones in a scene, and it will show you whether your file is too dark, too bright, or just right:
Note that the histogram is a better way to evaluate exposure than the LCD monitor – because LCD brightness and ambient light can fool you into believing a photo is under or overexposed, while the histogram always gives you a clear cut exposure reading. .
In general, if the graph is skewed to the right of the histogram (as in the example above), your image is overexposed.
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You want the histogram to have a distribution that doesn’t touch the left side (underexposure) or the right side (overexposure). That way, you’ll capture all the relevant details for a perfect exposure
That said, don’t always expect the histogram to look like a bell curve Imagine an egret flying against a stand of trees Your histogram will likely have two columns on either side of the graph: one column (toward the left) representing the trees and the other column (toward the right) representing the egrets. This is not a perfect curve histogram, but it is a perfect exposure
The circular areas in the photo are actually flashing! (Although note that the circles themselves are for illustration purposes.)
As I discussed in the previous section, it is difficult to determine whether you have overexposed an image by looking at the LCD monitor. Instead, you should rely on the histogram – but you should also check for blinks, just to make sure you haven’t clipped any highlights.
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(Sometimes, it is difficult to determine if there are any extreme areas using only the histogram.
One of the biggest problems bird photographers face is switching between AF-S (One-Shot AF) and AF-C (AI-Servo) modes.
AF-S mode locks focus as soon as the shutter button is pressed halfway, and is ideal for owls – but AF-C mode reacquires focus continuously, which is ideal for all other situations.
Autofocus functions from the shutter button, so when you press the shutter button, your camera fires a shot and when you press the AF-ON button, your camera autofocuses.
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That way, you can always shoot in AF-C mode If your subject is still, press the AF-ON button to achieve focus, then release Focus will be locked, and you can close the shutter button to your heart’s content
For a perching subject, press to focus, then release The back-button focus technique will keep the bird sharp
And if your subject is moving, you can hold the AF-ON button while shooting