Bird Photography Tips for Beginners

The colour and texture of birds’ plumage makes them fascinating subjects for photography, made all the more exciting by their fleeting and elusive nature. With a lot of patience and practice, and the help of these tips, you’ll soon be on your way to making memorable photographs of our feathered friends.

Roseate Spoonbills in Flight by Anne McKinnell


To capture the best bird photography, the most important thing you’ll need is a lens with a very long focal length. How long, exactly? Generally, the longer the better for maximum magnification. But keep in mind that lenses get remarkably heavy – if you’re hiking up a mountain, it might not be practical to carry an extreme telephoto lens, which can weigh in at over ten pounds.

A 70-300mm zoom lens is one of my favourites because it is very versatile and some of them are fairly lightweight. But you’ll get a sharper image with a fixed focal length lens. I recommend trying out a 300mm or 400mm prime lens.

The extra weight of a long lens will increase the likelihood of hand shake blur, which will then be magnified by the distance between you and your subject. If you’re working with a heavy lens, a tripod or monopod will be a great benefit for taking the weight of the lens.

Great Blue Heron by Anne McKinnell

If you want the increased flexibility you’ll get by not using a tripod or monopod, be sure to use a very fast shutter speed to compensate for the hand shake blur.

Camera Settings


When photographing birds, using shutter priority mode and a fast shutter speed will ensure you are ready for any action that might happen, even if the bird is standing still at the moment. You never know when it will take flight and you want to be ready when that happens.

Using a wide aperture like f/2.8 or f/4 will give you a shallow depth of field, which helps to isolate the bird from its background and direct attention to its shape and colour.

When you want to have total control over the shutter speed and aperture, use manual mode and set the ISO to auto. That way, the camera will decide which ISO is the best to balance the exposure.

If you have a colourful sky, one option to try is to expose for the sky and allow the bird or birds to become silhouettes.

Seagull In Flight at Sunset by Anne McKinnell


How you focus on your subjects will depend on which approach you’re taking, as well as what equipment you have. Some lenses and some camera bodies auto focus faster, and much more accurately than others, so some experimentation is needed to get a sense of how quickly your auto focus motor moves.

Birds are moving subjects, so if you do use auto focus, change it to the “continuous focus” mode (usually called AF-C or AI Servo) which tracks motion. However, you might find that you get better results by learning to focus manually.

There should be an AF/MF switch on your camera and/or lens. If you switch it to MF (manual focus), you can turn the focus ring on your lens to adjust it by hand. This is fairly easy when your subject is still, but it takes a lot of practice to be able to do this quickly enough to lock in on a moving subject.

Juvenile Bald Eagle flying by Anne McKinnell

One method is to set up a perch (such as a bird feeder), with your camera on a tripod, and pre-frame and pre-focus your shot where the bird will be. When it lands, you just have to hit the shutter. There will be no focusing delay, so you can get the exact moment you have been waiting for.

Getting the Shot

Timing and Location

Birds are very active in the spring – the ground softens, plants and seeds starting coming out, and bugs are everywhere. They finally get the feast they’ve been struggling to find all winter. Similarly, in autumn they are avidly gathering food before the frost sets in. Both of these seasons are the best for finding birds near the ground – and whatever the time of year, early mornings and sunny days will draw the most action.

American White Pelicans at the Salton Sea, California, by Anne McKinnell

You might get lucky walking along a forest path, making photos of birds as you see them, but because birds see us as predators they will usually flee at the sound of our footsteps.

Instead, you may have better luck by finding a location birds enjoy, hiding yourself, and waiting. This is where the patience comes in to play! The better you hide yourself, the safer they will feel coming near you. Tuck yourself in next to a tree or bush, or hide behind a blind to camouflage yourself, and try to stay as still and quiet as possible.

One of the best places to start photographing birds might be your own backyard. Keep your camera handy with the right lens and camera settings for bird photography so that when one lands in your yard, you’re ready.

Female Sooty Grouse by Anne McKinnell

You can also seek them out in their natural habitats such as local forests, waterways, and beaches. You can find exotic and interesting species by visiting zoos, bird sanctuaries, and humane societies, or you can take a trip to a nearby national park or nature preserve. Birds that live in areas with more frequent human visitors will likely be less skittish and camera-shy.


