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Shooting Birds is Easy...

Updated: Jun 2, 2018

Western Bluebird

“Your bird pictures are kinda boring. I mean anyone can take a picture of a bird, rig​​ht? Just go out in the back yard!" So say my well-meaning, non-photographer friends. Birds are everywhere, they’re not that smart after all, (think bird-brain). should be easy to take their picture, right?

Well, looks can be deceiving. It is one thing to see a bird and altogether another to actually take a decent photo of our feathery friends. In fact, taking interesting pictures of birds is one of the more challenging parts of photography. When done well, it looks easy. But so is rocket science - just ask Elon Musk. Getting to that point is the challenge.

What makes an interesting photo of a bird? What separates the feathers from the fluff? 5 basic things in my opinion:

1) A sharp, well focused image that displays the details of the bird. This means you have to get close to your subject, or have a good telephoto lens. Most photographers who fall in love with birds do so because of their striking beauty, a beauty that can only be appreciated when observed at close range. When you can see the detail of the feathers and the subtle colors of the bird, that moves people. They are truly remarkable gems.

2) The light that the bird is photographed in is important. Birds lit by the sun from the behind produce flat drab images of the birds plumage. Front or side lighting will more often than not will bring out the colors and detail. A darker, out-of-focus background helps as well to draw the viewers eye to the bird. There should be nothing between you and the subject such as branches or leaves. The feet of the bird should be visible as well.

3) The eyes have it. The eyes, like all portraits, are the focal point. Eyes that are in focus that show off the natural color with a catch-light, those eyes bring our avian friend to life. Speaking of eyes, a gaze that is looking at the camera is often more interesting as well.

4) The bird in its natural environment, doing its thing. A bird doing almost anything is more interesting than one that is just sitting there. Whether the bird has a seed in its bill, or gulping down a fish, or preening, the image is more interesting and compelling when the bird is interacting with its home world.

Acorn Woodpecker

5) Birds in flight (BIF) is an entire department unto itself. As a photographer, getting a tack-sharp image of a bird in flight is almost a spiritual experience. So many factors have to come into play to get it right that when you get your first great BIF you can’t help celebrating. Really. Try it sometime. Here's a post on just that.

Bonus points. If you’re able to do all the above and add a little ‘extra spice’, such as reflections, interesting expressions or interactions between two birds, that is worth bonus points

So grab your camera and head outdoors and get those bird shots! I think after a try or two you might have a bit more respect for those incredible bird pictures that are nothing but boring.

They truly are an art form unto themselves.


About the author. JS Engelbrecht cut his teeth in photography in the fashion industry before turning his attention to Nature. "I moved from shooting pictures of beautiful jewelry to shooting pictures of natural beauty."

Now JS Engelbrecht enjoys capturing beautiful scenes during his travels. He is also a gifted teacher and guide for local photographers.

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