A white ibis runs for the shoreline in a crashing wave. He appears to have received the business end of a large wave and in his panic forgot he can fly. No doubt from a birds point of view the act of trying to find lunch in the crashing surf is a frustrating experience. I’m positive it’s almost as frustrating as actually getting that perfect bird picture.
If your one of those people who wish to hone their skill of photographing live birds, then this list may just help you.
1. Equipment Matters-
Equipment is at least 50% of your chance in getting a great action shot with birds. The Iphone will fail you as bad as most of the point and clicks on the market. Why? The lens. A wide-angle lens is great for portraits, landscapes, and the weekend BBQ. But birds are small, and small means that you need some form of telescoping lens to get the bird nice and close. Unless your subject is a large Canadian goose looking for a handout, you’re going to scare your quarry before you get the shot. Your best bet is a DSLR and a nice telescoping lens that will close the distance between your subject and you.
2. Fast Shutter Speed-
One of the advantages of a DSLR is the ability to adjust the shutter speed of your camera. This changes the length of time your camera has its shutter open, thus allowing light into the camera. The quicker the speed, the better chance of capturing non-blurry action shots. Birds tend to be very quick. As a person who’s experienced being chased by a full size turkey, I can personally attest to how quick they are. Notice in the ibis picture that the water from the surf seems to freeze mid-air. That’s what a quick shutter speed will give you. How fast? The real answer is “as fast as your light conditions allow you to without underexposing the picture.”
3. Aim for the Eye-
Remember that telescoping lens? You don’t just pick up your camera, aim it at the poor creature and start shooting. Well you CAN, but your just wasting your time. No, a good picture takes a good deal of forethought. Once I have my camera set at an acceptable shutter speed. The very next thing I do is aim for the eye. A focused eye is almost always a good start to an excellent picture. But, an out of focused eye is always a bad picture. Humans are rather finicky about faces. We have to see the eyes. Even animal faces are susceptible to this psychological need of ours. If you don’t get the eyes, you don’t get the picture.
4. Prepare for Failure-
Yeah, patience is definitely needed. Remember that for every great photograph of a beautiful bird, especially an action shot, there are at least 200 pictures of out of focused blurs, wing flaps, moved heads, blurry feet, and tail feathers. You’re taking the picture of a living-breathing animal. This animal does not care that you are taking a picture. They do not listen to your directions to stay still. They are quick, they are small and they are almost always in movement. If you get one good picture out of an afternoon of bird watching then you’ve had a great day!
Remember that the most important thing about photographing any animals in the wild is to respect nature. Respect your subject and while you may not get that epic shot on the first try, there will be always a chance for a second, third, or even 100th try.