It’s a cold winter morning in Bangalore.
It’s been more than 10 days we saw the Sun here. It reminds me of my cold and chilled days of Stockholm and Chicago. This is the first time we are encountering this in South India. Most of the states are in floods and rain continues to create havoc.
I hope this fades away and soon there will be Sun.
You must be wondering why I am telling you this. There’s no reason really. I thought of sharing how I am feeling right now.
So…let’s see what we have for today.
Today I am discussing the pain point of many budding and experienced bird photographers alike. This is based on several bird photographers whom I have interacted with over several years.
You’re probably facing these exact same issues. So, pay ATTENTION. Because, what you are going to learn today will change your viewpoint forever.
The pain point is that most bird photographers do not seem to think beyond the equipment and the settings. That’s very sad.
Pain Point #1: I Don’t Have Good Equipment
Let’s understand what a good equipment mean in terms of bird photography.
A good set of equipment can give you:
- More reach.
- More autofocus points.
- More photographs per second.
- More dynamic range.
- Better ISO.
- And so on.
But, there is no equipment that will automagically give you good photographs. It’s purely in your hands. If you, as a photographer, have not upgraded over the years, how can an upgrade in camera or lens make you a better photographer?
THINK ABOUT IT.
For example: Say you are accustomed to using center autofocus points. In the field, you will always keep your subject in the center. If you take another camera and/or lens, will you use other autofocus points? You will not. You will continue using the center focus point.
So, what is the use of having 61 autofocus points vs 21?
You might say there is no substitute to having a longer lens in bird photography.
But, how long is long enough? There’s no end in fact. Birds are always far. There’s always a need for some more reach. There’s always a need for a 2000 mm lens. Not kidding.
The need for longer lens never ends. It’s greed than a need 🙂
There’s always a trade-off between how far your lens can reach vs. how close can you go to the bird. Always, the latter wins. I think the only way to convince you is to wait till you experience this hard truth 🙂
“Bottom line: Aim for greater knowledge and experience than a greater equipment.”
Pain Point #2: I Don’t Know the Exact Settings
I won’t tell you either. Because it’s a secret 🙂
It’s the secret ingredient of the secret soup (Courtesy: Kung Fu Panda movie). And there is no secret ingredient!
Yes. There’s no secret setting that professionals use, which you do not know about.
I know it’s very hard to digest for you. I haven’t been able to convince many photographers that there’s nothing called ideal setting.
That doesn’t mean I will stop telling this truth. It’s the truth that no one can deny. It’s the truth that you have to experience right away.
You know how?
Do this experiment: Consider some photographs of your recent photography trip. Figure out few different photographs that were taken in the same light and same place. Now, carefully check the settings of each of these photographs. Are they same? Do you see the same exact combination of Aperture, Shutter Speed, and the ISO?
Not at all. If you cannot get the same setting for the photographs taken with same light and place, how can you BELIEVE that some setting that a pro photographer will give you will work magic for you? It simply doesn’t make sense.
You might say “then…what’s the solution?”
The Solution: Strive to Make Your Life Simple
Think Photography. Think Simple.
Solution to the Better Equipment
Always strive to make your life simple. Do you need the best equipment? Go for it.
If you can’t, then there is no point in cribbing. Isn’t it?
As long as you can’t buy a new one, embrace what you have. Work through your limitations. If you don’t have better fps, then practice shooting right at the critical moment. Press the shutter only when it is necessary.
If you don’t have a longer reach, wait for the bird to come closer. Or, use different techniques to approach the bird. Or, chose a location where you can approach the bird. Or, go for habitat photograph instead. Try out something unique. Learn to do stronger composition.
You see, it just DEPENDS ON YOU! You have to take the necessary steps to overcome the limitations. You have to challenge the situation and strive to become a better photographer.
Solution to the Settings
Understand that there is no ideal setting.
If there is no ideal setting, then you are left with no choice but to experiment. There are more than a dozen setting to work with. It’s ridiculously difficult.
I COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND.
I sympathize with you too. Instead of worrying about a dozen setting, how about reducing the variables to a very few which you can easily handle?
Let’s see what you can do. First fix the ones that you don’t need to change often.
NOTE: These settings are only for bird photography.
- Choose one metering mode and stick with it. Evaluative (for Canon) and Matrix (for Nikon).
- Choose one focusing mode and stick with it. AI-Servo (for Canon) and AF-C (for Nikon).
- Choose highest frames per second that your camera provides.
- Choose the Auto-ISO setting and cap the maximum sensitivity to 400 (if you have an entry-level camera) or 800 (if you have a mid-range camera) or 1600 (if you have a pro-level camera)
- Choose the Aperture Priority mode so that you can set the Aperture and leave the rest to the Camera.
Note: When you are not getting the desired Shutter Speed, go with Shutter Priority mode.
Do you see how many of the settings are taken care of? You are now left with a handful of settings to work with.
- Choosing the right aperture value to get the required Depth of Field.
- Choosing the right focal length to get the composition.
- Choosing the right autofocus point to focus on the subject.
- Exposure compensation to compensate for any under or over exposure.
Isn’t it a piece of cake to select the right focal length? The right autofocus point? It better be.
Then what are you left with?
Select the right aperture value and the exposure compensation. What’s the big deal about it?
Most often, you would need only the bird in sharp focus. This calls for maximum aperture opening.
You are then left with only exposure compensation. How easy it is now. Check the histogram. Is it underexposed? Dial +0.3 to +3 stops of exposure compensation to get the right exposure. Is it overexposed? Dial -0.3 to -3 stops of exposure compensation to get the right exposure.
Now, go and figure out how to do these settings in your camera. Practice it until you are bored to death. Be so fluent that you need not have to think where these settings are. It should be done effortlessly. Just the way you walk effortlessly. Not kidding.
Remember, when you were a kid. Walking was such a great effort. Why walking, standing was like climbing the Himalayas. But you did it. We all did it. We did with practice, patience, and perseverance.
If you have to succeed in bird photography you need the 3 Ps – Practice, Patience, and Perseverance – more than ever.
Make your life simple. Always try to find a way to simplify the settings. It doesn’t really matter what settings you use, what really matters is whether your photograph is evocative or not.
Remember, when you go wow on someone’s bird photograph, you will never say wow he has used manual mode, or he has used pro-equipment, or he has used 51 autofocus points. If you do, I can’t help you.
What really matters is whether your bird photographs are appealing to the viewers or not. The viewers DON’T CARE which camera or lens or settings have you used. All that they care is the photograph and the photographer.
Have you seen the results of some of the major photography competitions? Are the winning photos taken always with the best equipment with an ideal setting? It just doesn’t matter to the judges. What matters is whether that photograph is unique and strongly composed and/or whether it tells a story.
So…stop thinking about I don’t have this or that. Start to THINK LIKE A PRO.
My latest eBook “Bird Photography Simplified – A Virtual Masterclass” is all about steering you in the direction of Think Like a Pro concept. I can guarantee you that your whole point of view of bird photography will change after reading this eBook.
If you apply the concepts in the eBook, you just can’t miss making better photographs. It’s INEVITABLE.
Remember, this eBook is NOT a paint-by-numbers eBook. If you expect it to be, then you are bound to be disappointed.