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Birds of Kentucky: Taking photos of birds

It's fun. But it's not always easy. Following a few basic rules will help get a winning photograph. From the camera to how to dress to how to behave, Barbara Armitage covers the basics in one quick lesson, in plenty of time to be ready for the Great Backyard Bird Count, February 18, 19 20, and 21, 2011

By Barbara Armitage

It's 8:04 a.m. and I've lost the sun behind the clouds so I'm back in the house. Taking photos of wild birds is not always easy or as in the case this morning - warm.

People often see one of my bird photos and say "what a lucky shot" or they say "you must have a really good camera". Well they're right about both it is often a lucky shot. On an average I can shoot four or five hundred photos and there will be one "lucky" shot in the group. And yes I do have a very good camera with a very nice telephoto lens.

However neither of these will help me if I can't get close to the birds. Even with a 300 zoom lens I have to be within 12 to 15 feet to get a good close up.

So when I'm asked "How do I take good photos of birds" I usually give them this list.

Winter is a good time to take photographs of birds but it can be a challenge.
  • Buck up and buy yourself a good camera. It doesn't have to cost several thousands of dollars there are good cameras out there priced at under $500. Never buy new. Buying a camera that is only a year old or so can save you hundreds.

  • Buy a camera with a changeable lens. You will get more use out of it if you can change the lens to suit your needs.

  • Set up several feeding stations in your yard to attract the birds. Keep them well maintained even birds won't eat in a dirty restaurant that serves bad food.

  • Dress for the day. This morning it was 8 degrees up here on the hill. Your feet and hands will be cold so pay particular attention to them. I wear Muck boots and hiking socks. Gloves need to be waterproof and warm but you still need to be able to use your fingers. I wear a neoprene glove - the type that dairy farmers use. A knit hat is good to have too.

  • Wear "quiet" clothes. Nylon is noisy.

  • Leave your cell phone, husband, kids and anything else that makes noise in the house.

  • Position yourself in a place where you can get a good clear focused shot. All the birds will fly away at this point. Try to stand next to a tree, building, or shrub, anything that can give you a small bit of camouflage.

  • Keep your camera up and in a ready position with the lens pointed slightly down to avoid any glare from the sun.

  • Use all automatic settings on your camera. You won't have time to be making adjustments.

  • Stand perfectly still. Don't scratch, sneeze, or wiggle. Move your eyes not your head if you need to look around. This could be 30 minutes to an hour. The birds will come back when they are ready.

  • When you have a photo opportunity take as many photographs as possible as fast as possible. Shooting 2 or 3 photos is a waste of your time. With today's digital technology you can always dump the 499 shots that weren't great and keep that one special photograph.

  • Have patience.
Sharing your photographs is half the fun. Post them on so we can all enjoy the beautiful Birds of Kentucky.

If you'd like to learn more about feeding and identifying the birds attend one of the ACGC's Birding 101 classes. Three classes are being offered this year for your convenience. Birding 101 classes will be held at the Adair County Extension Office, 409 Fairground Street (MAP), Columbia, KY:
  • Saturday January 29, 2011, at 10amCT
  • Saturday February 5, 2011, 10amCT
  • Friday February 11, 2011, at 6:30pmCT
For more information on Birding 101 classes - the Great Backyard Bird Count and how you can participate contact Barbara Armitage (270) 250-2979. "Birds of Kentucky"]" Field Guide by Stan Tekiela and the Adair County Wild Bird Seed Mix are available at Day and Day Feed and Pet, 1011 Campbellsville RD, Columbia, KY. From the Farm, Tucker's Station, Barbara Armitage

This story was posted on 2011-01-21 10:32:14
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