I feel I am going off-track here. I have not been able to write a lot these days because I have spent an enormous amount of time in developing the V-BLESSED framework. Unfortunately, it didn’t work as I didn’t receive enough support from our readers.
But, that’s okay. Sometimes, the best of the intentions go wrong.
Enough said. Let’s understand some key bird photography settings that might set you up in the right direction.
In my opinion, “Settings” is all that myriad of bird photographers are looking for. Which is unfortunate.
Let me ask you a simple question: What’s your first reaction when you look at the most beautiful bird photograph?
Do you say “Wow! What an amazing photograph!” and then sink in the beauty of it?
Or do you say “What equipment is the photographer using? What settings have they used? Maybe that photographer has expensive equipment.”
If it’s the latter, you have to turn it around and start appreciating the beauty first. Here’s why.
Suppose you are looking at an extra-ordinary painting of a bird, what are your thoughts?
You would appreciate the painting, and then you would appreciate the painter, and hopefully, you will spend quite some time sinking in the beauty of the bird. Isn’t it? Yes or no?
See…you would never think for a moment about which paper, painting kit, brush, or easel did the painter use to paint this. Right? Why is that? Simply because you know that the equipment cannot make you a great painter. You have tried it and know that for sure.
But, why is that it’s not the same when it comes to photography. Why do you think that it’s about the settings and equipment?
It’s about you. Always, it’s about the photographer not about the equipment he/she uses.
Alright, if I have changed your viewpoint (at least up to an extent), then I can give you a head-start about the necessary settings that you can use for your bird photography. But, remember that settings alone cannot make you a great photographer. It will only set you in the direction.
Let’s make it simple and practical.
Simple Bird Photography Settings for Beginners
- Choose a semi-automatic mode like Aperture Priority. If you are well versed with Manual Mode, you can use it. But, I would recommend you to practice Aperture Priority mode too, as it might come handy.
Read about Photography Basics – Aperture [Part V]
- Choose the continuous Autofocus Mode like AF-C (for Nikon) or AI-Servo (for Canon) or equivalent for your camera. This helps to track the movements of the bird.
- Set the burst speed to CH (or continuous high speed) mode to utilize the maximum burst speed your camera supports. This is critical as you would want to get the perfect pose of the bird.
- Choose Evaluative (for Canon) or Matrix (for Nikon) metering. This metering mode evaluates the entire scene to calculate the required exposure. This means you’ll get a balanced exposure for your subject and the background. If you are choosing Spot metering, make sure that the auto-focus point is tied to the metering. Otherwise, it’s of no use, unless you always shoot with center auto-focus point.
- Use Exposure Compensation to adjust the exposure based on the scene. It is usually denoted by +/- and there’ll be a dedicated button in most of the DSLRs. Note that exposure reading from the meter is never the perfect one. It’s usually +/- 0.3 or 0.7 difference that gives you a perfect exposure. Try taking various exposures for the same subject to see what works the best.
- Turn ON the overexposed highlights indicator (In some cameras, referred to as Enable Highlights. Generic name for this is ). It’s usually found in the Playback menu of your DSLR. When enabled, it’ll blink wherever the image is overexposed. Test it by intentionally overexposing an image. It should blink while reviewing your image on the LCD monitor. Whenever there’s blinkies, you should compensate for the exposure using exposure compensation technique by underexposing the scene.
- Keep the ISO between 400 and 800 (or less if there’s enough light) if you are using a cropped-sensor DSLR (APS-C or DX format camera). Try sticking to a smaller ISO value so that you get a clean image. Cropped-sensor DSLRs are notoriously noisy in higher ISO range. Test it. For full-frame DSLRs, you can keep the ISO at 400 to 1600.
- Aim to get the shutter speeds of at least 1/500th of a second to freeze the action as well as to avoid any camera shake. The higher the shutter speed, better it is. However, don’t sacrifice the image quality by bumping up the ISO. If you are using a tripod or beanbag, you can choose the slower shutter speeds as needed.
Don’t forget to test your lens to see if it’s sharp enough.
Note: Use a Class 10 memory card of at least 95 MB/s and above to make the best of your camera. A slow memory card will ruin the burst speeds that your DSLRs support.
I think if you follow the above settings, you would be able to kick start your bird photography in a better way.
Just remember that all the above settings have just ONE GOAL – to get the proper EXPOSURE. No matter what you do, don’t forget to check the histogram every single time. See if it’s underexposed or overexposed if so, use exposure compensation to correct it.
Always check the histogram. I see a lot many photographers not doing it. It’s a mistake. The histogram is your best friend. Make use of it. If you know that an action would unfold in a particular location, take a test shot beforehand. Check the exposure, if it’s not okay; try compensating it until you are satisfied with the exposure. Then, when the action unfolds, you don’t have to worry!
To make it super easy for you, I have written an article called 10 Must-Use Bird Photography Camera Settings for Beginners for Digital Photography School. It’s very elaborate and has information about all these settings.
Let me know how it goes, in your comments. I am not seeing a lot of comments these days. Is it because my articles are not good? Or, is it because you don’t feel like sharing your thoughts?
Let me tell you that your comments are important—small or big.
Talk to you soon.
P.S. May I ask you a favor? Would you be able to articulate why you didn’t opt for the V-BLESSED membership site? Please be honest. If you don’t want to say it here, you can at least mail me and share your thoughts.
P.P.S. Don’t forget to check out my article 10 Must-Use Bird Photography Camera Settings for Beginners that I wrote for Digital Photography School. It’s very elaborate and has information about all these settings.