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Bird photography

Meheecho 5 275 United Kingdom
6 Jan 2013 11:26AM
Having been on the site for a few weeks I am now starting to think about bird/wildlife shots and I have a few queries-might be some dumb ones but bear with me!!
I currently have a Canon EOS 450D with 18-55, 75-300 and 50mm lenses
A. How close do you need to be to get the sort of shots I've seen uploaded?
B. What sort of lens/ camera should I be considering?
C. Are the photos enhanced /enlarged on computer before uploading?

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icphoto Plus
16 2.5k England
6 Jan 2013 11:51AM
Welcome to the site!
In my opinion to get started you have the basics in equipment, for a lot of wildlife fieldcraft and intimate knowledge of the subject is more important. Yes you will need a longer telephoto lens to photograph for example small birds or elusive mammals, think of something of 400mm plus - but you can move onto this as you progress. As for image enhancement, I personally do nothing other than levels, curves, saturation sharpening etc., when I photograph Natural History subjects they are as they are and thats it.
Good luck! Wink
AlexandraSD 6 759 United Kingdom
6 Jan 2013 11:53AM
Hi Steve,

It all really depends on what wildlife/birdlife you wish t shoot, but its not all about the gear, field craft plays a big role too.

Never stalk birds, they get spooked so easily, let them come to you, bribe them with bread, entice them with nuts, but do not try to creep up on them, their smart and they will fly off before you can blink.

I only ever shot small birds, the common varieties, those that are easily bribed with titbits, and i used a 300mm on my 350d, which worked fine but i had to be very patient when out and about. I guess for serious wildlife you probably need a far bigger and faster lens than the standard 100-300mm 5.6 lens or whatever it is, but like i said, results are possible with any lens as long as you approach subjects the right way. I got some lovely shots of Common Seals in north norfolk some years ago, from a very wobbly boat with no IS.

With a 300mm lens, you need to be pretty close for small birds i am afraid, a matter of mere feet, if its a red deer then you can afford to have some distance between you.

Cropping is acceptable, the more MP you have, the more you can crop in theory, my old 350d was only 8mp but i didnt crop all that often, your 10mp 450d should be adequate, though i would avoid cropping anything like 50% of any image unless really needed.

If your still finding birds not trusting, you could always invest in a hide, they have come a long way in recent years, or a radio controlled shutter release, with this you can pre-visualize where you want the subject, pre-focus (or leave it on auto is light is superb) and fire off exposures without being near your camera, from up to 100ft away.

I would hazard a guess that most of the lovely bird shots here were done in gardens, or nearby town parks/green spaces, there is no need to travel far at all, and it is the best starting point there is, though even garden birds can be skittish, far better to start of gently than to buy 1000s worth of new optics and travelling 100s miles for nothing.
Paintman Plus
11 1.2k 177 United Kingdom
6 Jan 2013 12:03PM
Why not do a static test with your lens and camera combinations to find out how distance and cropping affect the quality of the photo? If you choose an object the size of a small to medium sized bird, a toy bird perhaps, then take photos at different distances to the subject. In Photoshop crop the photos so all the shots of the subject bird are the same size and look to see how quality drops off the more you have to crop. Basically the more pixels your subject has the better the quality and the more detail you'll see.

When I had the Canon 400mm f5.6 L I was surprised at how close I had to be to the bird for it to fill the frame. I was at a feeding station at about 3 metres from the bird and a Robin only just filled the frame. You have to get pretty close to small birds. If you have a garden, then use a shed or make a hide and set up a bird table with bits of decorative sticks and twigs close by for the birds to queue up on. This will give you some encouragement as the bird traffic will be busy in winter and you'll see straight away at how you're doing.

Your lenses are basic models and are of low quality compared to pro spec lenses. The largest aperture the 75-300 lens has is still too small for low light conditions so you'll have to rig up a few off-camera flashes to gain enough light to up the shutter speed. If you need some well regarded and cheap flashes then these should fit the bill.

500mm is generally considered to be a good focal length for birding, although 600mm + 1.4x converter or an 800mm lens are what the dedicated pro birders use. These are spectacularly expensive bits of kit and will also need a solid tripod and a gimbal head to be factored into the cost.

This site has the best info on producing professional quality bird photos that I've seen. It also goes into a Photoshop workflow and what to do to enhance the photo.

Your camera will do fine at the beginners stage but if you get into it more then a camera with an accurate and fast auto focus system will be of great help.
User_Removed 8 4.6k 1 Scotland
6 Jan 2013 12:25PM
All good advice above.

...one alternative is to photograph larger birds. Birds of prey and waterfowl are examples.

