March 16, 2022
Photos by Carlo Mascellani
Taking good photos of birds can sometimes be arduous. This is even more true during winter. In this article we share with you 5 tips to take your best winter bird shots.
Please note - these tips are surely valid for most of the wildlife, not only for birds.
Get acquainted with the place
This is the first important thing to do. You should inspect the place before a shooting session if you can. Doing this allows you to find the best spots for taking your photos and you can also learn something about the behavior of birds.
The inspection could be done at different times during the day, but sunrise and sunset are usually the best moments. Less or no people around is important for this kind of photos.
Place yourself early and do not move
This is probably the most annoying part.
I found that the best time of the day to take shots is early in the morning, but this means that you need to get up before sunrise, to be in place at the right time.
You also need to consider that the animals need sometimes to get used to your presence. You also need to avoid moving if possible.
Staying outside, without moving, in the early hours of winter days can be a daunting task. You will feel very cold, so you need to dress warm clothes. Actually, warmer than usual, because of the need to stand still for a long time.
For these moments Vallerret gloves are perfect companions. They can keep your hands warm, without sacrificing the handling of the camera.
Now it’s just a matter of waiting for the birds to go in the right place and start taking photos.
To get the right bird’s pose it’s advisable to make continuous shooting at 4 to 8 photos per second. If possible, use electronic shutter instead of mechanical shutter to avoid noises that can scare the animals.
There is no perfect setting for your camera. Too many things may affect the shooting session to suggest one specific setting.
When shooting at stationary or slow-moving birds I tend to use a wide aperture for the lens and get low with ISO, to reduce noise.
Of course, when shooting in low light ISO cannot be lowered too much, unless you wish to get a blurred image.
For medium to fast moving subject I may close aperture a bit (usually I shoot at f/8 for moving animals). This will help the autofocus and you have more chances to get a sharp photo.
Also, I tend to use quite fast shutter speeds (from 1/2000s to 1/8000s, depending on the focal length). This may lead to quite high ISO settings. Fortunately, modern cameras produce less noisy images than in the past.
If you wish to be a good wildlife photographer, ethics must be a fundamental part of your sessions.
Remember that you are a guest in the place you are taking your photos, so you must respect that habitat.
Also avoid getting too close to the animals. If you see that the animal you are shooting at is getting nervous or stressed, you are probably too close and you should step away a little.
Scaring wild animals is always a bad thing to do. A scared animal could just run away, but this means that if their babies are around, they will be left alone and with the risk of being caught by predators.
Some animals may choose to attack you, and this may put you in danger.
So again, always respect the animals and their habitat.
One last tip
This tip could help you getting good photos of fast-moving animals.
The most difficult part when dealing with fast moving birds or other animals is to aim the camera as fast as possible and continue following the action, especially when you have a heavy lens with a long focal length.
I found very useful doing a constant training in aiming and shooting. You do not need a moving subject and the first times it would be much better to use a stationary one.
Aim the camera at the subject and feel how you are holding it. Then lower the camera and shift your attention elsewhere.
Now close your eyes, try to aim again at the subject and open your eyes to check. If not centered just correct the aiming. Repeat ten to twenty times every day or so.
The first times you will not be able to catch the subject, but you will improve with practice.
After being good enough at this exercise, you can choose a slow-moving subject. In this case you need to keep both your eyes open.
One eye should of course see what the camera is exactly shooting at. The other one will be an aid to follow the subject when its path is not linear (this is often the case when shooting at wildlife).
With practice you can surely choose faster and faster subjects to improve your aiming technique.
Carlo Mascellani is a photographer based in Ravenna, Italy. He started taking photos about forty years ago but decided to start getting professional results since 2019. He focuses on landscape and wildlife but does not dislike other photographic genres like astrophotography or macro just to mention a few.
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