Bird Photography is one of the most interesting of all types of photography. Because of their beauty and unpredictable behavior, birds make very exciting subjects to photograph.
Also, Birds are one of the most widely photographed subjects since they are abundant in most of the places. However, it takes lot of patience and endurance to create great photographs that you can cherish for a long time.
Today you will learn just one bird photography tip without which your bird photograph will loose its value, no matter how beautiful or how rare the bird is.
Every great bird photographer will always get this right even if it requires him/her to wait for hours or even days sometimes. What is it after all?
It’s the Eye of the Bird which matters the Most in Bird Photography
Have you ever wondered why some photographs of beautiful birds seems to lack something? When you look at such photograph, you feel that something is missing or something is not right. Which will almost always be that the bird eye is not as sharp as you expect.
When you look at a bird photograph, your eye goes straight into the eye of the bird since it acts as an anchor point or the reference point of the photograph. This is because we look into the eyes of others when we communicate, unless ofcourse we are not happy with that person 🙂
Take a look at some sample images below:
Are you able to see that these photographs lack something important? Once you know this, you will never make this mistake again.
Now, take a look at these images:
Do you see the enormous difference it makes on the photograph? Birds come alive, you are able to make connection with the bird as you have an eye contact now.
This is the most important lesson I learnt about bird photography. The same concept holds true for Portrait Photography of People, Wildlife, Pets, even insects or any living thing we can have an eye connection with.
Importance of Catch Light in the Eye
We understand that it is important to get the eye in tack sharp focus. What if that eye was not reflecting any light? Isn’t it boring? Check the following examples.
When there is no catch light, the birds look dull and lifeless.
In Cinematography, Portrait and Fashion photography, it is considered the most important aspect of all. If you observe any movie or photographs of the models you will always see the catch light in the eyes of the actors or models. Without the catch light they look very dull or pessimistic.
The same principle applies to bird photography. Light in the bird’s eye implies life and liveliness. Since birds are usually found outdoors, you will almost always get the catch light in their eyes. However, it is good to review your photos in the LCD monitor to see if you got it right before returning.
Below are some more examples of birds with catch light.
How to get the Catch Light
It’s very simple. Position yourself such a way that sun is behind you 🙂 Maybe not….because neither birds nor Sun co-operates…
However, you can try your best to position yourself or wait for such an opportunity. This position will give you a front-lit bird photograph which is most widely used in bird photography. Another important feature of front lighting is that you will avoid the shadows on bird’s body and also the lens glare.
Though one should try side lighting and back lighting to get some creative results.
If the bird is in shadow, you can use flash. However, please avoid using flash as much as you can since it will disturb the birds. Always remember to respect the wildlife.
5 Easy Steps to get Bird’s Eye in Tack Sharp Focus
Now that you understand how important it is to get the eye in sharp focus, let us learn how to do it.
Step 1: Switch to Aperture Priority Mode
Switch to Aperture Priority mode, so that you can control only the Depth of Field (DOF) and let the camera take care of Shutter Speed and ISO. It is the most widely used setting because the birds are always on move and using manual mode can be difficult unless you are too good at it.
Step 2: Select Continuous Speed or Burst Mode setting
Select the highest possible continuous speed settings in your camera so that you can get multiple photos. It is important to use burst mode since birds are very active and always on move. You don’t want to miss that next interesting move which may never happen again, isn’t it?
Step 3: Select Single Point Focusing for Perched Birds
If the bird is perched (in resting position), then select single point focusing. Because single point focusing gives you the control to focus just on the eye.
Now, focus on the bird’s eye. Choose the maximum aperture values like f2.8, f3.5 or f4 if you want blurred background or bokeh effect or minimum aperture like f8, f11 or f16 to show the bird in its habitat . Choose the composition which suits the best. Take multiple shots.
It is good to take multiple shots just in case if the bird moves slightly or you introduced camera shake.
Below are some examples of bird filling the frame with bokeh effect.
And here are some examples of bird in its habitat.
But is it always possible to take this approach? No. Since they are birds after all…very active and always moving.
Step 4: Select 9-point or 21-point or All focusing points for Moving Birds
If the bird is changing its position while perched or preening or in flight, then select 9-point or 21-point or all-point focusing depending on how big the bird is in the frame.
It is very very important for you to understand this.
Choose the focusing points based on how big the bird is in the viewfinder or frame, NOT based on how big the bird is!
Confused? Let us look at some examples.
You got an idea now? Depending on how close you are to the bird and the composition you choose, you can either fill the frame with only the bird or make it as an integral part of the entire scene showing its habitat as we saw in above examples.
The ultimate aim here is to select the points which can cover the bird plus a little bit more space around it to accommodate its movement.
Step 5: Select Aperture Value based on How Big the Bird is in the Frame
You have to select the aperture value based on how big the bird is in the frame. It is critical to making a successful bird photograph.
In simple terms, more area the bird covers in the frame which generally means the bird is closer to you, smaller should be the lens opening (like f/8, f/11, or even f/16) to increase depth of field.
Smaller the area the bird covers in the frame which generally means bird is farther away, bigger should be the lens opening (like f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6) minimizing the depth of field.
Sounds complicated? the idea is to keep as much of bird in focus as possible so that the eye is always in focus. In case of doubt, go ahead and try different aperture values.
I will cover the underlying concepts of Depth of Field and its effects on various aspects of photography in detail in the upcoming articles. Please do subscribe to get notified, if you haven’t.
Here are some examples of birds with two aperture settings to understand the effect.
Always remember to get the eye in sharp focus and also the catch light in the bird’s eye. I hope you are convinced enough that this bird photography tip can make it or break it.
Do you agree with what I said? Do you think something else is more important than this, as far as bird photography is concerned? I would love to hear your opinion in your comments.
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