Take care not to neglect your background. It should be clean and simple. Too much clutter will distract attention from the subject itself. Use your perspective and point of view to remove unwanted background objects from the frame, and choose a large aperture to blur them out.

Tips for the Field

  • The better your camouflage, the more likely the birds will come near you. Cover your camera with a green or brown sweater to mask its strange appearance.
  • Wear neutral clothing and avoid bright colours.
  • Make sure to remove or cover all reflective objects on and around you, including your equipment, camera bag, cell phone, and any jewelry you might be wearing.
  • If you do find yourself needing to get closer to a bird, keep a low profile. Don’t approach them directly, but rather move toward them in a zig-zag pattern. Keep very quiet and avoid making quick movements and startling them.
  • Birds often choose favourite perches. Even if it flutters off before you can get your shot, if you wait silently for a few minutes, it may come back.
  • Birds are easily startled, so a beeping camera can frighten them away. Turn off any beeps your camera might make.
    The same goes for flash – turn it off or your bird will be startled by your first shot and quickly leave.

Do you have any other bird photography tips you’d like to add to this list? Please share in the comments below.

The post Bird Photography Tips for Beginners by Anne McKinnell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Most Common Mistakes in Wildlife Photography – and How to Avoid Them

Animals, especially wild ones, make such beautiful subjects that we cannot resist turning our cameras on them to capture images of these majestic creatures in their natural state.

Unlike a landscape, creatures are constantly in motion, and unlike most people, they can be pretty uncooperative when it comes to getting their picture taken. This can make for a lot of botched pictures. Here are a few tips on how to avoid some of the common pitfalls of wildlife photography.

1. A Tiny Subject

Three Brown Pelicans by Anne McKinnell

It’s tough to approach a wild animal – they are easily spooked. Because of this, many wildlife photos have more wilderness than wildlife, with the animal becoming a tiny speck in its environment. This can be effective in some situations, but for the most part you want the animal to be large enough in the frame to see the detail in its eyes. This is where a good telephoto lens can really help you out. Using a long focal length (over 200mm) will allow you to keep your distance while still filling the frame.

2. Blurry Image

Blur comes in many forms. Your entire image could be blurry due to camera shake; a problem which is magnified by the longer focal lengths needed for wildlife photography.

In landscape photography, using a tripod is a good technique to prevent camera shake, but a tripod is not as practical when photographing wildlife. Wildlife photography requires a more active shooting style – you’ll be moving around constantly – so unless you are using a lens that is too big to hold comfortably, forget the tripod. Also, because the animals are always in motion, you’ll need a fast shutter speed anyway. That leads me to the first method to combat camera shake blur: using a very fast shutter speed.

In landscape photography, you normally use a shutter speed that is at least 1/focal length of your lens. But usually that isn’t going to be fast enough when photographing wildlife because the animals are always in motion (even when they appear to be standing still). To avoid disappointment, you’ll need to use a much faster shutter speed to freeze both your own motion and the motion of the animal.

Here is my rule of thumb when photographing wildlife: if the animal appears to be still, use a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second. If the animal is moving, you’ll have to adjust the shutter speed based on how fast they are moving. I suggest a minimum of 1/1,000th of a second, or faster if the animal is moving faster.

Sleeping Steller Sea Lion by Anne McKinnell

Using a lens with image stabilization will also help prevent camera shake blur. A lens with a wide maximum aperture, say f/2.8 or even f/4, will let more light in, allowing you to use a faster shutter speed. Likewise, a camera with low noise at high ISOs will let you turn up the sensitivity. All of these options will enable you to make faster exposures with better results.

Another type of blur is focus blur. This results from your camera being unable to focus, probably because your subject is moving and the AF motor gets confused. Some cameras and lenses have superior auto focus systems to others, but regardless of what you have, you can get the most out of it by setting it to continuous focus mode, usually called AF-C (Nikon) or AI Servo (Canon). This setting will track the subject’s movement in the frame and focus on it more quickly and accurately.

3. The Missed Moment

We’ve all been there. You see the perfect shot, frame it, and hit the shutter. But by the time the camera focuses and the exposure is made, the animal has moved and all you end up with is the second after the perfect shot.

There are two ways to avoid this heartbreak:


This is a skill that can only come with practice and a keen eye. If you can learn to see when the perfect moment is about to happen, rather than when it is happenning, you can hit the shutter right before the peak moment and cause the camera to snap at just the right time.

