How To Photograph Birds

Spring has sprung and we’re back in Ohio where the skies are alive with bird song and flashing feathers. Wow. It’s the perfect time to make some bird images, but darn, bird photography is not my strong suit. No worries. I know a great nature photographer here named Tammy Hart, and her bird photos are fantastic!

Let’s take a look.

Tammy shoots with a Canon T3. For her bird photographs, she lugs out the big boy, a 600mm lens and stabilizes the whole thing with a tripod to cut out vibration and camera shake. Take my word for it, Tammy knows what she is doing. There is no way to hold a camera with a 600mm lens without movement unless you use a tripod.

If you’ve read some of my blog posts, or my book, you know that I’m not generally in favor of using tripods for animal photography because it’s too hard to capture the action and move the “rig” at the same time. However, I’m not surprised that Tammy is the exception to this rule. She is an extraordinary photographer with a perfect eye for composition. In these images, she knew where to set up for the shots and then she waited for the birds to come to her. As always with this kind of photography, patience is key.

For the exposure, Tammy set her dial on the Sports Mode. Makes sense. We know that with the Sports Mode, the camera’s computer is going to choose as fast a shutter speed as the light will allow to stop the action. Since shutter speed and aperture (which controls the depth of field) are inversely related, this means that as the aperture is decreased (smaller numbers) the shutter speed is increased (bigger numbers). Perfect. We don’t want a lot of depth, and the more you reduce the depth of field, the more the background is blurred. The more the background is blurred, the more the emphasis is on the subject.

Look at how sharp this Bay Breasted Warbler is, and how shallow the depth of field is. Everything directs our eye right to the bird.

Here’s another one, but this one has a problem. The bird isn’t sharp.  We know that Tammy was using the Sports Mode to stop the action with a fast shutter speed, but in this case, the shutter speed wasn’t quite fast enough to stop all the movement. A “soft” subject can also be caused by a focusing error …the autofocus will pick out a point slightly behind the subject (see how sharp the branch just behind the bird is?), but we can see that the focus is good because the branch the bird is on is sharp. I love this image even if it is a bit soft. The bird has such personality and Tammy captured that with her perfect sense of time and place. Plus the colors are wonderful.

Let’s see..what else. How about this one?

Is this a fantastic image or what!

Let’s look at another image Tammy made during the same shoot.

Here it is. An excellent image, but without the fun of the one above. Again, this kind of excellence takes time and patience. No grab shots here.

Tammy uses Photoshop to edit her images. She sent along the two below to show how she “fixed” the red eye in the owl’s eyes. This is a Red Morph Screech Owl with a dead crow.

Well I hope you have enjoyed these images as much as I have. Terrific job Tammy!

I won’t pretend for a minute that I could duplicate anything here, but perhaps you can?

Good shooting.


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