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Old 7th of September 2004 (Tue)   #1
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Default -POTN Birding FAQ- Guides, Technique, Research, Equipment, etc.

We've got some great info on Birding scattered through some various sticky threads.
I'm trying to consolidate them here.
If I have missed any, send a PM and I'll add them here.

FYI, the nature of the forum means that these posts will always be sorted chronologically. So if the order seems a little odd at times, this is why.

Scottes, Finding your Subject:

Scottes, Finding Shorebirds:

CDS, Get to know your subjects;

Scottes, Dress and behave correctly for stalking:

Scottes, Study up with some research and recommended reading:
Timing, location, Tides, and weather, all play a part in your successful excursion.

Booswalia, Respect for the Birds we Photograph:

Blondes Guide to Bird Photography:
Ethics, Equipment, Subject, and Technique in one comprehensive guide!

Jim Neiger, Birds in Flight focusing techniques:
A top birder explains how to keep those fast flying birds in focus and more!

Jim Neiger, On Metering for Bird Photography:

John Stewart-Clarke's Comprehensive guide to photographing birds in flight;

Last edited by CyberDyneSystems : 17th of August 2011 (Wed) at 13:36.
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Old 12th of September 2004 (Sun)   #2
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Default Birding FAQ Draft

As for spotting birds, I do 2 things: Listen, and relax my eyes. Listening will help you hear the leaves rustling, the birds calling, the wings flapping. It's amazing what you'll hear once you start listening. And if you spend the whole time looking for birds you probably won't see many. Instead, relax your eyes, don't look for things, let the things find you. You'll start to notice movement in the corners of your eyes, and then you have a spot to look in.

Whenever you hear a bird/animal, or see movememnt from the corner of your eye, then stop moving. The bird will eventually move or call again, allowing you to pinpoint it better. NOW you can start scouring the trees looking for it.

But don't stare, just relax again. Concentrating on looking at something focuses the brain to use only the high-resolution centers of our eyes. By relaxing, the brain can will allow the whole eye - the peripheral vision - to work correctly. Movement from the sides will become more apparent, the eye will see more shapes rather than a specific object.

Eventually the shape that doesn't belong will appear. Rather than looking for a bird, pay attention to the thing that is out of place. A line that strangely angles opposite the way the branches angle will be back of a bird. A horizontal line in a field of tall vertical grass will become a deer's back. That sort of thing.

And movement gives them away every time.
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Old 12th of September 2004 (Sun)   #3
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Default Shorebirds

In my brief time chasing shorebirds it seems that the best time is right after high tide. The water receeds, and suddenly things that were once in shallow water are suddenly on dry land, making easy pickings for waders.

High tide is a time for roosting, and the birds may fly or float out to sea. Low tide also makes for good pickings, but exposes so much shore that the birds can be spread out significantly.

Check your tide charts before going out, and time things to arrive right after high tide. If you get lucky and pinpoint a high tide right before (or close to) sunrise that is a perfect time to head out! The birds have been sleeping all night, and want breakfast. A high tide an hour or two before sunset is also perfect, as they'll be wanting to eat before going to sleep for the night.

At either sunrise or sunset the low sun helps light up the small birds at a nice angle. Kneel down to get at their level - shooting eye-to-eye with any animal looks better. But also the low sun allows for great contrast of the feather lines, and lights up the belly as well as the head.
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Old 16th of September 2004 (Thu)   #4
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Here's two tips.

One sort of reiterates part of Robert's post...

1. Get familiar with your "quarry" I have found that many of the birds I photograph are often as regular as clockwork in there habits. They have favorite roosts, favorite hunting grounds etc. I have found this to be particular true of predators, Herons, Hawks etc.

If you witness a Hawk spending an afternoon in a particular tree waiting for prey, or a heron in a specific tidal pool,.. chances are very good the they will return to that spot,.. maybe not tomorrow.. but eventually.

2. Here's a slightly more esoteric tip for chasers of Accipiters.

Listen to the Crows!

