Week 2 of our National Lockdown and I loved seeing the photos from our first week's themes colour! Ready for a new theme?!
For this second week, I want to look t how birds have an insuppressible ability to brighten up your day, week or even month.
Trying to photograph birds may sound a bit specialist or even intimidating but I assure you it’s not.
The spark of my photographic career started when I was 7 or 8. I had a small compact camera my mun brought me from the Avon catalogue. It was purple which I hated but I loved the idea of having a camera and there was one moment when we were out by a canal a swan came into land in front of us and I managed to get a picture just as it’s feet hit the water. From that point I was hooked on capturing moments in time with a camera.
Now I’m pretty sure most people’s phone cameras are going to be better than that purple 110 film camera I had all those years ago, and I’m certain once you start trying to snap our feathery friends in your local area you’re going to get completely engrossed and hooked on it!
So here’s some of my tips on photographing birds from your doorstep…
Keep it local - Start with your garden and put some bird feeders up. If you don’t have a garden put some feeders up by your door or by your windows. We have a clear bird feeder that sticks to our window and the kids go nuts when we get birds coming and feeding from them, it’s brilliant! If you can invest the time you can often get robins and blue tits to get used to your presence and even get them feeding from you hand!
Different birds prefer different types of food, I use sunflower hearts which are good but by far mealworms seem the most popular in our garden.
You could also head out to places like local parks, ponds, canals and rivers. Places, where birds are used to human activity, can be really top spots for photographing birds and wildlife.
Give it some space - One of the easy traps that we’ve all fallen into at times is the idea that we need to get as close as possible to the bird or creature we’re trying to photograph. Really it’s the photographs that include the environment or habitat it’s in that help provide a more interesting picture and also helps provide more context.
For example say a flamingo landed near the houses of parliament - if you decided to get a close profile of the exotic bird you’d have a nice portrait but no context of the extraordinariness of the situation. Whereas if you approached it to include big ben and the houses of parliament in the background you’d much better reflect the rareness of the situation.
A real-life example of this I had recently was of a rare visit from a Hoopoe in Leeds. Now there were some great portraits of the hoopoe on the local cricket pitch with nicely blurred out backgrounds and great moments where the hoopoe tossed a grub up in the air and was captured mid-toss. But for me I wanted to reflect the more British, urban suburban environment it had found itself in. So I tried to include things like car wheels and the driveway slabs which it was picking at and finding grubs between. This way I’ve recorded something that reflects the unusualness of the situation.
Lookup - It’s a great time of year to look to the skies! We have groups of starlings around our village that are growing in size by the day and watching them glide overhead then descend to raid a nearby berry bush is one of my daily highlights! Other flocks of birds you might see flying overhead are lapwing, curlew, geese and swans. Another local highlight this year is seeing a charm of 8-10 goldfinch as they search the local trees and gardens for food.
As the months get colder we’re likely to see our seasonal visitors the redwing and fieldfare. I once watched a flock of what must have been around 300 red wings working their way through the berry trees of a local golf course. It was spectacular!
Every winter and autumn brings a star species of one sort of another. For us here it’s usually Hawfinches or the stunning waxwings that get everyone excited. So keep an eye on local social media groups and pages in case you get a star visitor!
I have a bit of a mantra for my photography. It’s applicable in every aspect of my photography and equally appropriate for photographing birds...
“I would rather capture an extraordinary photo of an “ordinary” bird than an ordinary photo of an extraordinary bird”
And as we look to photograph the birds in our local area we should continue to ask ourselves, how do I make this photo as interesting as possible? How do I show people something different? something new?
So maybe it’s birds in unusual places, or from unusual angles or in an unusual light. Look for things that will help add intrigue and interest to your photos.
So this is moving into the next level now and it may sound tricky but I believe the more you challenge yourself the happier you tend to be with the photos you get. And I want to be honest I miss the shot I want more often that I get it, but it’s the trying and anticipation that is so engrossing and when you do get it right. It’s just exhilarating!
Just one more tip for anyone wanting to try and capture unusual or exciting bird behaviour like bickering over food. The brighter the conditions the more likely you are to get a successful action shot. In dull conditions, the camera’s shutter tends to be slower. So if you capture any fast movement it’s likely to appear blurred. Whereas in brighter, lighter conditions your cameras will operate with faster shutter speeds making it more likely to freeze the action.
And that’s it! I know there’s a diverse range of you who are at different places with your cameras. So if you are someone who just wants pick up your phone or camera and take picture. I LOVE that you’re here and watching and I don’t you to feel intimidated at the challenge of photographing birds. You CAN get awesome shots of birds with any camera and I hope you get out in your gardens or local area and think really creatively about photographing the birds around you.
If you’re someone who likes to take your camera off of auto I LOVE that you are here watching too! Think about the different shutter speeds you’re photographing birds at and think about the impact your depth of field is having too and how you might compromise between these two fundamental aspects of photography.
And for everyone, don’t be afraid to make mistakes on this because you’re probably going to learn more from what doesn’t work that what does work.
The key thing is that this is an activity that I guarantee is going to engross you and really help those lockdown hours flyby!