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FORUMS Photo Sharing & Visual Enjoyment Birds
Thread started 06 Sep 2007 (Thursday) 21:57
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Blonde's guide to bird photography

 
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blonde
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Sep 06, 2007 21:57 |  #1

before i begin i would just like to say that i do not view myself as a good bird photographer but i still decided to write this guide because i received a few PM's from people asking me questions about the subject (don't ask me why...)

Now that we got this out of the way, we can begin with the actual post.

Introduction:

as many of you know by now, i am obsessed with bird photography and i can easily say that 99% of my shooting is birds. this obsession began about a year and a half ago when i took my first shot of a bird (a pigeon of all thing) and ever since that shot, i have spent most of my free time chasing birds and trying to get the best shots that i can of these amazing creatures. as time progressed, i have learned more and more about how to create a good image while at the same time, i learned that photographing birds is probably one of the hardest things a photographer can do and that in order to get better, you have to really push yourself to the limits (both physically and mentally). you see, in contrast to most photography genres, avian photography is affected by almost every variable you can think of. the clothing that you were, your physical location, the angle of the sun, the weather, the wind, the height of the grass etc.. all can have serious affect on what you can and will shoot.

everything about bird photography is dynamic so the only way we can make sure that we do come home with a few good shots is by being ready and be willing to really walk the extra miles. and yes, often times you will have to do some crazy stuff to get the right shot like sitting in the blazing sun for hours, laying on the ice, crawling in the mud and even get into the river only to get a single shot of a bird that you have never seen before.

even though it is hard to get the right shot and we often have to suffer for it, i can honestly say without a doubt that once you do it and get a chance to really see nature at its best, there is nothing better. i often find myself starring in awe at the sight of an amazing bird or just speechless when i see what these creatures do. so in order to save you some time or at least give you some idea on what it is like, i have decided to put together this guide.

Ethics!!!!!!!!:

there is a reason why i decided to open with this section. all too often we get so wrapped up with getting the shot that we forget that when we do any kind of wildlife photography, we are going into the home of the creatures we are there to shoot. another thing that we often forget is that birds are very sensitive and one bad decision can cause serious harm. for example, there is nothing more amazing than to shoot parents feeding their young but in order to get the shot, some people are willing to get very close to the nest which will often result in the parents leaving the nest and leaving the young ones to die.

as much as i love a nice image, i can tell you right now that no shot is worth disturbing the subject. always use common sense and do your very best to be invisible in the field. do your best to enjoy the birds without them knowing that you are there. in times of nesting or mating, stay as far away as you can so they can do what they need to do and even if you don't get the shot, at least you can enjoy the fact that nature remains undisturbed.


Gear:

[SIZE=2]ok, i really hate to talk about gear but i do feel that it is VERY important in this case so i will make an exception. let me start with something that i am sure you all heard before: "reach is king". even though this line seems like a complete BS, it is actually very true in the case of bird photography. the main reason for this is because unlike humans or pets, birds are really skittish and will often disappear the second they see your shadow. another reason is because there is nothing better than seeing a full frame filled with a small bird which you simply can not do with a 24-70 or even 70-200 in most cases (no peter, a duck or a goose is not a good example). however, before you leave this thread cursing me for crashing your dreams of becoming the next Arthur Morris with a 70-200, let me give you hope again. there are many ways to overcome the lack of reach even though again, it is better to have the reach in the first place. by using good tracking skills, blinds and being patient, you can get VERY close to the subject. i recently shot some kingfishers in Israel from a blind and i swear that my 500 was WAY too long, a 70-200 would have been perfect!!!

now that we got the reach issue out of the way, lets talk about the more important items that can help you with your mission. the first thing that i will talk about is blinds. a good blind will allow you to become part of nature which in turn will allow you to get really close to the birds. there are many different kinds of blinds and the one you should choose depends on how far you want to go and what type of shooting you do. i personally use the kwikcamo blind which is just camo fabric you throw over yourself. this blind is VERY portable and flexible so you can use it while standing, sitting and even laying on the ground. another blind that i just started using is the doghouse blind which is just a camo tent that allows 2 people to sit in it and shoot through a window. this blind is fantastic if you plan on setting up and staying in the same place for many hours. another advantage to this blind is the fact that you are very comfortable in it because you can sit down with your tripod at a ready position.

