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Old Friday 23rd September 2016, 14:43   #1
btaylor
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how to improve my bird photography - next steps?

I'm finding bird photography a real buzz but at the same time frustratingly difficult - so looking for suggestions on how best to improve.
I've currently got a Panasonic DMC-G7 and the 14-140 lens - I know, not huge, but I did hire a 100-300 and didn't fare massivly better.
I know there are a lot of ways this could improve but I am curious which i should focus my efforts on.

What I'm currently doing is:

Go to a local hide (near where I live, in the east midlands of the UK) either a west or north facing one in the morning or an east or north facing one in the late afternoon.
Set up bean bag on the sill with camera on it and see what turns up.

The best I can come up with is this heron in the distance - rubbish I know.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/147214...2/29873470915/
I can work out from google satellite that this was about 85m away.

When I hired the 100-300mm lens I managed to get a shot of this heron at the WWT in london: slightly better but not great.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/147214244@N02/29735084736

This was at 300mm rather than 140mm and still isn't anywhere near filling the frame so I'm guessing he must have been more than 100m away.

I did get a picture of a robin with the 100-300mm lens that I'm really pleased with, which was a bit of a lucky one really as he just landed on a table about 2m away from me - that was what ignited a spark to some extent.... my goal really is just to get a wide variety of birds at that quality that's all.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/147214...2/29146011313/


So what would you do to take it to the next level?

Be more patient
Get beefier kit
Go to different hides
Go at a different time of year
Modify my technique
Give up
Adjust expectations/change attitude/learn
Get closer
My question really is which of the above is a priority! and which won't really make much difference without others.

Patience - I spend maybe about 1 hour in a hide at a time, during which nothing comes anywhere near. Is this what fairly patient means or 'nowhere near - we're talking an all day job for any sort of degree of success'?
Hides/time of year: are some hides just not actually positioned near to where any birds actually go? Am I doomed to a seriously uphill struggle trying to spot anything in autumn?
Kit - I know the PL100-400 would be far better than my puny 14-140 but I was sort of hoping hiring the 100-300 would provide some insight into whether it would yield successful results. The 100-300 didn't really have so much reach as to convince me that good bird photography is within my grasp, but I still have a nagging doubt that going from 300 to 400 could make all the difference... would it?
Technique - could I be doing something fundamentally wrong, e.g. does resting a camera on the sill of a hide scare birds off? Do i need a camo cover for my camera like I've seen on some (and/or self)?
Give up? - could a different, easier, type of photography be more my thing...? I just like creating great images but birds are one subject that usually do make great images imho.
Expectations/attitude/knowledge - am I expecting too much... is it the case that bird photography is not something just anybody can do but you have to be a real expert on birds' behaviours before you can have any hope of success, and even then you might need to stake out a hide 10 full days in a row and only get a good shot on the last one? Or is it actually a fairly accessible hobby IF you do x, y and z?

Thanks for any insight advice encouragement and disparagement, all welcome in equal measure. :)
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Old Friday 23rd September 2016, 16:21   #2
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The 140mm x 2 = 280mm are a bit short. I remember the days when I began photographing birds, with a Canon 450D plus 70-300mm + 1.4X teleconverter, and I was still disappointed how small the birds were. It is all relative, of course. For four years I was happy with a Canon SX50 (1200mm equivalent), then I changed to a Nikon V2 + 70-300CX (810mm equivalent), and am happier today than I was with the SX50.

But at this point I think you still want to find out whether "birding is for you" at all. It's September, so many birds are already busy migrating. Hides can be promising, in particular if they are near a lake or other lively birding area. But I know other hides which are overgrown, not interesting anymore for birds - or for you.

You have a lightweight camera, maybe it would be better to just walk around in your own neighbourhood. A cemetery is a perfect place for watching birds, e.g. dunnock, wren, firecrests or goldcrests and other common birds can be found there. Typically in a cemetery or other "busy" places, birds are not shy. In the course of a single year I was able to watch 56 different bird species in my city's "Main Cemetery".

At the end, as you say yourself, patience is the most important thing. After dozens of walks along a river I knew, eventually, where I could expect to see my "local dipper". Visiting the places again and again, at varying times of the day, finally led to photos from a very short distance (about 1.6 m).

