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Eric Dresser Nature Photography

Wildlife Photo Tips
Bird Photography

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Photographing Birds

Feeding Birds:
One of the easiest places to get started with wildlife photography is with the birds that frequent American Tree Sparrow our feeders. This is a good place to get some practice using a telephoto lens. Long focal length lenses, 300mm and up, is very critical when focusing and require a fair amount of "getting used to." These long focal lengths will also demand the use of a tripod. Of course, we want our subjects to be in a natural looking environment and not sitting on the ledge of a feeder. I like to set up a perch for birds to land on near the feeder. We can choose a perch that has only one obvious place for the birds to land so that we have a precise spot to watch and pre-focus. If a stump is selected, we can also place some seed in any hidden crevices atop the stump and a hole can be drilled in the side for suet.

Other Birds:
Like all other forms of wildlife it is important to know your subject as thoroughly as possible. Know the birds preferred habitat, song, breeding season, migratory routes, and any other information that can be gathered. A lot of this information is available in Field Guides and on the web. By knowing the songs of the birds you can be alerted to a bird at a distance. Also, it is important to know which season will offer the best opportunity to photograph certain birds.
Below are some general times for my area of Upstate New York.

Warblers: Warblers are plentiful in my neck of the woods from MayAmerican Tree Sparrow through August. They are most vocal and therefore easier to find in May and early June. The males will have favored singing areas where they will call all day with the hope of attracking a mate. This is where knowing the individual calls and habitats of these birds is priceless.

Hawks and Owls: January through March is my favorite time of year. At this time of year you are liable to find hawks or owls in areas that they aren't normally found. Years when winter rodent numbers are down; some of these birds will travel far south of there normal wintering areas in search of food. I have had good luck on wind swept fields where the snow isn't nearly as deep. I guess it makes for better hunting.

Waterfowl: I prefer photographing ducks and geese in early spring. I try to find a body of water which is one of the first in the area to be free of ice. Since the ducks will have fewer options in the way of resting and stopover places; there will be large concentrations of waterfowl in these areas. At this time of year the duck's plumage is at its peak and mating rituals are in full swing.

Shorebirds: Late summer is time for shorebirds in my neck of the woods. They are migrating south from their summer breeding grounds on the tundra. If you have any local reservoirs that get drawn down annually, you might want to check them out. Exposed mud flats are what the shorebirds like. I photograph them from my kayak and have found them surprisingly tolerant.

Hummingbirds are another of my favorite subjects. It's really quite simple; again we'll use a feeder. I prefer a hummingbird feeder with a single tube protruding from the bottom. Filled with a mixture of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water, hummers will return time after time. By placingRuby Throated Hummingbird wildflowers carefully, we can hide the tube of the feeder. Unfortunately, because a hummer's wings beat at an amazing 70 beats per second; they require a slightly complex flash setup. This blistering speed makes the use of fine quality (low speed) film with existing light an impossibility. I use 3 flashes, two on the bird and one on a background. Setup in a fully shaded area and then try to overpower the existing light by at least 6 stops. By doing this, you will eliminate blurred, or ghost images, of the bird's wings. Positioning a background of sky-blue or grass-green and lighting it with an additional flash, we'll have a very natural-looking photo. Lighting a background is a necessity and, if this step is left out, the resulting photo will look as though it was taken at night. This is because the flash or flashes used to light the bird will not carry far enough to light the background.

More Photography Tips Below:

Getting Started / Blinds / Getting Published / Finding Wildlife / Bird Tips / Birds in Flight
Duck Tips / Insect Tips / Mammal Tips / Deer Tips / My Equipment / Used Equipment

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All photos and content Copyright Eric C. Dresser / Eric Dresser Wildlife Photography.

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