You CAN Get Those Wild Birds in Flight: A Lesson in Photography with Deb Hirt
I am not a professional photographer, but those of you that have seen my bird pictures, especially my in-flight ones, have complimented them. I have been asked by several people to do a piece on how to get good wildlife photos, so I am here to do so.
Prior to January 1, 2012, I have always had a point-and-shoot camera, a Minolta 35mm that I got as a present two decades ago. It had served me well, but there was always that itch to get a digital camera, which started ten years ago. This I finally conceded to, which was an upgrade, as well.
My Camera and Thoughts
My camera is now a Nikon Coolpix L120 with vibration reduction, specifically for sports and wildlife shots. It is 21X wide optical zoom with 14.1 megapixels that I got on sale for $200. I was also advised to get a tripod, which I am still happy that I got, for it has helped me with some photos when I was on grade. Since I no longer have to buy film, what harm does it do one to take pictures that may or may not be blurry? None whatsoever, so it made me brave to take shots that I never would have done. Am I happy with this choice of camera? Absolutely, though I have felt that I am outgrowing it, and want to move up to those terrific National Geographic worthy photos. Can I do it? Only time will tell.
Many professional photographers get great, eye-stopping photos, sometimes up to ten a year, and they are happy with that. The secret to photography is being in the right place at the right time, with a small focus(pardon the pun!) on the camera. Don’t EVER let anyone tell you that you can’t get great shots with your comparable camera, as I am here to tell you that you CAN, for I am living proof. You have seen my weekly columns, “Life at Boomer Lake with Deb,” and you, my readers, have told me what wonderful pictures they are. I want you to know that you can get the same results with your birds and wildlife, and here is how to do it.
Some Good Tips
Know the area that you frequent for your pictures. You will learn where your birds tend to be at most times, unless you are in migration season. That is when every conceivable rule is broken. You will find birds out there that you have never seen before from a few days to several weeks. Keep these things in mind, and never let a photo opportunity go untaken. It could be your only shot. But remember one thing: there will always be others, perhaps not this year, but maybe next. Just be patient.
Now for those in-motion shots, don’t be afraid to take them. Many will not turn out the way that you had hoped, but some of them will. This will encourage you to keep trying. Never stop trying, like Stephen King told me as my Creative Writing teacher back in my college days. This was the answer to my question when I asked him what he attributed his early success to when he was getting to be well known in Maine as a writer. Right, Steve?
Familiarity is the Key
Don’t be afraid to experiment. The best time for me to go out is fairly early morning, not at the crack of dawn, as my camera won’t work well with that little bit of light. During mid-June, I’m out at 7 a.m., and I can get good photos on land, but dark water shots that the sun hasn’t hit yet will be grainy. Make sure that the sun is behind you with this type of camera.
Try taking late afternoon shots, too. I like going out later in the day, as many of the fledglings are out with their parents feeding. Since most people work during the day, this is also a good time to get some wonderful pictures, too. You will also have that late afternoon sun and shadows to play with and incorporate in your photographs.
As the birds in your area see you out and about for long periods of time, they will get used to you. You will be a familiar fixture in their lives. As long as you don’t prove to be aggressive toward them, they will begin to trust you a little more. It will be easier to get closer to them and get the same sorts of shots that I do. I call myself a “bird stalker,” as I walk very slowly toward them to get nearer. It takes a little time, but some of those shots that wouldn’t have been possible before, are getting easier now. I have been going to Boomer Lake in Stillwater, OK. Since January of 2012 and it is now mid-June. EXPECT to take a few months for these birds to get used to you. It will happen.
Keep the Faith
The sky is the limit, the world is your oyster. Dust off that camera that you haven’t been doing anything with for a month. I’d like to see you get out there and experiment in your neighborhood. Remember that your camera is your friend. Read the owner’s manual and see what the options are for your make and model and USE them. Take several shots of the same birds over and over, day after day, month after month. Then review them. You will see that your ability and your skill is improving. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and PUSH your camera to its limits. You will see that you caught part of a bird in flight at first. You will notice how the different types on birds move before they decide to take flight. Eventually it will become ingrained in you, and your motion shots will start to come and take shape. Nothing will be perfect at first, but you will see your skill start to shine through.
You can do it, have faith in yourself. It will never happen unless you try. Train your eye to see birds and animals when you go on walks. These are all things that you can and will develop. Best of luck, and let me see your best shots!