Top Six Tips for Standout Bird Photographs

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) feeding on crabapple fruit in late winter, Ithaca, New York, USA. Canon EOS 7D, EF 500mm f/4 IS USM lens, 1.4X extender, Gitzo tripod. 1/1250 second, f/5.6, ISO 800.
Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) feeding on crabapple fruit in late winter, Ithaca, New York, USA. Canon EOS 7D, EF 500mm f/4 IS USM lens, 1.4X extender, Gitzo tripod, 1/1250 second, f/5.6, ISO 800. © Marie Read

By Marie Read

Whether beautiful or bizarre, colorful or cryptic, exuberant or elusive, birds captivate us with their spirited ways and fascinating lifestyles. It’s no wonder they top the list of favorite subjects for many nature photographers. That’s been true since the dawn of nature photography, even more so since the digital age brought getting great photos within reach of anyone with a camera. The result is a world saturated with gorgeous bird imagery. So, how do you create images that stand out from the crowd? Once you’ve mastered the classic portrait, take your photos to the next level: make more meaningful images by showing the bird in its habitat or by capturing its behavior. Here are a few tips to help you.

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Photographing Hummingbirds: A Pandemic Escape

Hummingbirds getting ready to migrate. (The right front is an adult male Rufous; the other three appear to be Broad bills.) © Debbie McCulliss
Hummingbirds getting ready to migrate. (The right front is an adult male Rufous; the other three appear to be Broad bills.) f/6.3, 250mm, ISO 640, 1/8000 sec. © Debbie McCulliss

By Debbie McCulliss

On the snowy first couple of weeks of this past spring, to lessen pandemic anxiety, I was thinking of migration—movement from one region to another. It was timely. Epic animal migrations take place every spring. Some of the feats that these animals accomplish, crossing oceans, traveling without stopping, are unthinkable. Their destinations are clear and instinctual.

But this spring was different. People all over the globe were migrating, many without a clear destination, back to their home continent, country, or state, not knowing if, when, or how their lives would be permanently or temporarily altered.

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Photographing Wood Warblers

Palm warbler on a branch
Palm warbler

Story & Photos by Tom Haxby

If you ever want a challenging photo subject, try wood warblers. These small, fast-moving birds are the ultimate test of being able to quickly track and capture a photo. The other hurdle with capturing warblers is that they are frequently found in thick vegetation. I cannot tell you how many times I have had a branch or leaf in just the wrong place. But persistence and lots of practice can eventually pay off with a fantastic image of a compelling subject. 

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Get Busy Close to Home With A Photography Blind

A  photography blind in the field.
Social distancing at its best – a Tragopan V6 photography blind in the field.

Story & photos by Gerrit Vyn

One of the biggest challenges in nature photography is getting close to wildlife. This is especially true in locations outside of parks and refuges where wildlife is often habituated to people. Photography blinds allow you to get into camera range in places that would be impossible to otherwise and allow you to shoot where no one else is shooting – a local woodlot, marsh, or your own backyard bird feeders. Using a photography blind is often the best or only way to photograph a particular species, location, or behavior. A good photography blind is one of the most important tools in a wildlife photographers’ arsenal for getting close. Working from a blind also benefits wildlife. Rather than pursuing and potentially disturbing subjects, the photographer lets subjects come to them. This increases a photographer’s opportunities to shoot natural, undisturbed behavior, and minimizes their impact on wildlife. One of the great things about working from a blind is that if you’ve done your homework and planned well you can be confident you are going to have some unique opportunities for photography.

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Showcase 2020 Winner Profile – Sha Lu

Showcase 2020 Judges’ Choice, Birds: “White-tailed Kite Food Transfer" © Sha Lu.
Showcase 2020 Judges’ Choice, Birds: “White-tailed Kite Food Transfer” © Sha Lu.

