Forest birds

Photogrpahing birds is not always easy. They are very small subjects, always moving and rather shy. You will start by choosing a camera setup taking this into account: a fast speed (several photographers advise to stick to 1/1000s), probably a high sensitivity to compensate for the lack of light under the trees.

But when you need to come near, you need to use other tehcniques. A long prime tele lens will not always be enough. You must be ready to come to the birds themselves and here comes the understanding and the knowledge of your subject.

Recently, Fabrice Hénon, a colleague of mine invited me to accompany him while he tried his new Canon equipment during a short lunch break in the St Germain forest (West of Paris). He accepted to show me a place where the birds let photographers approach because they are fed often and they are used to seeing cameras at short range.

Here is the result of my Sony shooting a blue tit, great tits, a male chaffinch and a European robin.

Chaffinch - male

Chaffinch - male

Chaffinch - male

Chaffinch - male

Chaffinch - male

Chaffinch - male

Chaffinch - male

Chaffinch - male

Chaffinch - male

Chaffinch - male

Great tit

Great tit

Great tit

Great tit

Blue tit

Blue tit

European Robin

European Robin

European Robin

European Robin

European Robin

European Robin

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

Don’t you think that the last bird is weird?

3 comments for “Forest birds

  1. Ted
    February 13, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Those pictures are really nice. Can you tell more about your setup (apart from what is already in the exif): use of a tripod or other steady support, hunt technique, …
    Thanks.

  2. February 13, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Sure, I can.

    First, everything was shot from a very short distance using the Minolta 400mm/4.5 on my Sony Alpha 700 affixed to a tripod with a fluid head. It gave me a lot of flexibility for framing (those birds are fast!) and enough stability not to worry and to accept more than an hour of near continuous shooting (it could be extenuating in the cold weather we have here).

    Attracting the animals was done by setting up some small quantitiy of grain in locations that are not visible from the shooting viewpoint. Furthermore, with birds, you first notice that they nearly never fly directly to the feeding location. They first stop at a short distance, then jump the last foot. Identify this intermediate landing location (the branch for the chaffinch, the top of the wood stump for the tits) and you will get a more dynamic bird images (the robin is stopping in weird positions, checks around, then flies down to target).

    There was no need to hide since those ones are not shy and they are used to see people around (the St Germain forest is open to the public).

    The squirrel was more of surprise. We saw it approaches stealthily from behind. Then it quickly went over (you need to see and imagine where it will come in view to be already focused on the wood to ease the AF task). Unfortunately, a man with a dog arrived immediately after that and I could only shoot 3 images.

    In any case, moving slowly is important. Staying long is good too because shy animals may take time to grow accustomed to your unthreatening presence.

    After shooting a first set of images with the low sun in my back, I moved to the side in order to get a different view of the wood and to ensure that I could get a more interesting lighting. But unfortunately, many of these late images were less interesting because I was not attentive to the background and the abstract drawings made by unfocused branches left too much distraction.

    One last advice: Stay long and come back often. The great advantage of digital cameras today is that you do not pay more for 300 photos than for 10 of them. And you learn a lot from shooting, going back to the computer and shooting again after identifying (or having somebody identifying your errors). At least, I do. My wildlife photo ability improved a lot from my first shots in Kenya in 2005 to the same place in 2008. Same place, but not the same photographer: 10000 pictures of difference.

    Manfrotto tripodsIf you read down to this level, you will find here a little token of my appreciation for your patience, a good article from Manfrotto: How to use tripods/monopods to get great photos.

  3. Ted
    February 14, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Thanks a lot for sharing your experience, that’s very interesting.

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