Not many people want to spend a lot of time trying to get a good shot of a crow,. however.. that does not mean one should ignore them. Listen for them.. as a murder of Crows raising a racket is very often the result of the presence of a bird of prey. Crows love to harass Hawks. So next time you hear a conflagration of crows.. get your long lens out see what has caused it. (this trick also works with Mockingbirds who are also very territorial and will "scold" any birds of prey in there vicinity.)
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Old 16th of September 2004 (Thu)   #5
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Default Sneaking up on birds

Several things will give you away when sneaking up on a bird: Movement, noise, and the outline of the human shape, which most birds will consider as a predator. (And rightly so.)

Movement: CDS said it best: "Move slow. Like 15 minutes to cross the kitchen floor slow."

Noise: See movement. Also, walk differently. Humans have a normal way of walking where the heel hits and then the ball of the foot slaps down. Sloppy and noisy.

Move slow, and roll your feet into position. Lift your foot slightly, move it forward, then touch down with all your weight on the back foot. Touch with the outside of your foot near the ball. Slowly. If you feel something under your foot - a twig maybe - lift it again and place it somewhere else. When the outside edge of the ball is down, lower the heel. Only the outside of your foot should be touching the ground. Now roll your foot to the inside - the last thing to touch should be inside near the ball, then the big toe. Pivot your weight to this foot and continue.

Outline: Don't let animals see it. Don't pop up from behind something so your outline is clear against the sky. Sneak low, using trees and shrubs and anything available for cover. Hunch down or even squat, and move like that. When you're half the height you're twice as hard to see. Don't be afraid to crawl - that's why washing machines were invented.

Put the sun directly at your back so an animal looking at you is blinded. Put a tree/bush between you and the animal and approach the tree directly so the animal can't see you. When you reach the tree, crouch and come out from behind as low as possible. Be ready to take a picture at this moment, because this is most likely when it will bolt.
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Old 17th of September 2004 (Fri)   #6
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Default Sunrise, Sunset, Tides, Weather, Maps....

Sunrise, Sunset, Tides, Weather, Maps....

So you're going to visit a new place for the first time....

Be prepared.

OK, so being prepared isn't always necessary, but it can certainly be helpful. A lot of information can be found about noted public places like come National Wildlife Refuges and popular birding spots and such. Birding sites are an excellent resource for information. The Internet in general is quite useful for researching locations. Learning how to Google is priceless in today's world.

But there can be problems with some research. Birders have scopes many times more powerful than our 400mm or even 600mm lenses. Being 100 yards from a bird is nothing to them - we need more like 10 yards. NWRs can encompass several square miles and the available info isn't exact enough to get us 10 or 20 yards from an animal.

If you go to a new place for the first time and you come up empty-handed will you be very willing to go back? I doubt it. My current hot-spot, Parker River NWR, was a place I hated for some time, and I wouldn't go back. Some more preparation, insight, and research showed me when and where to go. Now I love the place, and it's been producing excellent shots on a regular basis.

Sunrise and sunset are very important to all wildlife - they become active and feed just in the pre-dawn hours, and you want to know when to be there for the light. Weather is of course important, particularly coud cover, but also wind direction. Tides are crucial to shorebirds and such.

Sunrise & Sunset
For sunrise, sunset, and weather is my favorite. They list specifics for almost anywhere, and also list civil and nautical sunrise and sunset. Their daily weather can also be shown in detail the day before, showing predicted weather for every 3-hour block. OK, it's a guess, but it can help.

This site is my first check every day that I go out. I often check days in advance to get a weekend plan. I *always* check the night before - why get up at 4:00 AM if cloud cover is expected to be 100% at dawn??

As stated above, But don't forget and It can pay to check all three - who the heck knows what the weather's really going to be until you get there?? (Well, I live in New England, where the motto is: "Don't like the weather? Wait 5 minutes.")

Don't forget to check for wind direction. Animals can't smell you if you're downwind, and birds like to take off into the wind, north-west winds are days for migrating birds (in New England at least). It could be just another point in your favor.

For tides (as well as sunrise and sunset) is my favorite, though many tide charts exist. I've found that the best way to find tide charts is just to google for "high tide low tide <city_name>"

Sun position throughout the day
Want to know when and WHERE the sun will rise or set, or where it will be throughout the day? Get a little Windows program called Ephemeris - This little program will tell you exactly where the sun will rise, not just when. It can be a little complicated since you'll need longitude and latitude and magnetic declination for your specific location, but the help file is excellent and will walk you through this. But with this info you'll know the exact angle (from true north) of the sun's position - perfect for planning a good sunrise shot, or checking to make sure that the sun will be at your back for a particular location.

