Bird photography

In the third and fi­nal part of Tom Ma­son’s bird photography tu­to­rial, he looks at some of the more ad­vanced tech­niques be­hind wildlife photography

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - WORDS & PICS: TOM MA­SON

Take bet­ter bird­ing snaps by fol­low­ing the ad­vice and tips in this tu­to­rial

START­ING OUT AS bird pho­tog­ra­phers, many peo­ple take their cam­era along dur­ing their bird­ing trips, tak­ing im­ages when op­por­tu­ni­ties arise. For the best shots, how­ever, it’s all about vi­su­al­is­ing the im­ages you want, and then go­ing out to make them. Fol­low my series of tips on the fol­low­ing pages and learn how to take some great bird-re­lated pho­to­graphs.

Set­ting up im­ages

In or­der to get you started in the process of de­sign­ing im­ages, you need to de­cide on a tar­get species or set of species. Rather than go­ing all out for that per­fect Marsh Har­rier im­age, work on some­thing such as gar­den birds, as you will quickly learn tech­niques that can be ap­plied to fu­ture projects. Work­ing in a gar­den has some fan­tas­tic ad­van­tages – it’s eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble, you can adapt it as you wish and, of course, most will have a good mix of bird species to work with. Now you need to at­tract the birds, and a se­lec­tion of well stocked feed­ers will do this. With the birds com­ing in reg­u­larly it would be easy to get shots of them on feed­ers, but the plas­tic or metal mesh doesn’t look good. Set up some perches for a more nat­u­ral look. Bang a scaf­fold pole or other metal tube into the lawn close to the feed­ers and then add perches. Look for nice lichen cover twigs or branches to add in­ter­est into the shot for a nat­u­ral im­age. Larger logs can be po­si­tioned and drilled with holes (and stuffed with peanuts) to at­tract birds such as wood­peck­ers and Nuthatches for a dif­fer­ent type of im­age. Play­ing around over a pe­riod of time it is easy to build up a qual­ity port­fo­lio of dif­fer­ent shots. In or­der to get the im­ages, work­ing from a hide per­ma­nently in po­si­tion is a great op­tion, but if your gar­den al­lows, you can set up close to your house, then shoot from a win­dow or back door.

Trav­el­ling with cam­eras

Trav­el­ling as a wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher is awe­some; the chance to see birds and crea­tures from other parts of the world is a hugely ex­cit­ing prospect. But, with strict bag­gage checks and re­duced hand lug­gage al­lowances, tak­ing heavy equip­ment with you when you are head­ing away can be a bit of a headache, so plan ahead…

Carry on

Wher­ever I go, I al­ways make sure I trans­port my key gear as hand lug­gage. Of­ten this will be a sin­gle bag, with two cam­era bod­ies, a long and short tele­photo as well as a wide an­gle lens, and my lap­top and other bits and bobs. When tak­ing it on a plane, be sure to have a bag that is air­line com­pat­i­ble (to the small­est reg­u­la­tions) and try to find one that looks less, well, cam­era baggy. Stick stick­ers on it and make it look less ex­pen­sive. In terms of the weight, if you are over it doesn’t al­ways mean you can’t take it, as, in many cases, hand lug­gage isn’t weighed. If you are asked to weigh it, you can al­ways take some­thing out first. Many air­lines say you can ad­di­tion­ally have a lap­top and a cam­era, so take th­ese out be­fore you pop it on the scales. Re­mem­ber, there is no stip­u­la­tion on the size of the cam­era you can have round your neck, so pick the big­gest one with your large tele­photo. Once you’re weighed and through se­cu­rity, pop it all back inside!

Hold lug­gage

If you have a large amount of gear and can’t take it all on board, you will need to check some­thing in. Make sure your kit is well pro­tected. The best way, is to get your­self a Pel­i­can case. Th­ese ul­tra-tough hard cases are the in­dus­try stan­dard and have close cell foam inside to keep gear from knock­ing about.


De­pend­ing where you are go­ing there are a few bits and bobs that can be very handy for over­seas shoots. Firstly, if you are head­ing out on a sa­fari or know you will be work­ing from a ve­hi­cle, bring along a su­per clamp. Th­ese handy lit­tle clamps work with a stan­dard tri­pod head, al­low­ing you to se­curely po­si­tion on to rail­ing of a Jeep, for ex­am­ple, without all the has­sle and ex­tra space be­ing taken up by a tri­pod. Al­ter­na­tively, a bean bag can be very use­ful. Take them un­filled and then buy some lo­cal rice or sim­i­lar to fill them once you are on location; a sim­ple and sturdy sup­port for even the long­est of lenses.

Power is of­ten an is­sue and with many ho­tels only hav­ing a few sock­ets – that can never fit two adap­tor plugs – take along an ex­ten­sion/power strip to give you more sock­ets from a sin­gle point. Very use­ful if you want to charge mul­ti­ple bat­ter­ies whilst run­ning a lap­top at the same time!


Head­ing away with ex­pen­sive equip­ment be sure you have it cov­ered. Many home in­surances cover up to a cer­tain cost but for those with large amounts of gear, you’ll likely need a sep­a­rate pol­icy. Be sure to check it cov­ers the full length of your trips as well as hav­ing fea­tures such as cover for stor­age in a car or ac­ci­den­tal dam­age. Most of them re­quire all of your kit to be listed as sep­a­rate items, so check ev­ery­thing is up to date be­fore you travel! With the above sorted, sit back, re­lax, en­joy your flight and get fo­cused on mak­ing im­ages. As with ev­ery­thing, it does take a huge amount of time to learn and de­velop your work. It won’t hap­pen overnight, but with some pa­tience you will cer­tainly be in with a chance of cre­at­ing some lovely bird photography out in the field!

Hoatzin po­si­tioned ac­cord­ing to the rule of thirds. To get the best from for­eign trips, you will need to get your kit through se­cu­rity

Great tit on a pre-po­si­tioned mossy branch

ÊB/W SEA CLIFFS Seabird ci­ties make great sub­jects and use of mono­chrome adds a touch of class and drama


Great Spot­ted Wood­pecker on a pre-po­si­tioned branch

Black Vul­ture, Peru. Some­times trips to ex­otic climes produce won­der­ful pho­to­graphic op­por­tu­ni­ties

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