Advice From a Beginner Bird Photographer

Advice From a Beginner Bird Photographer


I’ve been enjoying my new hobby of bird photography. I am going to use this column to give everybody tips.

Unfortunately, I myself am an absolute beginner in the field of nature photography, so I cannot offer any technical expertise about shutter speeds, apertures or any of that good stuff. What I can do is pass on to whomever is reading this what I have learned in my endeavors of the last few weeks:

You get what you pay for.

If you want to take good nature pictures, you will not be successful with any of the following: a cell phone camera, a disposable box camera, a cheap kiddie digital camera, or one of those discount cameras that cost about $30 or so. They do fine for vacation photos and casual family photos, but if you want to take a good picture to be displayed in the library (my ultimate goal), you have to spend about $150 or more for a camera with a good telephoto lens. I chose a Fuji Finepix with an 18X zoom lens, and I am very pleased with it. It has some deluxe features, and an experienced photographer can play with shutter speeds and apertures. A newbie like myself can just point and click.
It cost me about $179 in the big-box chain store, but can go a bit cheaper online.

A telephoto lens is not like binoculars.

What you see at binoculars with 18X magnification is quite a bit larger and closer than a picture you’d take with an 18X telephoto lens. I didn’t know that. Now I do. Professional nature photographers obviously use something much stronger when they catch that little warbler in a bush.

Birds don’t like to pose

They don’t smile and say cheese. They don’t stand still for you. They don’t face the camera. Of all the photos I’ve taken, just a few of them show the birds’ faces. You remember that old hairdo called a duck’s derriere? I’ve got many pictures of the real thing. You know those beautiful close-up bird pictures you see in field guides (like the Audubon guides?) Don’t expect to take anything that good when you first start out. There’s a reason why professional photographers get paid.


Rare birds show up when they want to.

I was lucky enough to find some more unusual birds, including a pied-billed grebe (which is on the threatened list in my state). I had to practice on a lot of mallards and Canada geese first, though. I recommend starting out with waterfowl if you are a new bird photographer. They are large and more or less stand still (or at least swim slowly). I tried to catch a kingfisher in flight on my first photography outing. Forgetaboutit! Maybe in a few years I’ll be able to pull that one off.

Have fun.

Nature photography is a very relaxing and enjoyable hobby, as long as you don’t let yourself get frustrated or hold yourself to too high a standard. It involves physical exercise when you run to catch a bird before he or she flies away. It is creative and artistic, but doesn’t require any drawing talent. And if your pictures don’t come out the way you want, there’s always Photoshop.


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