Maps are priceless for planning and scouting for new location, and they're pretty darned handy for getting sompleace, and for not getting lost. For planning on the PC I have a couple - Microsoft's Streets &amp; Trips and DeLorme's Topo! USA. MS Streets &amp; Trips is good (but I wouldn't mind getting a better one) and any program like this is excellent for printing route maps and even just scouting for new areas.

The DeLorme Topo program shows satellite pictures of the US, with information and street names and such printed on it. Since the satellite picture shows reality this can be excellent for finding a marshy area or the width of a river. It also has those altitude lines, and will build an altitude profile for a route you just draw on the map. It sucks to get to pack 30 pounds of photo gear, walk out and find a 400-foot-tall hill that Streets &amp; Trips didn't show. (At least for me - you thin healthy young'uns might not mind!)

For the car I highly recommend a DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer for your state. It's priceless. Highly detailed maps taken from satellite photos, lists numerous points of interest, trails for state and national parks, etc, etc. You should not be without one of these. Period. Go out now and buy one.

Books: How do you think I learned all this stuff in 7 months? Books.

I own 11 books on photographing wildlife. I own 7 more on hunting, even though I have never hunted and most likely never will. I own 3 books on tracking. I've read about 10 more from the library.

Also, visit your local national and state wildlife office. I spent an extremely informative hour chatting with a guy at the local Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. They know the wildlife, they know the area. I talk with any wildlife officer around, and have gotten many tips. A chat will make your life easier, and could easily make your next shot.


The Art of Bird Photography - Arthur Morris
If you're into birds, just get it. Simply outstanding.

Photographing Animals in the Wild - Andy Rouse
Very good though light in information. Easy and enjoyable to read. Has a lot specific to UK animals, but almost everything is pertinent to any animal. A very good first book.

Wildlife Photography Workshops - Steve & Ann Toon
The tips and stuff to watch for makes this very nice. Light on fieldcraft, heavier on photographic techniques. A pleasure to read, and beautiful photographs. Good, but not a first book.

Tracking and the Art of Seeing - Paul Rezendes
All about tracking and finding animals, from trails to habitats to dens and even scat. Highly recommended, even though it has nothing (?) to do with photography. It has everything to do with animals. (His book "The Wild Within" is kind of an autobiography and a very enjoyable read. Also recommended though it has nothing to do with photography.)

Moose Peterson's Guide to Wildlife Photography - Moose Peterson
Even though he's a Nikon user this is an excellent book. Covers a multitude of things like fieldcraft, technique, equipment, etc. He's a character so it's fun to read. An excellent, broad first book, and definitely recommended.

The Master Guide to Wildlife Photographers - Bill Silliker
Though light and quick to read, this book packs a lot of punch. Though it touches on a broad range of subjects this book really gives you a whole new way to think about wildlife photography. Make this book your 3rd or 4th wildlife book and I'm pretty sure you'll say "Wow" like I did.

Capturing Drama in Nature Photography - Jim Zuckerman
This was a very interesting book. It kind of teaches you to slow down and watch and wait. It's a mind set on how to get a better photograph, and does it well. Highly recommended when you get tired of taking "portrait" shots of an animal just sitting there.

Photographing Wild Birds - Chris Gommersall
Very good, and one of the few books I've found that is dedicated to bird photography. Good coverage of many subjects - getting close, other fieldcraft, hides, etc. It's very interesting because it's interspersed with photos from different photographers along with some text by them explaining the shot. Also has a number of case studies going into great detail of getting a shot. For birders, get this after Morris's book, but get it.

Your local library should not be forgotten. Books on tracking & hunting are extremely useful. And it's free. Try it.

Final Word...
OK, all of the above can be a lot to do and think about. But anything done is a point in your favor, and you'll be another step closer to getting the shot.
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Old 17th of September 2004 (Fri)   #7

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Also, move up only when they're looking away - slowly, and keeping your eyes on them so you're ready to freeze when they start to look 'round.

