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
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…
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!
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