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Any tips on how to photograph birds?

Discussion in 'Nature' started by silver92b, Feb 18, 2013.

  1. silver92b

    silver92b Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 7, 2013
    Atlanta, GA
    I have been trying on several occasions to photograph birds in the wild. Well, in the city anyway ;) . Atlanta is full of trees and shrubs, etc. There are lots of birds around as well. I hear them and see them fluttering about, but I find it very difficult to actually take pictures of them like all these awesome shots I see posted.

    The problem I have is manifold, first, I find it hard to actually see the critters in the bushes and trees, especially when trying to find them with the zoom lens! Then they move a lot and very quickly too. Anyway, there are probably some good tips and techniques that I need to know, so please feel free to share your thoughts with a bird photography wannabee...

    I went out this afternoon and this was all I could get. Some of those birds were very far away, the others were about 50 feet away, so the pictures are crops of 10%~15% of the originals. The Maine Coon cat just begged for a shot and the moon through the trees was an interesting shot

    E-M5    OLYMPUS M.40-150mm F4.0-5.6 R    150mm    f/5.6    1/500s    ISO 200

    E-M5    LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6    300mm    f/5.6    1/250s    ISO 200

    E-M5    LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6    300mm    f/11.0    1/400s    ISO 200

    E-M5    LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6    300mm    f/10.0    1/400s    ISO 200

    E-M5    LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6    300mm    f/11.0    1/400s    ISO 200

    E-M5    OLYMPUS M.40-150mm F4.0-5.6 R    85mm    f/4.8    1/200s    ISO 200
  2. foxtail1

    foxtail1 Science geek & photo nut Subscribing Member

    Dec 30, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    I'm not an expert, by any means, but I keep trying.

    First, it's really hard to shoot up at birds. Look at the Share Birds forum (Micro Four Thirds User Forum > Images to Share > Nature > Share Birds), currently on its 251st page. Find shots that you admire. Very few, if any, will be shot from below. They may be shot at an up-angle, but not straight up. My experience is that you almost always lose the colors that way too.

    So, try to find a place to shoot where you're more on a level with the birds. I go to local gardens and a park, but if you've got a zoo nearby with an aviary, it can be great fun. Just sit quietly and let the birds come to you.

    I think the rule from my old birdwatching days with binoculars holds true for bird photography. Find or follow the bird with your eyes, then bring the binocs (or camera) up between you and the bird, without looking away from the spot. You may be able to follow small movement with your zoom lens, but it's really hard to spot birds that way (or, it is for me).

    Finally, I throw away the vast majority of my bird shots. But, the few keepers are worth the effort.
    • Like Like x 1
  3. silver92b

    silver92b Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 7, 2013
    Atlanta, GA
    Thanks for the tips! And about throwing away pictures, that's got to be the hardest part :wink:
  4. jeffg53

    jeffg53 Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Aug 22, 2012
    Sydney, Australia
    Jeff Grant
    Good advice from Kristi, you will also need to start taking control of your shooting. Set your ISO at 400 as a minimum to get you around f/4 with a decent shutter speed. Shooting birds wide open is very hard work with a very low keeper rate.

    I always use a tripod and ballhead, and a Better Beamer is necessary if you start to get serious about it.

    It's not easy but very satisfying when you get it right. You might also spare a thought for Eliot Porter who shot birds with large format. He really did it the hard way.
  5. thelaxong

    thelaxong Mu-43 user

    Jan 13, 2011
    Melbourne - Australia
    Patience is the key.

    Yeah. Shooting bird is quite hard and require a lot of patience. I have done exactly as Kriti suggested above.

    When I started out, I try to look up pictures for the lenses I have. Next thing is to analyse the EXIF (if they are included) data to see what those pictures are shoot at. All lenses will have a sweet spot. Compared all those pictures and find a common aperture/shutter/iso value for that lens and that will be what I will shoot at.

    The more you practice ... the easier it get to throw away bad copies :) 
  6. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    As Kristi said, but I would also add:

    1) Take lots of photos. Try to catch birds whenever you can, even if you have too short a lens on the camera. It's about practice, especially for birds in flight, about speeding up your reactions and your aim. I occasionally find myself trying to catch a bird in flight half a block away with a 12mm lens on the camera. I throw away the shot after looking at it but I do look to see how close to centre frame and how sharp I caught it. The closer to centre frame I can get it with a wide lens, the more likely I am to be able to get it in the frame with a longer lens. It's practice, even if I'm not going to get a keeper.