both blind do really work and will allow you to get shots that you wouldn't be able to get if you are just standing there all exposed.

here is a shot i took from the doghouse blind:

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another important piece of gear that i like to use is my bean bag and more recently the skimmer. the bean bag is a great cheap way to get a stable portable platform and will allow you to get sharp shots even when you are shooting from the ground, your car or even just shooting on a fence. the skimmer is a great little tool that allows you to do ground shooting while still allowing you to move freely on the ground. the reason why this is so important will be explained later but for now, here is a shot i took from the ground using the bean bag:

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of course, there is also the matter of lenses, bodies, flashes, tripods, monopods and a thousand other pieces of gear but i will leave that to the gear section of this gear forum ;)

Attire for the field:

[SIZE=4][SIZE=2]this is a topic that is often overlooked but that i feel is of great importance so i wanted to talk about it here for a bit. what you wear can make or break a shooting session so it is very important to understand why you need to dress in a certain way.

i recently finished reading a book called Good Birders Don't Wear White and one of the the big things they talked about is the importance of wearing cloths that do not scare the birds away. for some reason, bright colors and white are not the colors that you want to wear while out shooting birds :) i personally try to wear olive/ camo colored shirts and even pants but i found that any dark color would work for the most part. another BIG thing that i found is that wearing a hat does in fact work. the main thing you want to do is to become part of the scene and wearing the right cloths will allow you to do that.

even more important than the color of your shirt is your comfort and safety. like we said before, bird shooting is very dynamic and you will quickly find yourself shooting in many different terrains and what works for one will not work for the other. for example, what you wear when you are shooting in the trails or woods is probably going to be very uncomfortable when you are shooting on the beach. also, it is important to dress for the weather that you are going to shoot in and be ready for anything that mother nature decides to through at you. i have shot in -20 temps here in Boston and even with gloves, tights and everything else you can think of, i was still very close to freezing so you can see why it is very important to be ready before you get to the field. always be ready for the worst and try to cover all bases. my bag now includes an extra wind jacket, a pair of gloves and a face mask just in case the temps do drop to crazy levels. no shot is worth losing your limbs for....

Know your subject!!!:

one of the most important things that i learned very quickly is that the only way to get the shots you want is by knowing the subject that you want to shoot. of course you can count on pure luck and get a great shot but for the most part, knowing your subject will allow you to increase your chances. for example, by knowing the terrain that herons normally like or the type of marshes a Northern Harrier frequent, you can know where to look for them and where to set up. also, it is important to understand the behavior of the particular bird because it will allow you to know how to predict what they are going to do next. for example, knowing that the Northern Harrier glides with the wind and can fly in reverse will help you predict where it is going to go next. knowing that a tern will usually stop on the spot mid air and start flapping its wings right before it dives into the water will allow you to time your shot and get the image that you want.

even though there is unlimited amount of information that you can read and learn, most of the basics can be found in any birds books/guides and can be easily found on the net.

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Tips for better bird photography:

Like i said before, i don't think that i am a good bird photographer. however, i do try to read a lot about the subject and do my best to get better. along the way, i have picked up some very good tips from some great photographers and i thought that i would share them with you.

1)
GO AS LOW AS YOU CAN GO!!!!!!!
- one mistake that we often see is that people tend to shoot birds from a higher angle which in most cases really kills an image. there is nothing better in my own opinion than shooting a birds from eye level and in order to do that, you will have to go down to their level even though it means getting dirty.

here is an image where i was laying on the ground and managed to shoot from the birds eye level:

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2) don't be afraid to get dirty- in order to get the shot that you want, you will often have to go into places that you normally wouldn't want to go in. however, once you get the shot, i promise you that even with all the mud and crap all over yourself, you will still be VERY happy.