To illustrate, this photo of a common buzzard was taken at about 7 metres distance, from a hide, using a 70-200mm lens at max (full-frame camera) and then cropped to about 25% of the frame. The site was baited daily with roadkill rabbits, deer gralloch etc to get the buzzards into a pattern of visiting.


Post-exposure processing limited to Lightroom adjustments to improve tonal range, clarity and some local sharpening of bird and de-sharpening of background.

AlexandraSD 6 759 United Kingdom
6 Jan 2013 12:35PM
Oh that Buzzard is ace Grin

I will add, this time of year is best for capturing subjects, food is scarcer, and days are very short, this means birds will be a bit more daring than usual, desperate even, which is horrible but thats birdlife for you.

As for feeding stations, i did most of my small birds images at Sandringham forest, by the roadside next to a feeding station, spent weeks there only to get a small handful of really good shots, hiding in my car and keeping very still, quiet and patient, mere feet away from the branch i intended the birds to land on.
icphoto Plus
16 2.5k England
6 Jan 2013 1:08PM
To prove that you don not need fancy equipment to get a sucessful image of birds. I took this on with a Canon Compact, as the space between the bridge parapet was too small for my Nikon DSLR. This image was very sucessful for me during 2012.


Meheecho 5 275 United Kingdom
6 Jan 2013 3:55PM
Thanks a million for the advice. I will try out a few techniques and see how things go before spending big bucks (which I haven't got at present !!!} Maybe upload some trials and see what others think
gingerdougie 11 67 United Kingdom
6 Jan 2013 5:17PM
The kittiwake shot is very atypical as it is taken from the Tyne Bridge. The Tyne Bridge kittiwake colony is the most inland and the most accessible in the British Isles. You can lean over the bridge parapet from the public pavement.
tomcat 12 6.4k 15 United Kingdom
6 Jan 2013 6:56PM
Some good advice aboveSmile
I use the Canon 400mm 5.6, which Alan (Paintman) used to use.
The minimum focussing distance of this lens is 3.5 Mtrs, but with a 12mm extension tube fitted, reduces to approx 2.8 Mtrs - basically it fools the cameraSmile

Still not cheap, but nowhere near the cost of some of the othersSad

I know you have viewed some of my small bird images and they are all taken very close to the 2.8 Mtr margin
Also the focus points come into play, as say a Great tit focused on the eye, would end up with it's tail missing

Obviously for larger birds like woodpeckers etc; then there is no need for the extension tube

Also try to avoid any cropping, apart from a tad to possibly balance up the image - cropping = quality loss - something I found out the hard way

I could go on and on, but one step at a time is the way to go

Something else mentioned above - fieldcraft - know your subject and its habits/preferences - you do not aquire this knowledge overnight though

Trust some of the above waffling is of help

6 Jan 2013 7:05PM
One other item to consider is a remote either wire or trigger to fire yourt shutter, because if you have access to wildlife and can't get close, you can park your camera nearer the activity and then retreat

Works great for birds in flight with manual focus set on a particular spot, and you don't need shed loads of expensive gear

This[link=http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-canon-rc-6-remote-control/p1519993] is a basic canon one which will fit your 450, there are plenty of other options on ebay
tomcat 12 6.4k 15 United Kingdom
6 Jan 2013 7:16PM

Quote:Also the focus points come into play, as say a Great tit focused on the eye, would end up with it's tail missing

What I forgot to mention, was if using a centre point - OK with top LH or RHWink
Steppenwolf 6 1.2k
7 Jan 2013 9:16AM

Quote:Some good advice aboveSmile
I use the Canon 400mm 5.6, which Alan (Paintman) used to use.
The minimum focussing distance of this lens is 3.5 Mtrs, but with a 12mm extension tube fitted, reduces to approx 2.8 Mtrs - basically it fools the cameraSmile

Excellent portfolio.

Isn't the trouble with extension tubes that they lose light - i.e. they effectively reduce the aperture of the lens by moving it further away from the sensor so that the lens projects a larger (less bright) image. And loss of light means a longer exposure - exactly what you don't want with a long telephoto. But I guess you don't lose much with a 12mm tube.
Meheecho 5 275 United Kingdom
7 Jan 2013 2:28PM
Thanks to all so far for the valuable advice.
This site is so good in that it treats even the amateur /beginner with respect and encourages you "keep at it"GrinGrinGrin
cheddar-caveman 14 1.1k England
7 Jan 2013 4:24PM
I shoot almost exclusively birds/wildlife with a Canon 7D (but I started with a 350, and the only lenses I have are a 300mm f4 prime and the 15-85 for general use. I also use a X1.4 extender on the 300mm giving me 420mm. I took this with just the 300mm and have done nothing to it............

You've got 300mm so are well on the way. As has been said, learn the habits of your prey and ambush them rather than try and sneak up on them! I waited three days in a reed bed for this one........

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