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Old Friday 23rd September 2016, 16:34   #3
btaylor
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Thanks for that post, makes a lot of sense. And yes, I am to some extent trying to 'find out whether birding is for me', exactly right.

Interesting thought about a cemetery. Why are birds attracted to it? Or is it just that they're not shy because they're used to people being there? (Is it not disrespectful to just wander round with a camera snapping away without any interest in mourning the dead? I'm not saying it is - I don't really know!)
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Old Friday 23rd September 2016, 16:36   #4
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HermitIbis makes some good points here.
I would also add the question of whether you want to be a birder who goes out and carries a camera for opportune situations to capture images or whether you are more a photographer of birds where you go out with intention of getting some images. Of course, both could apply at different times as they do for me.
I therefore choose 100-400 zoom. There are times where a bigger lens would come in handy but I think this would always be the case as I find I'm often wanting to get closer than the situation would allow. In some cases I carry digiscope camera as well for some opportune record shots where this might be true.
If I am honest though, lugging a big lens and tripod around is not for me.
Another factor to consider is if you have a reasonable DSLR camera that allows cropping of your image when processing, you can still get some good detailed images. My Canon 7D falls into this category as it has a crop sensor.
Lastly, expectations are important and if you want head shots of birds or images that are publishable quality every time, then indeed be patient. :-)
Check my Flickr link - virtually all taken with 400mm lens and no more. No prize winners assuming I would want this, but they work for me.
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Old Friday 23rd September 2016, 16:57   #5
HermitIbis
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Interesting thought about a cemetery. Why are birds attracted to it? Or is it just that they're not shy because they're used to people being there? (Is it not disrespectful to just wander round with a camera snapping away without any interest in mourning the dead? I'm not saying it is - I don't really know!)
I don't know how large your city and its cemetery is, but in my town of 100,000 it is practically both a cemetery and a kind of public park where many just walk around to relax. OK I'll admit that my cemetery (Pforzheim) is something special, one of the most beautiful in Southern Germany. Normally I visit the place very early at sunrise and stay for about two hours. When I leave from my "morning activity", it is about the time when the "mourning activity" begins...

For many birds such a cemetery is attractive: the mixture of hedges, old or younger trees, low and high structures offers plenty of places to breed or find food. The old trees at my place mean, just to give an example, that I've seen four species of woodpeckers here. And where you have birds and mice, there are raptors: bussard, kestrel etc. The birds are not shy because there are always some people and because cemeteries have an unusually dense net of paths and connections - practically nowhere can birds be 100% safe. But the noise level of the people is also low and they move slowly, which is another advantage. And dogs are typically forbidden - very important!

In 2014 a pair of Common Redstarts was breeding in a bush at this cemetery. I visited once or twice per week. In the autumn I was rewarded by a nice photo of a young male in a distance of under 3 m.

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Old Saturday 24th September 2016, 05:56   #6
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I think you should also look into technique some, even though I agree that your setup probably as is is better for birds coming to a feeder a couple of meters away from you rather than birds far away,

Autofocus: look into your G7 manual on how to set the focus area to the smallest possible. That might mean leaving the most automatic settings behind. Reason: the first image you link to is clearly focused behind the bird, not on the bird, a very common occurrence with cameras until you learn how to take charge.

Shutter speed: with longer lenses, you need to keep this short. On my older pana with the 100-300, I use shutter of 1/400 unless I have to go slower due to strong lack of light. I am less worried about high iso, you can learn to get around that later.

Finally, for now - at least until you get a longer lens -- look into the electronic zoom of your camera ( I may misremember the official name of this feature). What that really means is using only a smaller portion of the sensor both when doing AF and when taking the photo, so you get fewer pixels but the lens feels longer.

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Old Saturday 24th September 2016, 06:41   #7
Jim M.
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A few thoughts/ideas Ben:

--Looking over your Flickr stream, you actually seem to have a number of pretty good shots already – all with the 100-300. Not only the Robin, but also the Great Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, and Moorhen. So I'm wondering if you have set your expectations too high. Did you expect to get a bevy of mind blowing magazine covers with a just a month of shooting birds? Bird photography takes time. You have to go out to a variety of locations and hope to encounter good opportunities. The collections of shots you see from other people are their best of probably tens or hundreds of thousands of shots taken. That's actually part of the fun and challenge of bird and wildlife photography. It requires both luck and skill to get good shots--so it's especially satisfying when you get them. This is in contrast to photographing buildings or portrait photography, for example. Your skill will play a role in getting good shots of the latter, but the subjects will be much more cooperative!

