Skill Level: Advanced
Course length: 4 weeks
Next start date: 1st June
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Birds are all around us in our daily lives. Whether it be waders on a windswept estuary or tame ducks in a city park, photographing wild birds is an art that has to be learnt. This course will reveal the secrets to capturing that perfect shot as practiced by one of the worlds leading bird photographers.
Good technique is important and will be covered in detail from lighting to creating eye catching compositions. We will explore how different focal length lenses, your positioning and angle of view all change the feel of a picture. We look at the best ways of supporting a long lens and how to use a short lens even a compact camera for taking eye catching results.
Often the difference between capturing a great shot as opposed to something that is acceptable, but no more, is having the knowledge of how shutter speed and aperture selection can influence the end result. Where in the frame should the bird go, should I shoot in portrait or landscape format? Bird photography however, requires more than just good technique, it needs field-craft.
You will learn to spot certain signals a bird gives off before take off, how to approach a wary species, positioning of hides, attracting birds to the garden and tips on likely locations that you can try visiting in your neighbourhood for a successful shot.
These and many more questions will be answered as we delve down into how to photograph three different groups of birds. We finish with a master-class on capturing birds in flight, and the ability to put some of what you have learnt in the previous lessons to good use.
On completion of this 4 week course you will have learnt good basic fieldcraft, along with the ability to consistently capture well exposed and creative images of birds. You will also have the knowledge to successfully shoot birds in flight.
Lesson One : Garden Birds
We first discuss the ideal all round equipment for photographing birds and take a brief look at the basics of exposure and choosing both appropriate shutter speeds and depth of field.
We then look at attracting birds to a garden or indeed woodland feeding station. The best way of siting a bird table for light and backgrounds, concealment, hides or using a garden shed or your home as a hide and the props you need to make natural looking images. We examine how to encourage a bird on to a particular perch and then how to frame your subject. Finally we look at manipulating the light and techniques for making striking images that go beyond simple portraits.
Lesson Two : Wildfowl
Wildfowl the collective name for ducks, geese and swans are one of the most accessible and dynamic subjects on offer to the bird photographer. They generally inhabit open environments, are often very approachable or gather together outside the breeding season in spectacular flocks.
This lesson will look at reading the signs these birds give off whether they are about to take flight or exhibit some other form of behaviour. We will look at how your angle of view can dramatically influence the feel of an image, and delve into how perspective can change depending on the focal length of lens used. Flocks can offer all sorts of creative opportunities from freezing action to experimenting with motion blur.
Guidance will be given on seeking out great places to photograph wildfowl and being creative when your subject is tame.
Lesson Three : Waders
Many species of waders or shorebirds as they are commonly referred to in the US travel vast distances, migrating across oceans and continents to and from their breeding and wintering grounds. Some species can be approached by careful stalking, others require more planning with the provision of a hide.
Various techniques for photographing waders will be discussed including tips on stalking and the pros and cons of wearing camouflage gear when doing so. Roosting flocks such as Knot can offer exciting opportunities and we look at using the landscape around our subject as a key feature of the composition.
Finally we investigate how some images of waders can work best when converted to black and white.
Lesson Four : Birds in flight
Successful flight photography other than when an opportune moment presents itself, usually means being in the right place at the right time. Our final lesson examines how forward planning and anticipating an opportunity will reap rewards. We look at how depth of field and shutter speeds are crucial to securing a well executed image.
Tips are given on which species offer the best flight opportunities, and we look at how birds can be manipulated to fly in front of the camera. This final lesson will also draw on much we have learnt in the previous three sessions that when used together help secure images of birds in flight, the most challenging aspect of bird photography.
This course will involve some travel to different locations, so before you book it, please make sure you have allowed enough time in your diary. Each week you will be asked to submit 3 images of different types of birds. Week one is the easiest for most people as it covers garden birds. Week 2,3 and 4 will involve travel to various locations to photograph the different bird varieties. For wild fowl and waders you you will need to find a suitable pond, river, mudflats or estuary to photograph and failing that, a zoo or farm, where you can photograph captive birds.
DSLR or Compact Camera with large zoom lens
Zoom lens from 200-600mm
Gimbal Tripod Head
Shutter Release Cable
Portable Bird Hide
Bean Bag lens support
Bird Photography Course: You will Learn How To Take Sharp Well-Focused Shots
Firstly, be aware of the basics of bird photography so that you know what you’re aiming at whenever you’re out photographing birds. Then learn how to take sharp well-focused shots.
When you can take a photo of a bird with pin sharp focus on the eye, it goes a long way towards getting a shot that will impress. I can’t emphasise this enough. Take the time to read this article and master the basics.
Bird Photography Workshop: Lighting, Composition and Exposure
Once you’re confident that you can take sharp well-focused photos you should master lighting, composition and exposure. Taking your photo with the best lighting, the bird framed correctly and keeping detail in the shadows without blowing the highlights is the final ingredient for a perfect shot.
Bird Photography Tutorials: Know Your Birds
OK, so you know how to take the picture but where and when do you take it? Knowing your subject will help you to get the best photos by being in the right place at the right time. If you don’t know where to go to find them or don’t know how they behave then you won’t get a good shot.
Once you know everything about them, you need to know how to get close.
There are three ways to get close to birds … attracting them, stalking them and hiding from them. I use all three methods all of the time.
Birds In Flight
One of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of bird photography is to photograph them when they’re doing what they do best … Flying.
Many photography skills will need to come together at the same time, so take a look at our birds in flight section and you’ll soon have some great images of them framed and hanging on your wall.
Bird Photography Ethics
Finally, I’d like to briefly mention ethical photography. This is something that is very important to me. Wherever you go and whatever you do when photographing birds it’s important to be ethical: