Bird Photography Basics at Sylvan Heights Bird Park
A few simple tips can help any photographer get their best avian images.
With colorful plumage and comical behavior, birds are popular subjects for photographers of any skill level. Sylvan Heights Bird Park provides unparalleled opportunities to get nose-to-beak with some of the world’s most spectacular species, but whether you’re photographing the park’s feathered residents or the birds in your own backyard, there are a few basic tips to keep in mind to get the most out of your bird images. You don’t need professional equipment to put some of these tips into practice – try them out with your smart phone next time you visit Sylvan Heights!
Tip #1: Patience pays off
Choose a location and give the birds some time to adjust to your presence. Some may even approach you! The birds at Sylvan Heights are accustomed to visitors, so it may only take a few minutes before they begin preening, bathing, and displaying. Plan to stay in that location for at least 20 minutes and photograph the avian events that unfold in front of you. Wild birds generally require much more patience and caution to avoid causing them undue stress. Whether you’re in an aviary or in the wild, always respect the birds’ space and never try to chase, catch, or otherwise manipulate the birds to get the shot you want.
Tip #2: Get a “bird’s-eye” view
Wildlife images are often much more engaging when you place the audience at eye-level in the world of the subject. For waterfowl, this means getting as low as possible – less than 12” from the ground is best, if you can manage it. This ultra-low perspective has the added benefit of revealing large, beautiful reflections of your subject on the water. For perching birds, try holding your camera above you to get a higher perspective, or wait until a bird perches in the right position for a great eye-level shot.
Tip #3: Timing is everything
Consider doing most of your bird photography in the morning and late afternoon, when the birds are more active and the lighting less harsh. Stormy or overcast weather often provides ideal conditions for photographing white birds like swans and egrets, or scarlet ibis.
Don’t forget to also consider the time of year when planning your images and your trip to Sylvan Heights. If it’s waterfowl photos you’re after, the ducks look their best between October and May when they’re sporting crisp breeding attire (many molt into a drab eclipse plumage during the summer). For the best chance of photographing the birds’ nesting and breeding behavior, aim for late winter and spring. Late spring and summer are the best times to see young birds around the park, and if you visit during the months of August and September, you may catch a glimpse of our bird keepers leading crane chicks on their daily walks.
Tip #4: A little background
You’re photographing a beautiful bird, so give it a worthy background! Try to position yourself so that fences or other unnatural structures are absent or blurred in the distance behind your subject. Plants, rocks, logs, and natural materials make much more aesthetically appealing backdrops for nature photographs.
Tip #5: Action!
Photographers with fast cameras and lenses will have the advantage when it comes to catching sharp images of birds flying, displaying, or bathing, but that doesn’t mean smart phone photographers can’t get in on the action, too. Use your phone’s burst mode to capture a series of fast action shots, and don’t forget about video! For an even more dramatic effect, switch your phone’s camera to slow motion mode and capture a really unique perspective of bird behavior.
Finally, while photographing birds can be a fun challenge, don’t forget to put your camera down every now and then and enjoy the scene in front of you. Birds perform many complex interactions and behaviors — observing and understanding their patterns will help you capture better images in the future.