    2) Be prepared to crop. My longest lens is the Olympus 40-150 mm zoom and that's often still too wide at 150 mm, especially for small birds.

    3) I find using a small autofocus point is often better than a large one, less chance for the auto focus to lock onto the background rather than the bird.

    4) Don't half press the shutter to lock focus and then hold it before releasing. If the bird moves and you complete the press, the focus will be at the distance where the bird was and the bird is likely to be out of focus as a result. Trust the autofocus if you're going to use it, and do a decisive press and release. You'll still miss some shots but overall I do better that way than when I lock focus first and hold it before completing the press to release the shutter..

    5) Keep your shutter speed up, especially with our longer lenses because they're all slow at the long end. You may have to increase your ISO setting to do so but you need a fast shutter speed with long lenses to eliminate camera shake, especially if you're hand holding, and even faster to stop some birds in flight. It should go without saying that you're better off using shutter priority mode than using aperture priority mode.

    6)Take lots of photos. Oh, I said that before. Well, it's worth saying again. Take lots of photos. Practice counts but so does luck, and the way to maximise both is to take lots of photos.
    • Like Like x 1
  7. silver92b

    silver92b Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 7, 2013
    Atlanta, GA
    All you say makes sense to me because the problems I experience are the ones you describe. Thank you for putting my thoughts into words :smile:
    About the small autofocus point, how do I set that up? Also, I find it incredibly difficult to use the manual focus because after I finally get it focused, the moment I press the shutter button, the camera auto-focuses by itself !?!?... There are several adjustments which i am sure are crucial, but i don't know how to choose. The metering for instance.. And the focus mode? Frankly, I have marginal knowledge and skill in using the camera's abundance of settings and features. Certainly more complicated than shooting 35mm film with my old Konica LOL! It's even more complex (although easier to use) than my Nikon D60 which it supplanted...

    Thanks everyone for your kind and patient answers.
    • Like Like x 1
  8. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    If you have the camera set to manual focus, that's it—it's up to you to get it right.

    What camera do you have? I can tell you how to set up a smaller auto focus target if you have an Olympus but I don't know if you can do it with the Panasonics.

    With Olympus, you also have a focus option of autofocus + manual focus. If you choose that, you can autofocus first, then adjust by manual focus but I haven't tried using that. At my age, with my eyes, I rely on autofocus. I figure that's my safetst option.
  9. blue

    blue Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 1, 2010
    One thing to bear in mind is that a lot of bird shots you see posted are set-up in some way. That is from a hide of some sort, waiting in a hidden place and using pre-placed perches with a food source nearby. Trying to get a decent picture (of small shy birds in particular) just by wandering about the city is VERY difficult. You need the thing to be in good light, close by and with a relatively clean background - much easier to achieve by rigging something up.

    Do you have your own garden where birds visit ? This would be ideal for practicing.

    But if you have to go out to find wildlife then I'd say start with some of the larger and tamer birds - do you have anything like ducks or pigeons nearby ? This will give you a feel for the right sorts of exposure, speed, focussing etc.

    It gets easier as you do more of it, you will learn the birds habits as well which will help.
  10. blue

    blue Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 1, 2010
    An example. This was taken from my car - parked next to a field where I'd spotted a group of birds. I just sat and waited with camera pointing out of the window until they came close enough.

    This one was maybe 20ft away.The vehicle didn't seem to bother them at all.

    EXIF details: ISO 400, F 4.6, 1/250 s using 100-300 at 162mm on Pana G1.

    (yes it's noisy, 400 on those old sensors is not brilliant. Probably a bit of camera shake, plus my position and light were not ideal, but shows the general idea).

    Also: use burst mode.

    DMC-G1    ---    162mm    f/4.6    1/250s    ISO 400
  11. silver92b

    silver92b Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 7, 2013
    Atlanta, GA
    I was using the auto-focus+manual focus setting when I experienced the issue of the lens re-focusing itself after I had manually focused it.
    Thanks, I have a OM-D M-5 and a number of native lenses. I noticed that the little rectangle in the screen/viewfinder used to be smaller but somehow grew. Perhaps I accidentally changed it...
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