Look and listen are important but you also need to know what you're seeing/hearing or what to be looking for - I'm always telling my wife to "look at that Cardinal/sparrow/heron/whatever" which she can't see because she's just not tuned into birds, even after I've localized it to a specific bush/tree. We were up in the Hoh Rain Forest last week, and I saw a woman ahead of me on the trail looking at something intently. Stopped, and there on a stump between us was a Douglas Squirrel. The three ladies behind me (wife included) still took quite a while to spot him and would have gone blundering by if I hadn't called their attention to him.
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Old 16th of February 2007 (Fri)   #8
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Default -POTN Birding FAQ- Guides, Technique, Research, Equipment, etc.

The Birds We Love

As photographers with a special interest in birds and wildlife we need to pay special attention to how our behavior may effect our favorite subjects. The opportunity to get that great shot can sometimes have devastating effects on our feathered friends without our even knowing it. I’ve learned a lot about birds in the past year and even more in just that last few weeks after volunteering to become an Eagle Guardian. A project where volunteers observe eagle behavior from a respectable distance and report back to an authority to keep records in our province.

My eyes were opened when I discovered that some of my own behaviors may have had some detrimental effects on birds. Even my own thinking, such as, “oh it’s just an ol’ tern or an ol' gull” . It may be just an ol’ tern or gull to me, but the tern population is declining here and I had no idea. My ignorance is no excuse.

So, with this in mind I thought it might be helpful for the POTN birding group to perhaps read the following and see if they can find ways to improve their interaction with wildlife. I would never want to discourage people from photographing birds but I would like people to examine their own experiences to see if there's room for improvement.

Colonial Nesting Birds
Birds that nest in colonies such as gulls, terns, herons and cormorants are concentrated in small areas for just a few weeks of the year when they nest and at this time are threatened by human disturbance as well as extreme weather, pollutants, toxic chemicals, and predators.

Did you know... you are disturbing a nesting colony if:
• the birds take flight. This exposes the eggs or young to extreme temperatures and predators reducing nest success
• the birds dive at you. This takes time and energy away from more important activities such as feeding and preening. Not to mention that is stresses the adults.

If you encounter these behaviors, leave the area.

Human Disturbance of Bald Eagles

Drawn by curiosity and driven by good intentions, people want to see a bald eagle nest, up close. Pedestrian traffic to the base of a nesting tree or within 100 m (300 feet) of the nest can cause nest abandonment. Repeated and frequent stresses to nesting birds of almost any kind, cause them to leave eggs and small chicks exposed to the elements and to predators and froces adults to use limited energy supplies in their own bodies to flush from the nest, circle the area and call and try to defend the nest. These energies are better used to hunt for food, feed young, incubate eggs or brood young. When adults flush from the nest they attract potential predators and mobbing by crows and ravens. Even black birds are often seen chasing eagles.

Human disturbances to eagle nests can be reduced but are difficult to eliminate. However, through public awareness it is possible to improve conditions for bald eagles and work to reduce nest abandonment, and chick and adult mortality rates.

Disturbances such as wood cutting, building construction, loud and repeated noises, vehicles use and burning should be reported to a conservation officer so they can take action to minimiz or at least delay such activities until a less threatening time.

A Year in the Life of a Bald Eagle

Jan. An established pair will return to the nesting site, go through courtship, add material to the nest and create a strong pair bond. Disturbances can send them out of the area and force them to re-build else-where.

Feb. Males gather branches and bring them to the female to ensure the nest is built just right. Soft bedding is added.

March Eggs are laid, usually 2 eggs 2 to 5 days apart. Incubation is shared between male and female, with the female doing most of the incubation. They take turns finding food and incubating for the 35 to 38 days until the chicks are hatched. If disturbance occurs now they may expose the eggs to very cold temperatures and cause mortality of the embryo.

April Chicks hatch. The adults have the strongest ties to the eggs just before hatching and just after they emerge. For the first few days the female continues to brood the young as they are very small, have no feathers, and are weak. This is when it is extremely important not to disturb them. Leaving the nest exposes the chicks to cold and often wet weather at this time of year.

