Photography is for the Birds

Guest post by Justin McKee

Well, photography isn’t totally for the birds, but I do like to take photos of them from time to time.

No, I’m not a birder, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy trying to get good images of the little majestic flap-flaps that grace our skies.

Obviously, some birds are more rare to see than others. For this post I went to my great-grandmother’s house and took photos out near her bird feeders. It’s fairly easy to get photos at that location because there are almost always birds present.

I have had the opportunity to shoot bald eagles here in the local area. It’s rare, but I definitely whip the car around when I spot one on my commute.

Is there a secret to bird photography?

Not really, but there are some things to keep in mind.

Having a shallow depth of field by using wide apertures puts you at a disadvantage if a bird decides to suddenly move from a sitting position. In the photo above, I was fortunate that my subject decided to stay still. I kept my aperture at f/4.5 to get a nice blurry bokeh while still keeping my subject nice and sharp.

Normally, if there is enough light I would suggest using an aperture of f/4 and up. Your shutter speed may suffer because of that, but you’ll have a higher chance of capturing a sharp image of your subject if it decides to take flight without warning.

Using a higher aperture might mean sacrificing shutter speed or ISO if a bird takes flight and you want a shot of that bird in flight.

A flash can come in handy at that point as fill light. If you have the time and patience to set up an external flash and sync it up so you can get a good photo, more power to you. That’s definitely a viable option.

Taking photos of birds also is a bit tricky because, like most animals, birds are very aware of your presence when you walk near their feeder.

Thankfully, their short attention span is their downfall. If you sit near the feeder for long enough (sitting very still), most birds will revisit the feeder despite your looming scarecrow-esque presence — or, at least mine; I’m very tall.

Using a telephoto lens also can help because you won’t have to be as close to the birds in order to get the shot. My 70-200mm is great for bird photography when I’m babysitting a feeder. I’d prefer a 300mm or more if I were out looking for bald eagles or chicken hawks.
They aren’t as friendly if you get close.


Justin McKee is a small-town photographer with big ideas living in Michigan. In addition to portraits, wedding photography and video, he also enjoys wildlife photography. He always seeks to learn more about his craft.

About Karin

Journalist, singer, reader, movie fanatic, photography buff, GVSU alum, wanna-be-Brit, Crohn's fighter, Coca-Cola addict, animal lover, not a kid person, hater of winter, Michigander
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