How I Got the Shot

This photo shows the food exchange between a parent and a juvenile white-tailed kite. Their nest was on a tree at the parking lot of a local park. After photographing and observing their daily behavior for many days, I had a good educated guess of where such exchanges might happen. When this juvenile fledged, it performed one of its very first food exchanges right in front of my position, giving me almost full frame shots, resulting in a great amount of details in the photos.

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Backyard Birdwatching in the Midst of the Pandemic

The author photographing backyard birds from his dining room.
The author photographing backyard birds from his dining room.

Story & photos by Frank W. Baker

Here I am, in Columbia SC, where the weather has taken a turn toward Spring. The azaleas are blooming and the birds outside my windows are quite active.

I’m a big fan of shore and wading birds so, if you’re like me, you’re rather frustrated now that most of the coastline has been placed “off limits” to us as we shelter at home.

Many other bird watching sites are also closed. With nowhere to go, I’m spending more of my time at home. Perhaps, like me, you are taking time to review older images and post some online.

There’s only so much I can do before I need to spend some time away from the computer. A window in my dining room is the perfect spot now because of its unfettered view of my bird feeders.

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Chasing Spring Warblers

Magnolia Warbler

Story and photos by Bill Palmer

Most of us are pretty adroit at photographing eagles, hawks, pelicans, ducks and other large birds, but what about photographing small, hyperactive, secretive birds such as warblers? Adding to the challenge, when you do get a chance to see one, it may only be visible for a few seconds and is often in dark shadows. From basic bird biology, to techniques, to equipment, here are some field-tested hints to photographing these challenging species.

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Getting the Most From Your Long Lens: A NANPA Webinar

Sandhill Cranes flying together © Bob Coates.
Sandhill Cranes © Bob Coates.

You have a long telephoto lens or you’re lusting after one. There’s nothing like that long reach to zoom in on birds and wildlife. But telephotos are not the easiest things to use and the longer the reach the more precise you have to be. Are you using your long glass to its full potential? Find out how you can squeeze all the possibilities (and then some) out of you long lenses in a NANPA webinar presented by Bob Coates on Thursday, February 13, at 6:00pm EST.

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A Favorite Place to Photograph Wildlife: The Silver River in Florida

Three juvenile double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) standing on a log on the Silver River in Florida.
Three juvenile double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) standing on a log on the Silver River in Florida.

Story & photos by Linda Burek

My husband and I travel extensively around the United States and Canada in our motorhome from a home base in St. Augustine, Florida. With all that traveling, the Silver River remains one of my favorite places to photograph wildlife.  The river is located east of Ocala in Florida. The thirty springs that comprise Silver Springs form the headwaters of this river and its clear waters flow through dense cypress swamp for almost 5 miles before it feeds into the Ocklawaha River. The area is accessible through Silver Springs State Park and Ray Wayside Park.

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Six Tips for Standout Bird Photographs

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) feeding on crabapple fruit in late winter, Ithaca, New York, USA. Canon EOS 7D, EF 500mm f/4 IS USM lens, 1.4X extender, Gitzo tripod. 1/1250 second, f/5.6, ISO 800.
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) feeding on crabapple fruit in late winter, Ithaca, New York, USA. Canon EOS 7D, EF 500mm f/4 IS USM lens, 1.4X extender, Gitzo tripod. 1/1250 second, f/5.6, ISO 800.

Story & photos by Marie Read

Whether beautiful or bizarre, colorful or cryptic, exuberant or elusive, birds captivate us with their spirited ways and fascinating lifestyles. It’s no wonder they top the list of favorite subjects for many nature photographers. That’s been true since the dawn of nature photography, even more so since the digital age brought getting great photos within reach of anyone with a camera. The result is a world saturated with gorgeous bird imagery. So, how do you create images that stand out from the crowd? Once you’ve mastered the classic portrait, take your photos to the next level: make more meaningful images by showing the bird in its habitat or by capturing its behavior. Here are a few tips to help you.

Continue reading