May The adults brood the young on cool and cold days and nights for most of this month. If the weather is warm one adult may be seen on a branch overlooking the nest, but not in the nest. Only one parent is bringing food to the nest, while the other stands watch, broods and/or feeds the chicks.

June Chicks continue to rely on the parents to bring food but have grown very large. By the end of June they may weight as much as their parents and can feed themselves. Their flight and body feathers continue to grow until they fly. They may be seen flapping their wings to build strength for flight.

July Young eagles will take their first flight. They may soar to a nearby tree or to the ground. They do not hunt at this time but beg from the parents, following them as they fly in the area. If they cannot fly and left the nest early they are vulnerable to ground predation. This is the start of a year long period when the most mortalities take place - simply due to inexperience.

Aug to Oct. The young will leave the nest area and learn to hunt with their parents.

Nov to Jan. The family group may leave the area and head for slightly warmer climate or better hunting ground. The juveniles and adults separate during the winter months when the adults begin to return (if they left) to the nest again.

Spring is coming and the excitement of capturing that wonderful nesting behavior is tempting, but lets not go overboard and repeatedly disturb the creatures we love.

Your thoughts are welcome....

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Old 6th of September 2007 (Thu)   #9
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Default Blonde's Guide to Bird Photography

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.


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.


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.


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:

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:

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:

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.

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:

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:

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....

More from this thread;

Last edited by CyberDyneSystems : 11th of June 2008 (Wed) at 19:18.
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Old 2nd of June 2008 (Mon)   #10
Jim Neiger
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Kissimmee, Florida
Posts: 598
Default Birds in Flight focusing techniques:

I specialize in photographing birds in flight and I make a living teaching others how to do the same. One of the techniques I use I call bumping the focus. This technique is often mis-understood and I get alot of questions about it. I just finished a lengthy answer to a question in another thread, so I thought it would be usefull to post my answer here as well where it would be easier for folks to find in the future. Here it is:

There are three different uses for the bump focus technique. I will try to explain each of them below. By bumping I simply mean letting off the focus and then refocusing quickly.

1. The first reason to bump the focus is to prefocus. The first task when photographing a BIF is to aquire it in the viewfinder and focus on it. It is beneficial to be able to do this as quickly as possible. When using long focal lengths, the bird may be so out of focus that you can't see it in the viewfinder even if it's there. Then when you do get it in the viewfinder it may take much longer to focus on it if the foicus is set to a drastically different distance. To overcome these issues, I will prefocus at the approximate distance that I anticipate for my subject. Then when the subject arrives, I can find it and focus on it quickly. I prefocus the camera by pointing the camera at something at the desired distance and then I focus on it. Now I'm ready for a BIF at a similar distance. If I need to switch the distance I will simply point the camera at something at the new distance and bump the focus. This will prefocus the camera at the new distance. Photogs that use a tripod will often prefocus manualy. Since manual focus is difficult hand held with big glass, I use the bump to prefocus.

2. When I am tracking a BIF against a varied bg and I miss and focus on the bg I will bump the focus to quickly return focus to the bird. Bumping the focus overrides the delay set by the tracking sensitivity custom function. Iset this tracking sensitivity to slow to get thelongest delay possible. This heelps when you are focused on the bird and want to avoid focusing on the bg, but it hurts when focussed onm the bg and you wantg to return focus to the bird. Bumping the focus overrides the delay.