--Do you have a field guide and binoculars? If not, consider acquiring both and start learning more about birds and birding. Actual “birding” is about looking for birds and identifying (or trying to identify) all that you see and hear. Just photographing birds is not “birding” (though some photographers inaccurately refer to it as such). If you start to enjoy birding, then you will be able to have fun even when you don't have perfect photo opportunities. Moreover, the more you learn about birding, the more you will learn about where and when to find birds, including the best opportunities to photograph them. Also look into going on birding trips with your local club, you can learn a lot from such trips.

--You will definitely want at least the 100-300mm for bird photography. Anything less is a recipe for frustration. If cost is an issue, there should be a number of used copies on the market given the recent release of the 100-400 mm. The latter is definitely better and the extra reach helpful, but it is certainly not a night and day difference between the two lenses. You can get excellent shots with the 100-300mm.

Last edited by Jim M. : Saturday 24th September 2016 at 06:48.
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Old Saturday 24th September 2016, 16:15   #8
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Ben first thing to say is no lens is long enough

I think you should forget the frustrations your feeling, looking at your results your well on your way to cracking it.
Nottingham area must have some great wildlife areas near,many years ago i found a place in clumber park that people used as a feeding station,if you know the park it was just over the old bridge after the left turn,it may not be fed now but somewhere else may be.
The 100-300 is the minimum you will need i have the 100-400 but i sold all my nikon gear which was getting too heavy for me so i could fund a m4/3 outfit.

Most commercial hides may be of no use to you as they are geared for longer lenses,if you have a car could you find a lay by somewhere to start your own feeding station and use your car as a hide.

mike
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Old Saturday 24th September 2016, 17:05   #9
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Is this a common thing - feeding birds to get photographs?

It is something that doesn't sit comfortably with me at all. I notice that in some of the galleries that there a remarkable number of different birds photographed from the same perch, or with lenses way shorter than you would expect.

Photographing birds without 'influence' in their natural habitats, going about natural behaviours is for the most part hard work, and requires lots of dedication. Also lots of knowledge about behaviours and how likely encounters would fit in with proximity, lighting direction, speed, length of time of opportunity etc, This along with familiarity of suitable gear that works in those circumstances, such that it is an automatic extension of yourself. This takes quite a bit of practice, and then regular use and maintenance of those skills.

I'm all for camo and ghillie suits etc, but I really prefer to keep my distance ....


Chosun
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Old Saturday 24th September 2016, 17:30   #10
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Chosun, lots of people do feed birds anyway, and especially when learning how to use a kit, going to a place where the birds are guaranteed to be there and to be not too far away can really help. Once you know the tricks of the trade, then you can increase the challenge to other situations. Learning it all in on complex situation can be a bit too much.

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Old Saturday 24th September 2016, 17:40   #11
HermitIbis
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chosun Juan View Post
Photographing birds without 'influence' in their natural habitats, going about natural behaviours is for the most part hard work, and requires lots of dedication. Also lots of knowledge about behaviours and how likely encounters would fit in with proximity, lighting direction, speed, length of time of opportunity etc, [...]
Chosun
Most birders will start with the circa 50 bird species which are not very difficult to find: in gardens, parks or the cemetery. But in my city officially 97 species are listed as breeding, so at one point it is natural to start reading about the rarer birds and go to the few places where they live. Just to give an example, the Common linnet in my city prefers to live near the Autobahn... And my next first-class wetland with Bluethroats etc is 90 minutes away.
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Old Saturday 24th September 2016, 17:56   #12
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When i started all my bird photography was at feeding stations back in the late 70s early 80s,its a easy way to start,results are easier to get and good results encourages people to go further with the hobby.
I now visit a feeding station two or three times most winters the rest of my time is spent stalking.
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Old Saturday 24th September 2016, 23:57   #13
btaylor
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim M. View Post
A few thoughts/ideas Ben:

--Looking over your Flickr stream, you actually seem to have a number of pretty good shots already – all with the 100-300. Not only the Robin, but also the Great Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, and Moorhen. So I'm wondering if you have set your expectations too high. Did you expect to get a bevy of mind blowing magazine covers with a just a month of shooting birds? Bird photography takes time. You have to go out to a variety of locations and hope to encounter good opportunities. The collections of shots you see from other people are their best of probably tens or hundreds of thousands of shots taken. That's actually part of the fun and challenge of bird and wildlife photography. It requires both luck and skill to get good shots--so it's especially satisfying when you get them. This is in contrast to photographing buildings or portrait photography, for example. Your skill will play a role in getting good shots of the latter, but the subjects will be much more cooperative!

