Birds present a special kind of challenge to a photographer. They’re fast, hyper-vigilant, and in some cases live in habitats that may require a significant hike. But with the proper methods it’s possible to get avian shots you’ll really be happy with.
First, knowing your subject is a big help. The Audubon Society makes great guidebooks and local naturalist groups are always a source of education. Of course you can just look out your window to see some birds, like the cardinal above.
Since birds don’t ever really stand still, you’ll need to be patient for that one shot. But you can shave time off your wait by using attraction methods. Knowing the type of diet and habitat of the birds in your area can help you set up feeding spots. Place these at the appropriate height and provide places to perch. Also, consider an mp3 recording of the call of your favorite bird; and place your player and a small speaker in your feeding area. The combination of safe perches, preferred food and familiar sounds will help quite a lot.
As for gear, you’ll want a camera with a high burst rate, a fairly long telephoto lens, a tripod or monopod to help bear the weight (your arms will get tired waiting), and some sort of concealment (being in your house often is all you’ll need). Shoot with as fast a shutter speed as possible. Try to stay quiet and eventually you’ll get the shot you want.
Exposure Data: ISO 6400, f/7.1, 1/400
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