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Photographing Shore Birds

Updated on June 26, 2013
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Photographing shore birds can be accomplished by going anywhere where there is a beach or shoreline, a lake even some river fronts and the locations do not necessarily have to be inaccessible or hard to reach. You will also need shore birds off course.

For this you should start by conducting some research into your location's population of shore birds. whether they are year round local species or only visit during certain times of the year.

Most of your subjects will probably be at least to some extent accustomed to the presence of people and photographing them should not be so difficult. You will however need the aid of a zoom lens probably in the range of 200mm to 400mm to get in close and capture details of the face and especially their eyes. You should also look for situations during which they are hunting and aim to record images of them at the moment they snatch their "lunch" mostly consisting of sand fleas, other insects and small crustaceans.

As far as what subjects may be suitable for this particular project, it simply depends on the availability of your local subjects, unless off course you are able to fund a trip to one of the more exotic locations such as the Galapagos's Islands and such. Your particular neck of the woods, assuming there a sandy beach or shoreline close to it, has a good change of being visited by one or more species of these birds.

"Some 214 species of shorebirds comb the beaches, mudflats, marshes, and plains of the world. These birds are truly the globe trotters of the world, with migratory flights that span continents, hemispheres and the vast oceans of the world with feats of timely precision that mankind can only dream of.

So what is a shore bird? And why are they among the most popular and interesting of birds?

First, shorebirds are small to medium size waders characterized by slender, probing bills and longish legs. They include the sandpipers, plovers, jacanids, snipes, curlews, lapwings, godwits, ruffs, dowitchers, avocets, thick-knees, coursers and stilts."

Your goal should be to capture as much detail of their routine as possible; wadding through the water, skimming the sand for prey, how they seem to just always be one step ahead of the surf, at least some of them do, and how they interact with each other. You should also focus your attention to their most noticeable features such as plumage and specialized beaks, with close attention to their eyes. Even if other parts are not completely sharp the eyes must be since people mostly focus first on the eyes of any subject and then explore the rest of the photograph.

Be mindful that if you are going to be where there is sand, there is also the possibility of wind driven waves and ocean spray and this can damage your gear. Take with you a soft cotton cloth to regularly wipe any sand, dust or moisture from your lens and camera. A good idea also is to take a head cover (hat) to protect you from the Sun.

Most of your images can be accomplished rather quickly if the subjects are present on your chosen location, but patiently waiting for those exceptional shots takes time and persistence. Be prepared to spend a few hours or more not only taking photographs but also scouting the locations for the best angles and perspectives.

The best times are early morning hours and late afternoon while there still light and on cloudy days due to the clouds diffusing effects on light. You should have a good flash unit with your since often early dawn or early dusk light is not sufficient and your flash can act as a fill up.

Don't run from place to place, if you happen to see a good shot some distance away you should be able to record it with your zoom lens, and if not, slowly and calmly walk towards it until it is within your lens range. Running and with gear in hand will only serve to scare your subjects away.


There are some photographic projects which can be fun to do and some that can be relaxing. This one can easily be both. You are at the beach or lake or any larger water source.

Enjoy the scene, the sound of water, the view, the subjects, the atmosphere and above all yourself. All while maintaining a keen eye on the opportunities afforded to you.

Good shots can be submitted to any naturalist publication, most photo photography houses, educational sources and local zoological societies. Calendar printers are also a good source of potential sales.

Also consider doing a complete photographic study of one particular species of shore birds or of the environment on which they thrive or an integrated project on both the subject and the landscape/environment.

These are two of the several variations to the main project. Take advantage of all of the photo ops that present themselves while photographing shore birds and like with most subjects found n nature, be one step ahead, always ready.


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    • KimberlyLake profile image

      Kimberly Lake 6 years ago from California

      Great information. You wrote very clear and concise. Information. Interesting Hub, voted up and socially shared.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      The mirrored effect in the photos really enhances the bird's image and the scenery. If only we could capture the sound, as you mentioned, with the photography. I enjoy watching the sandpipers on the beach. They are busy little creatures that run to and fro with the waves hitting the shore. They must have microsopic vision because they seem to find sealife to pick at and swallow. Interesting hub and very educational.

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      Lynn S. Murphy 6 years ago

      I enjoy pelicans - they have such attitude and anahingas are always fun to watch - they like to hang in our canal. Love this one!