--Do you have a field guide and binoculars? If not, consider acquiring both and start learning more about birds and birding. Actual “birding” is about looking for birds and identifying (or trying to identify) all that you see and hear. Just photographing birds is not “birding” (though some photographers inaccurately refer to it as such). If you start to enjoy birding, then you will be able to have fun even when you don't have perfect photo opportunities. Moreover, the more you learn about birding, the more you will learn about where and when to find birds, including the best opportunities to photograph them. Also look into going on birding trips with your local club, you can learn a lot from such trips.

--You will definitely want at least the 100-300mm for bird photography. Anything less is a recipe for frustration. If cost is an issue, there should be a number of used copies on the market given the recent release of the 100-400 mm. The latter is definitely better and the extra reach helpful, but it is certainly not a night and day difference between the two lenses. You can get excellent shots with the 100-300mm.
Thanks, and yes you're right I have got some good shots already. Don't get me wrong I'm very happy with those - just want more of them really. They're perfectly good enough quality to please me, I guess I just want more, and different, birds, really, in order to continue it as a hobby. My way of thinking is, to buy a lens for it, it's got to be viable as a regular hobby, which photographing the same birds on the same feeder week after week wouldn't be.
And yes they were all with the 100-300 and in different locations. So thanks for pointing that out.

Last edited by btaylor : Sunday 25th September 2016 at 00:20.
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Old Sunday 25th September 2016, 00:16   #14
btaylor
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nikonmike View Post
Ben first thing to say is no lens is long enough

I think you should forget the frustrations your feeling, looking at your results your well on your way to cracking it.
Nottingham area must have some great wildlife areas near,many years ago i found a place in clumber park that people used as a feeding station,if you know the park it was just over the old bridge after the left turn,it may not be fed now but somewhere else may be.
The 100-300 is the minimum you will need i have the 100-400 but i sold all my nikon gear which was getting too heavy for me so i could fund a m4/3 outfit.

Most commercial hides may be of no use to you as they are geared for longer lenses,if you have a car could you find a lay by somewhere to start your own feeding station and use your car as a hide.

mike
Interesting. Quite curious as to how you would set up a feeding station in a layby but it sounds like the sort of thing that would suit me. Surely not using a full-on garden bird table - I would think the highways agency/council/local scallies would nick it! - do you just mean a nut cage hanging from a tree of something?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chosun Juan View Post
Is this a common thing - feeding birds to get photographs?

It is something that doesn't sit comfortably with me at all. I notice that in some of the galleries that there a remarkable number of different birds photographed from the same perch, or with lenses way shorter than you would expect.

Photographing birds without 'influence' in their natural habitats, going about natural behaviours is for the most part hard work, and requires lots of dedication. Also lots of knowledge about behaviours and how likely encounters would fit in with proximity, lighting direction, speed, length of time of opportunity etc, This along with familiarity of suitable gear that works in those circumstances, such that it is an automatic extension of yourself. This takes quite a bit of practice, and then regular use and maintenance of those skills.

I'm all for camo and ghillie suits etc, but I really prefer to keep my distance ....


Chosun

Enough people feed birds NOT to get photographs. Birds aren't going to have a problem finding human-left food if they want to. The way I see it, if I resists putting food out for birds, they will simply fly to the garden of someone who has. A lot of birds' habitat in this day and age is an urban environment.

The only thing I would probably have a moral issue with is actually killing something e.g. a mouse to purely bait say a raptor for photography, or feeding something where it is problematic for them to eat human food, e.g. bears, as it is far too calorific for them and they rely on it and become unnaturally urbanised and aggressive. Feeding nuts to birds whether or not you then photograph them isn't really harming anyone or anything I don't think.
Of course you might perfectly well consider a more natural photo more pleasing and that's absolutely your perogative, beauty/eye/beholder and all that.
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Old Sunday 25th September 2016, 03:12   #15
Chosun Juan
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Arrow

Quote:
Originally Posted by btaylor View Post
.....
Enough people feed birds NOT to get photographs. Birds aren't going to have a problem finding human-left food if they want to. The way I see it, if I resists putting food out for birds, they will simply fly to the garden of someone who has. A lot of birds' habitat in this day and age is an urban environment.