3) got up early and get back home late- besides the fact that the lighting is best in the early morning and late afternoon, birds are also a lot more active in these hours and you will have better chance of getting a nice image instead of the usual perched bird. i know that getting up at 3am on a Sunday sounds horrible but again, i promise you that when you are out there at 5:30am with great light looking at a feeding bird, you will forget all about the lost sleep:

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4) Don't be afraid to give and receive critique!!!!- not too long ago, i had a signature that caused quite a stir right here in these forums. the gist of the signature was that i would much rather get no feedback than a "great shot". the reason i said what i said is because for me, critique has been what made me get better. i know that sometimes we say "nice shot" because we are trying to be nice and give the poster some words of encouragement. this is all fine but we have to look and understand what the phrase "nice shot" can do to the very same person we are trying to help. a person can post a very avarage shot or even horrible shot and when we say "nice shot", the person can take it and think to himself "i did good, i am going to try to get more great shots like this one". instead of helping the person, we hurt them by not teaching them what they can do better and in turn, cause them to get stuck where they are. don't get me wrong, i do think that encouragement is good and should be included when you provide proper feedback. instead of saying "nice shot", we can say something like "that is a very nice picture but what can make it better is if you framed the bird on left of the frame and left some space for the bird to fly into. also, i think that a lower angle can really make this shot shine". now, the next time the poster will go out shooting and comes across the same bird, he will hopefully try to implement what you told him and guess what, the bird is in the right part of the frame and the angle is lower. i know that i posted MANY horrible shots and got tons of "great shot" posts. i will admit that i did not learn anything from the posts and instead, i had a sense that i am doing a great job. then, i joined an Israeli forum and when i posted the exact same shots, the images were ripped into shreds. instead of being offended, i decided to really try and understand the comments and guess what, my photography really started to get better. through the critique that i received from that forum, i learned about the importance of the low angle, the focus on the eye, fill flash, avoiding steel eye, proper exposure of white birds and many other great things that i would never have known unless somebody took the time to really give me honest feedback on my work.

so what i am saying is that if you really want to be nice and helpful or if you really want to learn and get better, always ask and provide the critique. of course, i have seen a few people that really didn't want the critique and that is perfectly fine. what i do now in every thread is ask for the critique and hopefully i will get it. however, don't forget that even when you do provide strong critique, you need to do it in a respectable way and make sure that you are talking about the image and not the photographer.

i think that this is about it for now, i will update it at a later date but for now, this should be enough....



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Gliderparentntn
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Sep 06, 2007 22:03 |  #2

good read and thanks, I know I lack alot of skills thats needed and The only lens have for anything of decent reach is my 100-400 with the 1.4 TC
Now I'm gonna go back and reread this again. :)


James
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canonshooter4life
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Sep 06, 2007 22:06 |  #3

Excellent post and great shots... may I suggest a section on flash??


Brandon

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blonde
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Sep 06, 2007 22:09 |  #4

canonshooter4life wrote in post #3878003external link
Excellent post and great shots... may I suggest a section on flash??

sure, i will add that later but i have to warn you that i am not very good about the flash. i just know how to use it and what works for me and that is about it....




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plsurfer
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Sep 06, 2007 22:14 |  #5

great post....lots of good info!


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sugarzebra
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Sep 06, 2007 22:15 |  #6

Thanks Snir, great read and for me there is always lots more to learn (for example I have never spent too much time worrying about the right clothing.....time for some camo) On an unrelated matter, perhaps you need a more bird friendly avatar :) :) Thanks again for taking the time prepare this guide. It is much appreciated


Scott

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blonde
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Sep 06, 2007 22:16 |  #7

oh man, i like my fox :)




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blonde
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Sep 06, 2007 22:18 |  #8

is that better? ;)




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poloman
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Sep 06, 2007 22:20 |  #9

Blonde,
A very nice article.
Your images are beautiful and inspiring.


"All those who believe in psychokinesis, raise my right hand!" Steven Wright

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stevefossimages
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Sep 06, 2007 22:38 |  #10

Good work, blonde.


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sugarzebra
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Sep 06, 2007 22:48 |  #11

blonde wrote in post #3878114external link
is that better? ;)

I think so.....I guess a zebra isn't too bird friendly either....better change mine too!


Scott

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timbernet
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Sep 06, 2007 22:57 |  #12

A lot of good, insightful information here. I nominate this post for a sticky!




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zman
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Sep 06, 2007 23:43 |  #13

Snir, great post with lots of good info!
I remember the duck shot (#4) very well. ;)




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cannylad
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Sep 07, 2007 02:12 |  #14

Good commonsense information Snir, i so understand your obsession with bird photography.


Brian R
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Booswalia
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Sep 07, 2007 05:17 |  #15

Great information and I'm glad you stated with Ethics. It's something that people often forget. What's this skimmer thingy? I've never heard of such a thing.


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