Bird Photography – Part 1

Bird Photography – Part 1

By Robbie Aspeling

As an avid birder the chances are that at some point you’ve been captivated by a bird photograph in some sort of publication or on the WEB and have considered yourself being there taking the photo. The thought may have crossed your mind that “Bird photography is for specialists” or “you need such expensive equipment” or that you would never be able to do it. Well the good news is that with the development of cameras and camera technology that it is much easier and cheaper to take decent bird photographs today than ever before.

Pied Kingfisher and meal.

Your reason for taking photographs of birds might be for purely record shots so that after a morning out you are able to sit back in the comfort of your own home and either relive the sightings you saw or maybe to identify that lifer that you saw during the outing. So often we perceive the ID to be one type of bird but then on closer inspection in a photograph, we actually identify that it was a different bird. Some birders have set themselves the challenge that they cannot tick a bird unless they have a photograph of it. You might also want to venture into the world of bird photography purely to capture the beauty of the birds of our country. We have such a variety of birds in South Africa and even during our colder winter months when all the migratory birds have left for home, there are still many to see and photograph.

As a full time photographer that has a passion for bird photography, I am often asked for advice from aspiring bird photographers about equipment or the actual photography process. I will be putting pen to paper and offering advice where I can over the coming months. Please also feel free to drop me an email about what you would like to read about or if you have any questions.

The question I am so often asked is what sort of camera should be used to photograph birds. The answer to this is all dependant on the level of photography that you wish to achieve and for what purpose the images will be used for. There are 3 main categories of cameras, namely Compacts, Bridge cameras and DSLR’s. They all have their pros and cons of which I will give a quick synopsis.

Compacts – These are what we always used to call “point and shoot” or “muk ‘n druk”. Very small, compact and generally only having a digital zoom function. The image quality is fine for everyday snaps but unless the bird is sitting within a meter or two of you shouting “shoot me, shoot me”, not very good for bird photography.

Bridge Cameras – A step up from the compacts with far better lenses and generally large zoom abilities and reasonably good image quality. They can be used in automatic and semi-automatic modes as well as in manual modes. They are light, easy to carry around and ideal for birders. Their lenses cannot be changed but the built in lenses offer enough versatility to be able to capture birds both close and at a little distance away from us.

DSLR’s – Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras. These are the cameras that are used for the best image quality. They have no built in lenses instead different lenses can be used on the camera depending on the application required. These are generally heavier and require a little skill to be used and with a nice zoom telephoto lens are in fact the choice of many birders. The guy that you see walking in the group with the camera and that long looking lens protruding from the front of the camera.

Once you have bitten the bullet and decided that bird photography is something that you want to do, your investment can immediately start kicking in. Investing in suitable equipment as well as investing your time to master the art of Avian Photography can be very challenging and very frustrating. Two images are never quite the same and nor are the circumstances of where or how you capture your image. The best advice ever is to get into a cycle of experimenting and learning: get stuck in and shoot any birds you can find but also read as much as you can (from the Web, books, etc.) and talk to people who seem to have ‘cracked it’. Be aware, though, that it’s a big subject and the people who have mastered it can be reluctant to share what they’ve had to learn the hard way.

Diderick Cuckoo
Diderick Cuckoo

Next month I will talk about all the ins and outs of Bridge Cameras and their place in bird photography.

Robbie Aspeling.



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