The only thing I would probably have a moral issue with is actually killing something e.g. a mouse to purely bait say a raptor for photography, or feeding something where it is problematic for them to eat human food, e.g. bears, as it is far too calorific for them and they rely on it and become unnaturally urbanised and aggressive. Feeding nuts to birds whether or not you then photograph them isn't really harming anyone or anything I don't think.
Of course you might perfectly well consider a more natural photo more pleasing and that's absolutely your perogative, beauty/eye/beholder and all that.
bt, I think some of the first birds I ever photographed were in a native garden that I had designed and constructed on a suburban block. It was of an Eastern Spinebill (kind of like the closest we get to a hummingbird here), and from that moment I was hooked. In fact that little suburban block was host to 100's of local and migrating birds (honeyeaters) - how they found that oasis out of nowhere I have no real idea. Even the insect population tipped into a more native balance. While my parents used to feed the local parrots seeds, I far prefer the habitat creation and augmentation approach, and I suppose this has been formative in my thinking ....

At that time it was a film camera and 200-400 lens which quickly became a 400-800 with the addition of a 2x doubler in order to get near frame filling shots from the confined space of the garden. It is absolutely amazing the difference you, or a group of neighbours etc can make in re-birdifying even ordinary suburban blocks by paying attention to natural food /insect attracting plants, shelter, and habitat, layering, and water ...

I have a Queensland rainforest tree - a 'Firewheel' tree, growing 100's of k's from where it would naturally occur, and thriving in my jungle like yard -- it plays host to dozens of Rainbow Lorikeets, and I enjoy their still crazy, but less aggressive antics as they feed.

Marry up the bird behaviour and knowledge of their location, times, presentation, behaviour, activity, etc, with a technical eye for angles, distances, speeds and lighting etc, and you will be headed down a good track Best of luck :)


Chosun
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Old Sunday 25th September 2016, 07:28   #16
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Interesting. Quite curious as to how you would set up a feeding station in a layby but it sounds like the sort of thing that would suit me. Surely not using a full-on garden bird table - I would think the highways agency/council/local scallies would nick it! - do you just mean a nut cage hanging from a tree of something?




Enough people feed birds NOT to get photographs. Birds aren't going to have a problem finding human-left food if they want to. The way I see it, if I resists putting food out for birds, they will simply fly to the garden of someone who has. A lot of birds' habitat in this day and age is an urban environment.

The only thing I would probably have a moral issue with is actually killing something e.g. a mouse to purely bait say a raptor for photography, or feeding something where it is problematic for them to eat human food, e.g. bears, as it is far too calorific for them and they rely on it and become unnaturally urbanised and aggressive. Feeding nuts to birds whether or not you then photograph them isn't really harming anyone or anything I don't think.
Of course you might perfectly well consider a more natural photo more pleasing and that's absolutely your perogative, beauty/eye/beholder and all that.
Yes just fat balls or nuts,it has to be something that will last between your visits.
We have a local wood that people feed the birds in,a lot of elderly people go there and just sit in there cars watching the birds,as i say i may go two or three times during a winter to take pictures but i go more just to sit and watch the birds.
http://www.wevvw.rspb.org.uk/makeaho...ing/index.aspx
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Old Sunday 25th September 2016, 07:59   #17
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Going to throw an alternative in just in case you have not thought about it,dont add another lens add a camera,just look at what can be done with a Nikon p900,about the same price as a 100-300 but a lot more reach so long as you are happy with web display.
You still need to develop camera and field craft but look what people can do that really work on it.

https://www.flickr.com/groups/2775396@N25/
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Old Saturday 8th October 2016, 09:28   #18
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Practice on closer subjects

I would buy the Lumix 100-300mm its a good lens and very light to carry.You can practice using long lenses somewhere like wwt Martin Mere or Slimbridge.Many subjects to photograph some more co-operative than others! You will get some excellent shots which help to spur you on and maybe encourage saving up for the Leica 100-400mm. Good luck.
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