Orca by Anne McKinnell

Continuous Shooting

When animals are in motion, you’ll get the best chance at a good result by using continuous shooting mode (also called “drive mode” or “burst mode”). With this, you can take several images per second and choose the most successful.

Higher-end DSLRs and mirrorless cameras will have a much faster maximum shooting speed, but no matter which camera you have, there are a few things that will help get the highest continuous shooting rate.

One is a fast memory card – both SD (standard digital) and CF (compact flash) cards have a certain speed that they operate at, and a faster card will make sure that your camera doesn’t get bogged down trying to save the images.

The other is a fully-charged battery – as the juice drains, the camera can become sluggish, so it’s a good idea to keep an extra battery or two in your camera bag. For ultimate performance, you can buy a battery grip that fits on your camera. This holds two batteries at the same time for maximum speed.

4. Where Is Everyone???

Sometimes wild animals can be hard to find, and they’re not always where you want them to be. Before you can photograph them, you have to learn a few things about how to find them.

Know your animals

What types of animals live around you? Before you go out shooting, find out who they are, what they eat, when they sleep, and where they like to relax in between. If you’re photographing birds, research which ones are to be found in your area at which times of year. It’s also important to know how animals might react if, and when, they feel threatened – will they fight, or flee?

American Green Tree Frog by Anne McKinnell

Know the season

Some animals will be much more active at different times of year – particularly during autumn, as they rummage up enough food for winter, and in the spring when some animals come out of hibernation.

Camp out

I don’t mean overnight (unless you’re into that), but it’s often a very effective practice to find a popular area – probably somewhere with a source of water, food, shade or shelter – where animals like to congregate. Set your camera up on a tripod nearby, and disguise yourself among some trees or brush (some photographers go so far as to buy ,or build, a blind to hide their presence).

Be patient

Animals work on their own schedule, so don’t try to fit a shooting session in between other appointments. Great photos take time, and you must allow nature to unfold at its own pace. Many animals are easily frightened, so being quiet, still, and inconspicuous will help put them at ease.

5. Animal Attack!

We don’t call it “wildlife” for nothing – the biggest mistake you can make is accidentally getting mauled. Animals are not adjusted to polite society, and can be pretty rough customers if you catch them at the wrong time, or in the wrong way. They spend most of their waking lives foraging for food, and a spat over a meal can turn ugly, fast. Never get in the way of lunch, unless you want to take its place.

Don’t approach a wild animal directly, and if they see you, avoid looking them in the eye. This is usually a sign of aggression. If you need to get closer, keep low and move in a broad zig-zag pattern to avoid frightening the animal.

Baby Aligator by Anne McKinnell

Be aware of when mating season (or “running season”) is for the type of animal you’ll be photographing. Male mammals are full of testosterone at this time of year, and can be aggressive, violent, and very dangerous. Avoid photographing at these times. Similarly, find out when animals are likely to be giving birth and raising their young. We all know how risky it can be to get in between a mama bear and her cubs.

Whenever you’re dealing with wildlife, always remember that any creature can be dangerous when provoked, and it’s very important to treat animals and their habitat with the utmost care and respect.

For more tips on wildlife photography try these articles:

The post 5 Most Common Mistakes in Wildlife Photography – and How to Avoid Them by appeared first on Digital Photography School.

7 Tips for Photographing at the Zoo

Zoos … love ‘em or hate ‘em?

I think it depends on the zoo. I much prefer open range zoos where the animals have tons of space to roam around and live almost as they would in the wild. I can’t stand to see animals in cages especially when they pace back and forth in frustration. But zoos do play an essential role in conservation and education.

When it comes to photographing at the zoo it’s easy to get distracted by the sheer joy of seeing the animals and forget everything we have learned about photography. Try to remember that all the rules of good composition still apply such as balance, the rule of thirds and, most importantly, no cluttered (or unnatural looking) backgrounds.

Here are some tips for your next zoo visit:

1. Choose the right zoo

The type of zoo you choose makes all the difference to your photography (and to the animals). Zoos with large open areas for the animals to roam tend to make better photographs because the images look more natural when you cannot see any fences.

Giraffes by Anne McKinnell

Giraffes at The Living Desert, Palm Springs, California.