3. This is the most important use of the bump technique. Most photogs will aquire focus on a bif and then try to continously maintain foucs while they are tracking and watching the bif in the viewfinder. They tend to focus continuosly waiting for the moment they wish to make a photograph. Often while watching, tracking, and waiting for the moment, the photographer will miss and focus on the bg. This is extremely easy to do when the bif is flying against a varied bg. This is the reason it is so much more difficult to photograph BIF against a varied bg as opposed to smooth sky bg. When the focus grabs the bg, then the photographer needs to re-aquire focus on the bif. This may take too much time causing the photog to miss the critical moment. I try to avoid this by only focusing on the BIF when I'm sure I'm on target and during the critical moments when I'm acualy making images. So, what I will typicaly do is aquire the bif initial and focus on it. Then I will let off the focus and just watch it in the viewfinder while tracking it visualy only. As the distance changes, the BIF will start to go out of focus. When that happens I bring it back in focus by quickly making sure the AF point is on the biurd and then I bump the focus to get it in focus again. I do this repeatedly as I'm visualy tracking the bird. When the BIF gets to the spot I want to start making pictures, I wil focus and shoot all at once. I shoot in short controlled bursts trying to time the critical moments with the best wing positions, etc. Because I have bumped the focus along, the focus is very close to where it needs to be when the moment to make pictures arrives. Then when I focus and trip the shutter it happens very quickly. If I tried to focus constantly while the bif approached I would likely miss, focus on the bg, and miss the critical moment. My goal is to keep the bird close to in focus and in the viewfinder without focusing on the bg and to do this up until the critical moment arrives. Then I try to maintain the focus while making great pictures. Bumping takes lots of practice, but if you develop this skill, it will make your keeper rate go way up.
Jim Neiger - Kissimmee, Florida

Get the Book: Flight Plan - How to Photograph Birds in Flight
Please visit my website:

Last edited by CyberDyneSystems : 11th of June 2008 (Wed) at 19:19.
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Old 2nd of June 2008 (Mon)   #11
Jim Neiger
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Kissimmee, Florida
Posts: 598
Default Re: Bumping the focus for BIF

Originally Posted by TooManyShots View Post
Thanks. I do have couple of questions on the metering mode during BIF shots. I tried couple today. My 1d markii and 400L F5.6 seem to able to match the focus of the bird fine. However, my exposure is way off. Bird was underexposed. My bg is the sky. I was using spot metering at the time. The sun was overhead.
I think that the very first step in BIF photography is to shoot in manual mode. It is almost a requirement for shooting bif against changing backgrounds. I have been asked about using manual mode before so here is a snip from another thread where I answered a similar question.
There's much more to shooting in manual mode than just turning the dial to M and playing with the settings. I think it is actualy easier to learn to make consistantly good exposures in M mode than it is in any of the auto modes, if you learn M mode initialy. If you learn in Av mode, than you sort of have to unlearn Av mode before you train your brain completely in M mode.

To make consistantly good exposures in manual mode I do the following:

1. Choose a constant in the environment that is generally available to use as a base measure for metering. For me, in FL, this is usualy a deep green vegetation. The important thing is that it's usualy available.

2. I fill the frame with the constant while looking thru the viewfinder. The constant needs to be in the same light that I anticipate the subject being in. (I'm using full frame evaluative metering - EV)

3. I compare the subject to the constant to come up with an exposure compensation amount.

4. I dial in the exposure compensation amount I want by manipulating one or more of the three knobs that control exposure. This is done while filling the viewfinder with the constant in the same light as the subject will be in.

Now, if I have chosen the correct compensation amount, I should have the exposure that is correct until one of two things happens. 1. The light changes, or 2. The subject changes. When one of those two things happens, then I repeat 1-4 above. Use the histogram and flashing highlight alert to help you evaluate your exposures and adjust your compensation values.

Learning to select the appropriate compensation amounts is a matter of experience. Developing this experience in manual mode is much easier because you are constantly forced to evaluate how you have done and you have eliminated many of the variables that are involved with exposure compensation in other modes. Eliminating factors simplifies the process which is why it's easier to learn in manual mode. Manual mode also forces you to be more aware of the light and it's effect on your images. This will improve your photography in many ways.
Jim Neiger - Kissimmee, Florida

Get the Book: Flight Plan - How to Photograph Birds in Flight
Please visit my website:
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Old 14th of July 2011 (Thu)   #12
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Join Date: May 2008
Location: Norfolk, UK
Posts: 82
Default -POTN Birding FAQ- Guides, Technique, Research, Equipment, etc.

I have published a tutorial on photographing birds in flight which I hope will be of use to any bird photographers who are struggling with this technically very difficult genre. Currently, it covers camera settings (mainly for the 1D Mark IV), manual exposure, equipment and hand-holding technique, all in some depth.

I'd like to expand it over time, so if you have any wisdom you'd care to share, add it here and I will work it in to a future update.

All feedback is welcome!
John Stuart-Clarke

Check out my wildlife and nature photography website and blog
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