How can an amateur photographer make good photographs of birds?
August 11, 2005 2:03 PM   Subscribe

I have a Nikon d70 (and an n80) and several lenses, the longest of which zooms to 200mm. I have a remote for the d70 (and a cable-release for the n80). I have a mediocre tripod. My yard is filled with birds. What do I need to know to optimize my chance at great bird photos? Is it merely a matter of patience and luck? Does anyone here have experience with bird photography?

I've googled a few sites, but they all seem too advanced for me. Feel free to share more if you know of any.
posted by jdroth to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You definitely need a good, solid tripod. Secondly you should consider investing in a 300mm macro zoom lens (that's always produced the best results for me). The strength of the tripod is very important because that sort of lens will make your camera very front-heavy, and this gets worse as the lens gets extended (obviously).
posted by clevershark at 2:09 PM on August 11, 2005

If you get the bug, you're about to embark on possibly the most expensive variant of outdoor photography. It all depends how small the birds are and how near you can get to them. Bird photographers who are serious about it will tell you that you need a very solid tripod with a ball head that allows full support of heavy long lenses while panning. Because you need fast shutter speeds, often in low light, those long lenses need large max apertures. This is all potentially very expensive gear.

A cheaper route is to set up the camera nearer to a known perch or route of the birds and fire it remotely. The problem with that is the inability to recompose the shot without disturbing the birds, and the requirement for huge reserves of patience and quite a bit of luck. The sound of the nearby camera firing will often disturb many birds.

Whatever approach, there's a lot of skill in timing and quick reactions needed and plenty of potential frustration. Very satisfying when you do get the shot you want, though.
posted by normy at 3:46 PM on August 11, 2005

I was hoping more mefites would have some ideas.

Here's what I've been doing:

If my tripod is inaccessible (i.e. in the car or upstairs), I bite the bullet and take handheld shots, usually bracing on something. I use the shortest focal length I can get away with to compensate. I usually take my photos from inside the house. We have feeders outside large windows — the feeders are maybe ten feet from the windows — so often I'm pressing my lens to the glass to take a shot.

When I do have my tripod handy, I set it up pointing at a feeder, pre-focus, then wait. And wait. Unfortunately, I have a lot of trouble tripping the d70 remote. A flicker will land at the feeder and I'll be in the kitchen spazzing out with my arm over my head, trying to trip the shutter. The bird will look at me like I'm crazy and then fly off. Not good.

I keep wondering if it's possible to set up some sort of blind near a feeder. Or near the walnut tree. We have a walnut tree that's popular with birds and squirrels. I'd rather photograph the birds in that than in a feeder.

If only all birds were as bold and unafraid of me as the adolescent jays seem to be. Those buggers let me get within five or six feet and don't even flinch. No wonder the cats seem happy to see them...
posted by jdroth at 4:35 PM on August 11, 2005

Ask fellow Nikonians in the Wildlife Photography forum:
posted by chrish at 5:07 PM on August 11, 2005

I do some work with camera and tripod and computer (Canon EOS etc). I just take shots automatically at a defined interval, then delete what I don't like. I've been doing this for landscapes (and cloud scapes, and time-lapse). My next project is to aim for some blossoms certain birds like (African sunbirds!) and see what I can get.

It is stupid that neither my 10D nor A95 have a setting to take intermittent photos and store them to the chip. It requires the computer, then every shot must be downloaded to the computer.
posted by Goofyy at 11:40 PM on August 11, 2005

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