2. Wait for a special moment

When the animals are right there in front of you don’t just snap away because you can. When you have this opportunity to be so close to them try to be patient and wait for a special moment to make a unique image.

Baby Elephant by Anne McKinnell

Baby Elephant at the San Diego Safari Park, California.

3. Dealing with fences and rails

Tufted Capuchin by Anne McKinnell

Tufted Capuchin at the San Diego Zoo, California.

If you are at the kind of zoo with fences, you can use a wide aperture to reduce the depth of field which should make any fences out-of-focus.

This is easier to achieve if there is greater distance between the animal and the fence.

It is also easier to make the fence disappear if it does not have direct light on it. Find a portion of the fence that is in the shade if it is in front of or behind your subject.

When I made this image of a monkey there was netting both between me and the monkey and behind the monkey. With a 400mm lens at f/5.6 only the monkey is in focus.

4. When to go

If it’s a hot day the animals will often be in the shade where they are more difficult to photograph. Try to go as soon as the zoo opens in the morning when it’s cooler and the animals are more active. You will find fewer people and more animals in the morning.

Overcast days are great for the zoo! Just keep the sky out of your image and enjoy the soft light with no harsh shadows.

If it is a bright sunny day you can use a polarizing filter to remove glare from the animal’s skin or fur.

5. Don’t forget the butterfly zoo

Butterfly by Anne McKinnell.

Butterfly at Butterfly Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia.

One of my favourite types of zoo is a butterfly zoo.

One thing to remember about a butterfly zoo is that they are very hot inside. If you live in a cold country like I do and you visit in winter remember that your lens will need to make the transition to the warmer climate. When your lens is exposed to the warm humid air condensation will form and it might take awhile for it to go away.

One way to deal with this is to go in the restroom and put your lens under the warm air from the hand dryer for awhile to warm it up before you go inside.

Another option is to put your camera and lens in a ziplock bag before you enter and then let it acclimate inside the bag. It will take about 20 minutes before you will be able to take your camera out of the bag without condensation appearing. I prefer the hand dryer method!

Butterfly zoos tend to have beautiful light and often there are more than just butterflies. At Butterfly Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, there are a number of birds as well and the light does wonders for the colour of the flamingos.

Caribbean Flamingo by Anne McKinnell

Caribbean Flamingo at Butterfly Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia.

6. Equipment

Baby Bear by Anne McKinnell

Baby Bear at Bear Country, Rapid City, South Dakota.

You probably won’t need a huge lens because you can usually get fairly close to the animals in a zoo. I find most of my zoo images have a focal length between 100mm and 300mm.

As far as a tripod goes, I think this is one occasion when it’s perfectly okay leave your tripod at home.

The animals are moving so you are going to need a fast shutter speed anyway. Use at least 1/500 second shutter speed and image stabilization.

When I go to a zoo I usually take my camera with only one lens and a polarizing filter. That’s it! It makes it much easier to move around to get the right angle and you’ll have less to carry on a long hot day.

7. Focus

Snow Leopard Kitten by Anne McKinnell.

Snow Leopard Kitten at Westcoast Game Park, Bandon, Oregon.

Always focus on the eyes.

When you are using a shallow depth of field to remove background distractions part of your animal may be out-of-focus too.

That’s okay as long as the eyes are in focus.

In this image I made of a snow leopard kitten, with a 300mm lens and an aperture of f/5.6, only the nose and eyes are sharp.

Zoos provide both opportunities and challenges for photographers. I hope these tips help you make better images during your next zoo visit.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

7 Tips for Photographing at the Zoo

I Like To Tell You A [Typical] Story

[ This is a collection of 15 Photos, click on the thumbnails to see all ]

This is so typical - a daily happening between doggy Mila and me. I planned this shooting for long, and here it is. It's like a soap opera, every night. But I cannot resist - she is always on my side, the onest girl who really knows me :). She lickes my tears, takes me out for long and shows me some new wonderful places. Love, life, being carefree.

GEAR: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon Ef 17-40mm F/4 L, Canon Speedlite 430 EX II (with Yongnuo RF-602/C)

Focal: 17mm
Exposure: 1/60s
Aperture: F/8
Iso: 800

Fatamanta Photography
Emotive, Experimental, Urbex and Fine-art ... based in Dresden/Germany
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For A Walk

English: No typical words - no story for this capture ... . The advantage of a pure photoblog is its definition: Let's talk the moments :).

