Photography Tips, Tricks and Accessories for Bird Photographers

After posting the above picture here on my blog earlier this week, I received several emails asking for some bird photography tips. Here goes!

Above: Behavior shots are often more impressive than portraits. To get behavior shots, you need to be patient and lucky. I was lucky to get this shot, but the dove was not that lucky . . . .

If I could recommend one lens for bird photography, it would be the Canon 100-400mm IS. Image stabilization is must for hand-holding long lenses.

Don't be afraid to boost your ISO when you need a fast shutter speed to avoid camera shade and to stop action. What would you rather have? A picture with a bit of noise or a shot that is out of focus, soft and blurry.

Above: These portraits are okay. However, the background is distracting in one shot and boring in the other. Remember: the background can make or break a shot. Maybe the one good thing about both pictures is that I shot at eye level.

Above: Birds-in-flight shots are cool. To stop the action, use a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 sec. In Photoshop, selectively blur part of the wings to add a sense of motion to your still shot.

Above: And speaking of Photoshop, always envision the possibilities that await you in the digital darkroom.

Above: Try to get some light in the bird's eye. Select a good shooting position or use a flash. To extend the range of your flash, use a Better Beamer. I use one on my Canon Speedlite 580EX.


Above: When choosing a tele-extender, go with one that is made by your camera manufacturer. Also, 1.4x tele-extenders are usually sharper than 2x tele-extenders. I use a Canon 1.4X tele-extender on my Canon 100-400mm lens and Canon 70-200mm lens. 


Above: Another cool accessory is the Puffin Bad, designed by my friend Wayne Bennett.

The Puffin Pad was originally designed to fit over the window of your car, via a slot running the length of the underside.  However, the Puffin Pad is so versatile that it can be used on the beach to shoot eye level with shore birds, it can be used on gates, chair backs, tables, side railings of boats and more.

For more information and sales, go to

Above: Go where birds hang out. I took this picture in Bosque del Apache in New Mexico in early December. I used a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second to slightly blur the action.

Juan Pons and I will be leading a photo workshop to Bosque in early December 2011. Shoot me an email if you are interested in joining the photo and Photoshop fun. 

Above: Speaking of hanging out with birds, here is one of my favorite shots from a recent workshops to Alaska on which I was the co-pro leader with photo pro Hal Schmitt. Here is a link to more pictures and tips.

If you want to join Hal/me in 2012 for the Bald Eagle workshop, shoot me an email.

Above: Know everything about your camera - so you can shoot even with one hand. Also master your flash and daylight fill-in flash, so your pictures do not look like harsh flash pictures. The key is learning how to balance the light from the flash to the daylight.

Above: Have fun!

Explore the light, 

Today's Talented Guest Blogger: Kathie Austin

Kathie Austin is my guest blogger today.

Take it away, Kathie!
• • •

I had the pleasure of attending Rick Sammon's Times Square Photo Shoot with 60 other photographers! Wow! What an event!  

Imagine walking the surrounding areas of Times Square with a group of 60 fired-up photographers, cameras in hand, each of us searching for the 'shot.' Talking, sharing, learning, networking as we walk and snap. When we all wanted to photograph the same thing, it was challenging getting into the position I wanted to get the right angle because my nature is to be front and center, down low or up high to get that shot. I'll move garbage cans if I have to - and Rick and I did just that! Here are some of the images I'll cherish from the event.

This is my eight year-old assistant for the day. I quickly positioned her in the middle of the road at a red light, kindly asked some oncoming pedestrians to walk around us. Got down on the ground, counted to three, and she jumped at "three!"  Continuous shutter . . . got the shot!  You should know that this beautiful child shines from the inside out, a complete JOY!  Processed through OnOne Focal Point software to blur down some busy background. The sky behind the buildings was overexposed, so I dropped in a cloudy background I had from another image, just to soften the bright white. (Canon EOS 20D, Tamron 17-50 lens, f9.0, 1/100, ISO200).


Darn, the beauty of a 10mm lens! Rick Sammon's colleague who I just met at the event, Juan Pons, lent me his Canon 10-22 EF-S lens for this shot. I just go crazy for shots from a lens like that!  This man was unique, full of character, some funky music, just a little amp. Gotta love NYC!  Rick Sammon suggested we shoot him because of the cool-colored, blue background. Made for a very vibrant shot, full of personality and character. Processed through Topaz software to emphasize the distinguished facial wrinkles and create more vibrance in the colors.  (Canon EOS 20D, Canon 10-22 EF-S lens, f5.6, 1/40, ISO200, flash).

Again, my "Chicken Noodle" assistant at work. I was behind her, teaching her how to "tilt" the camera to add personality to a photo and suggested to her that she get herself into the photo via the mirror as a 'self portrait.'  

Am I a bad mama for having a child in the street with a camera in her face with oncoming traffic?  Hell, no!  The round image in the reflection is the original picture she took, but the background is sandwiched in via Photoshop, the image I took to show her how to do the 'tilt.'  Slight processing via Topaz, a little HDR added to the mirror reflection.  As Juan Pons said, "We start them young!" I'm hoping to inspire her entrepreneurial spirit! (Canon EOS 20D, Tamron 17-50 lens, f5.6, 1/100, ISO200).

Thanks, Rick, for an inspiring day! It was super! We're making memories, learning and growing!

 • • •

Thank you Kathie for a great post. 

Explore the light,

Workshop Digital Diaries: San Miguel de Allende - Day 2

It's the end of day #2 of my workshop here in San Miguel de Allende for Foto Workshops Mexico.

 Soooo tired after a long day of shooting. But before I pass out, here are a few of my favorite photos from today's shoots - as well as some tips. Some of these shots were taken in a ghost town that's about an hour away from San Miguel.

Above: Work with shadows. To get shots like this, you need to get up early in the morning or stay out late in the afternoon. You also need to give the subject specific directions.

Above: You don't always need to fill the frame with the subject. Shoot wide and take what is called an environmental portrait - the subject in the environment.

Above: Embrace the distortion of a fish-eye lens. Here you see straight ahead and straight up at the same time. Canon 15mm lens, Canon 5D Mark II.

Above: Shoot at angles to add a sense of depth to an image.

Above: Shoot through objects to give the viewer of your photograph the feeling of being there.


Above: Shoot at f/22 to get a starburst of the sun in your pictures.

I hope to see you in San Miguel in 2012. Shoot me an email to get on my workshop list.

What makes this San Miguel workshop special - and different - is that is run by folks who live in Mexico.

Explore the light,

P.S. I am feeling the love on my Mexico Exploring the Light workshop!  :-)

6.28.11 Tuesday's Talented Twitter Find: Alex Racanelli

This Week's Tuesday's Talented Twitter find is Alex Racanelli.
Follow Alex on Twitter to keep up-to-date with what this talented photographer is doing.

About My Tuesday's Talented Twitter Find: Each Tuesday I pick a talented photographer I find on Twitter - and promote the talented photographer here on my blog and on twitter, etc.

Nice work, Alex

Explore the light,

P.S. If you are not following me on Twitter, click here to keep up to date with what I'm doing. And, keep posting interesting photo stuff on Twitter!