Lake Elphinstone is a camping area around 1hr 45mins from Mackay and the perfect spot I have found close to home to photograph birds.
We have spent a bit of time here over the winter on our days off and there is nothing more relaxing than watching the birds (Or reading under the trees). Here are my top tips to photograph birds.
- DSLR or Mirrorless camera
- A zoom or telephoto lens
- Tripod (not essential)
Camera settings to photograph birds
There are many different camera settings you can use to photograph birds. What settings you choose will depend on things like if the bird is still or moving, how big the lens is that you are using + how much light is around.
Shoot in RAW format
There are so many advantages to shooting in RAW format for when you take your image into photoshop or lightroom. You can easily adjust your white balance, easily correct underexposed images and a great chance to recover blown out highlights. You can work on getting perfect contrast and colour details. You will be able to print much better quality prints and much more.
Set your white balance to AWB (Auto White Balance)
Setting your camera to AWB will allow the camera to detect the lighting situation and adjust the colour.
This can always be adjusted later in post processing, if you feel it doesn’t fit the look you’re after.
Start with your camera on a semi-automatic mode like Av/A or Tv/T
Semi-automatic mode is totally acceptable to photograph birds – You don’t always have to use Manual Mode. Its the go-to setting used by many pro’s. Don’t feel like you are taking the creativity out of it by using these settings. Av/A or Aperture Mode will allow you to select the aperture you would like to use (which allows you to control the depth of field) and chooses the Shutter Speed and ISO for you.
Sometimes the light may be too low to allow you to get the shutter speed you are after so this is where you would choose the Tv/T (Time Value) or Shutter Speed mode. This will allow you to choose the shutter speed and will set the Aperture and ISO for you
TIP: Set your aperture to the widest it goes (smallest number). This will allow you to get as shallow depth of field as possible.
For Tv/T mode use a minimum shutter speed of 1/1000.
Set your ISO to Auto
Setting your camera’s ISO to Auto allows you to photograph fast moving or flying birds with ease. It automatically adjusts you ISO settings depending on the lighting situation. This is especially handy during days when its cloudy and the sun is constantly going behind the clouds.
If using a crop sensor camera its advisable to set your ISO range to a maximum of 800.
If using a full frame camera you can set your ISO range to a maximum of around 3200 (Of course lower is better).
This will allow your images to come out without too many problems with digital noise.
TIP: CANON USERS: To set the Maximum ISO you will find this in your Camera Menu >ISO Speed Settings >Auto ISO Range & here you can adjust the minimum + maximum range.
NIKON USERS: Shooting Menu > ISO Sensitivity Settings > ISO Sensitivity (Change this number as required) > Auto Sensitivity Control – ON.
Use Evaluative Metering
Evaluative metering is an intelligent metering mode that takes into account the subject in focus, other objects in the frame, the background and uses a weighting system to arrive at the correct exposure. Its my preferred method over spot and center-weighted metering. Evaluative metering is best used with exposure compensation.
Set your camera to Al-Servo Mode
Al-servo mode allows you to track moving subjects when you have a focus point on a subject. I have found it extremely beneficial using this mode. If you are shooting birds that are sitting still in trees it may be easier to switch back to Focus mode. I know I like to hear the little focus ‘beep’ when you know your subject is in focus.
Use Exposure Compensation to tweak exposure
Using exposure compensation to tweak your exposure comes in handy when using evaluative metering. You can tell the camera to either overexposure or underexpose the image by a certain value. The value you use will be different for each subject to I recommend trying +/- 1/3 stop for your images and see what difference it makes.
My top tips to photograph birds…
- Have your back to the sun so the light is not causing any shadows on the bird.
- Always focus on the birds eye.
- If you have your back to the sun and focusing on the birds eye you will get a gorgeous catch light in the birds eye.
- Get down low… lay down if you have to and capture the bird at its eye level.
- If your lenses aperture doesn’t go as low as you would like it – create space behind the subject by getting low and allowing the background to be further away.
- Don’t be afraid to get creative with slower shutter speeds as you get more comfortable with your camera settings.
This is by no means is an exhaustive list on settings to use they are just what I recommend to get started.
For those of you that are interested in the gear I use to photograph birds: Camera – Canon 5D MKiii // Lens – Canon 400mm L f/5.6 // Extender – Canon 1.4x
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