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You CAN Get Those Wild Birds in Flight: A Lesson in Photography with Deb Hirt

Updated on November 9, 2012
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Background

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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!

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    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Pearl. Just keep working with your camera. Sometimes if you read the owner's manual a second time, you pick up a few new things.

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      I just bought a 'bridge' camera that was about $100. I'm still learning how to use it, but I take lots of pictures. Like you say, some of them are blurry, but now and then I get a great one! It's sort of addictive. Thanks for the great article. Voted Up, interesting and useful.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Good, Prateek, I do wish to encourage everyone to enjoy themselves by taking photos of the birds and animals that they love. I just had an 8 x10 photo done of one of my raccoom pictures that I now have hanging on the wall.

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      prateek 5 years ago

      realy your article is a sourse for every upcoming wild photographer and its give a lot of inspiration , thanx

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      shiningirisheye, that is a Red-Winged Blackbird. Yes, do get your camera out and have fun with it. You'll feel good about getting out for the fresh air and exercise, and you'll be enjoying yourself once you see all the great pictuires that you're getting over the long term. Do let me know how you're doing with each photo opportunity.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 5 years ago from Upstate, New York

      My Dad left me his digital camera. I use it, but not as often as I should. Your hub has perked my interest, especially the beautiful pictures you always include in all hubs, including this one. I'll give it a try and let you know how I make out. There are endless species around here. Why not take advantage of it.

      Another fine write. By the way, the first bird with the orange tips on his wings is astonishing.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Absolutely, vwriter. That's why I got another camera, as I knew that I needed something a bit better than the old 35mm.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thank you, mhatter. I'm just beginning my journey.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks for the great complement, Joyce. Glad that you liked the pics.

    • vwriter profile image

      vwriter 5 years ago from US

      Thanks for the article. I was trying to determine how high of a zoom rating and metapixels I needed in a camera to take quality photos for online articles. I tried taking pictures with the digital camera I have now, and let's just say, much cannot be seen of a bird or animal. It's time to start saving for the Nikon so I can begin taking my own pictures.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Many moons ago, i was a n aspiring photographer. great article. All our efforts boils down to the consumer (in my case).

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 5 years ago from Southern Nevada

      I love it when I see your hub name and I know I'm going to read a worthy hub.

      Love the photo's and it won't be long before the National Geograph is knocking on your door.

      Voted up awesome and beautiful. Have a great weekend photographing your birds, Joyce.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Klara, take your camera with you so I can see them. Thanks for sharing that great story with me. I love it!

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      klarawieck 5 years ago

      Deb, your hubs continue being a source of inspiration to me - your passion for nature and photography, the idea that one is able to capture a beautiful moment and share it with the rest of the world.

      I thought about you this morning as I walked my dog in the park. I heard a sound that I had not heard since I was a child in Cuba, and it made me think of my mother. Two little birds were going, "pitirre, pitirre" and I immediately went looking for the two gray king birds. In Spanish we call them after the sound they make "Pitirre" and it was my mother's nickname for me. I don't know if I ever shared that with you but there is a song in Spanish that says "The pitirre, although small, fights the vulture until it goes away." She'd say this because I have a way of insisting on things I want until I get them.

      Anyways, the couple was cute and they were singing to each other perched on two neighboring trees. I thought, "If I had a camera with me, I'd take a picture and share it with Deb!"

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Jackie! I just wanted everyone to know that all it takes is being in the right place at the right time. Without that, nothing is possible.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Oh...wow! You are fantastic. Pushing all those buttons!