German: Diesmal gibt es keine Beschreibung, keine kleine Geschichte. Das ist doch auch der Vorteil eines Fotoblogs: Momente sprechen für sich selber :).

» Original shoot attached

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm F/4 L IS
Focal: 200 mm
Aperture: F/4
Exposure: 1/1600s
ExposureBias: 0.7 EV
Sensitivity: Iso 400

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My favorite shots in 2010

English: 2010 is done and my last post this year is a small review of a exciting year. Photography makes me smile, makes me relaxing and gives me so much energy and creativity. I wish that more time would have been – but photography is still a passion and not a job. Anyway, I like to thank you for your visits, feedback and incentives. I’m so curious what happens in 2011: A new theme for this blog reached the beta-state, I’m not sure of Leicas M9 ;) and I refer a new apartment. Last but not least, here are some of my favorite shots in 2010. Do you have any favorites? I’m so interested in! All the best for the new year! See you … Cheers and Regards from Dresden/Germany ^Nicki^

» This is a collection of 13 pictures, click on the image to see all.

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Mädchen Nr. 1

English: Yesterday's winterwalk was fantastic. I did not post a capture of Mila for long like here and here. She owns a lot scarfs (actual more than ten) and the pink/purple versions fits good for snowy/white trips like this one. It isn't easy take captures of a black doggie on such bright backgrounds - have a look to the original and you will see what I mean. Anyway, hope you like this shot!

German: Der gestrige Winterausflug war fantastisch. Auch habe ich lange nix mehr von Mila gezeigt wie hier und hier. Mittlerweile besitzt sie mehr als zehn Tüchlein und die pinken/lila Ausführungen passen am besten zu schneeweissen Winterausflügen. Auch ist es verdammt schwierig ein schwarzes Wusel vor solch hellen Hintergründen zu fotografieren, ein Blick auf das Original zeigt gut warum. Aber ganz egal, ich hoffe Ihr mögt die Aufnahme!

» Original shoot attached

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm F/4 L IS
Focal: 135 mm
Aperture: F/6.3
Exposure: 1/125s
ExposureBias: 0.3 EV
Sensitivity: Iso 100
Cropped: minor to 1x1

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Caja [300]

English: Last week I got the chance for playing around with a Canon EF 300 L IS. It was really great, but this lens seems to be a little bit overdosed for my backpack ;). What else happened? I have too long viewed on Leica's M-Series and had the first touch to a M9. Danger :) ...

German: Letzte Woche hatte ich Gelegenheit ein Canon EF 300 L IS auszupobieren. Es hat eine Menge Spass gemacht, aber ich glaube schon, dass dieses Objektiv ein wenig überdimensioniert für meinen kleinen Rucksack scheint ;). Was ist noch passiert? Höchstwahrscheinlich habe ich zu lange die Leica M-Serie angeschaut und bin dann noch dummerweise zum ersten Mal mit einer M9 in Berührung gekommen. Ganz gefährlich :) ...

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Focal: 300 mm
Exposure: 1/125s
ExposureBias: 0.0 EV
Sensitivity: Iso 800

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North Part Of Iceland

English: This was Game 14 (Photoshop-Tennis on Facebook) and it was revolved around the original image taken by Catalin in the north part of Iceland. I do not post all processed captures around this competition, but this capture is so fantastic - I wish that I could have shot it! Anyway, I had the chance processing it :). Thanks to Catalin for letting me show this one here.

German: Runde 14 (Photoshop-Tennis auf Facebook). Es drehte sich alles um die Aufnahme von Catalin, entstanden im nördlichen Teil von Island. Hier sind nicht alle Bilder aus dem Wettbewerb zu sehen, aber dieses Bild hätte ich am liebsten selbst gemacht, wundertoll schön - aber ich durfte es bearbeiten, ist ja auch schon was :). Also ein dickes Dankeschön an Catalin dafür, dass meine Version hier im Blog landen durfte.

» Original shoot attached

Camera: NIKON D300S
Focal: 270 mm
Aperture: F/5.6
Exposure: 1/400s
ExposureBias: 0.0 EV
Sensitivity: Iso 200
Focal: 405

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