I have always been a fan of photographing birds. It was probably one of my favorite things since I got into photography. I don’t know why I like birds but I always have. I even have a pet parrot (an African grey for those who are wondering…).
My attempts at shooting birds in the past have been ok. Some of my shots would even be considered good to very good. But there was always something that I seemed to be missing. I just never understood how some photographers could get full frame shots of tiny birds. How did they get so close with out spooking them. There were times I would sit still for hours just so I could get a fairly tight shot with a 500mm lens and then I’d still have to crop away a good portion of the shot to get a close up.
Lately I have been giving remote shooting a go. With remote shooting you set up your camera in manual focus mode and have it pre focused on an area where you think the birds will be. The trick is, how do you know they will be there. Well, you really don’t but you can increase your chances dramatically by just doing a few things.
1. First, Set up some bird feeders. The more birds you have coming to your area the better your chances will be.
2. Put up a bird bath. Some will say the bird bath will bring in more birds than the feeders will.
3. Watch the birds near your feeders. Birds are creatures of habit and instinct. After you watch them for a while you’ll find that there are several branches they will land on more than others. 4. Eliminate the competition. No, we are not going to kill anyone. But you can make the birds land on their preferred perches more often if you remove some of the other less used perches/branches near the feeders
So what do you need? Of course you’ll need your camera and a lens. A lens that zooms to about 200mm should be good for a start. Most of us have that right? You will also need a tripod and a manner to trigger your camera’s shutter remotely. Most camera’s have some sort of cable release that you can attach to your camera. Some even have an infrared remote or radio remote. There are many options so pick the one that best suits your setup and wallet. I have been using pocket wizards. they not only control remote flashes but they can also be used as a remote trigger for your camera if you have the proper cable to connect to your camera.
The rest is a waiting game. I sit inside my house near the sliding glass door with my eye on where my camera is focused. I also have a set of binoculars sitting nearby. When a bird lands on the proper area on the perch I just trip the shutter from inside the warmth of my house. The camera (right now anyway) is outside in the cold about 15 feet away from the branch.
Just be sure to use a proper shutter speed and aperture setting for what you’re trying to accomplish. Check a “Depth of Field” calculator to see which would be the best aperture for the type of bird you’re looking to shoot. Your photos wont be much good if the branch is razor sharp but the Depth of Field was so narrow that the bird’s head is out of focus. shutter speed is important too. birds move around a lot even when they are seemingly sitting still. You may want to start out with at least 1/100th second and adjust from there. You’ll find that you probably need a faster shutter speed. Not enough light? Try adding flash. Just remember you’ll be using flash mostly for fil so be sure to adjust your flash accordingly. You dont want to blow out all those pretty feathers with a big splash of light. Have fun and let me know if this was helpful.