Self-Iso Inspiration: The Ins and Outs of Bird Photography

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With social distancing slowly becoming the norm, there are some of us that can continue our hobbies in relative solitude and safety! I know two photographers who love to go out into nature and find great inspiration from their feathered friends. One happens to be my dad who started bird photography as a hobbyist a few years ago while going hiking with my mom. The other is my animated friend Dougie who is incredibly enthusiastic with life and captures the most outstanding colours in his photography. Looking high up in trees and even camouflaged in foliage, these two great seekers of birds find their perfect shots.

Orange Bird in Trees

Perched on a thin branch, this orange bird poses perfectly for Peter.

If you’ve ever wondered how to get into bird photography, these two photographers can give you some insight into their world of avian imagery.

Where do you go to capture photos of birds?

Peter travels to Point Pelee each spring to watch the bird migration. Point Pelee is located in southern Lake Erie and is the southernmost point of mainland Canada. Otherwise he finds them locally on hiking trails and parks.

Douglas states, “Luckily, birds are just about everywhere, from backyards to parks, coasts to alpine areas, and wetlands to parking lots. The beauty in birds can be found just about anywhere, all you have to do is look!”

Blue Bird on Branch

With a good eye for detail, Dougie captures this blue bird enhancing the texture of the feathers by finding a position with a clean background.

Do you know the species when you see them, or do any research when you get back?

When Peter first started taking interest in bird photography, he spoke to several friendly bird watchers who were always willing to describe each species of bird. From there, he started research through books and on the internet where there is vast information about birds in Ontario as well as around the world. “To see the birds in person makes me more interested in them, it is like an Easter egg hunt. It gets me excited!” – Peter Chu

Douglas travels often for work and is constantly discovering birds he’s never seen before. He explains that with minimal experience, you can easily categorize birds into groups and families, noting similar characteristics amongst them and the families they belong to.

Birds sitting on rebar

You could almost mistake the metal rebar to be a branch the way this pair is perched on it, Peter captures the versatility of birds in any environment.

Mallard Duck in the Water

Dougie loves to visit Stanley Park in B.C at Lost Lagoon. The painterly effect on the water makes this image frame worthy.

His tech-savvy nature leads him to use apps like Picture Bird that utilizes AI to identify a species. The website EBird helps you locate hot spots in your area and even has a feature to search by species which improves your chances of finding a bird you might want to see if it is currently known to reside in your specific area.

What kind of camera do you use? Are there special lenses that you recommend?

After ditching his Nikon DSLR because it was too heavy, Peter opted for a mirrorless Olympus camera. He suggests telephoto lenses and to consider the crop factor of your camera when choosing the focal length.

Peter’s Gear:

Douglas standing on a vehicle

Sometimes you just have to capture the right angle, Douglas uses a vehicle to reach new heights!

Although Douglas realizes that anyone can snap a shot with their smartphones, he chooses professional gear to capture higher quality images. He admits that his camera is not lightweight and lugging it around can be more physically taxing than birding itself!

Douglas’ Gear:

What are some of the challenges when shooting?

Both Peter and Douglas agree that although weather, distance, angle, blocking objects and conditions of the trail, can all be challenging at times, the biggest challenge is the birds themselves!

Flamingos taking flight

Douglas captures Roseate Spoonbills as they take off in flight.

Tips from Douglas:

  1. Diurnal (active during the day) birds are usually most active in the early morning and late afternoons.
  2. Cloudy days, rainy weather, and snowy days can all challenge a photographer, but can also result in some incredible images.
  3. Birds look their best in the right lighting, and sometimes only at the right angles – as is the case in iridescence when a feather might appear lacklustre at one angle and incredible at another.
  4. Shadows cast by objects such as branches can also diminish the clarity of the photo and colours of a bird.
  5. Unless you’re trying to get a birds silhouette, shooting into the sun is not advisable (for multiple reasons), so try to get a bird capture with the sun behind you or directly overhead.
Stellar Jay on rock

You can often hear a Stellar Jay before you can see it, Dougie’s close-ups show its colour beautifully.

What do you use to carry your equipment when going out in the field?

Both carry a backpack when there is significant hiking involved and a comfortable camera strap is a must if you want to carry it around your neck.

Peter likes to carry a walking stick if the terrain is tough to give him extra balance and Douglas carries a tripod if he needs to shoot a subject at a far distance.

Binoculars are also a popular choice for spotting birds even for photographers!

What is your favourite photo you’ve captured and why?

bird in nest

One of Peter’s favourite photos is of this lonely small bird standing alone. He describes him as looking like he is thinking and loves that it is camouflaged into the background.

Owl standing on tree branchDouglas hasn’t actually uploaded all his favourite photos yet (aren’t we all guilty of this?) as he’s got over 45,000 pictures to sort through and edit! His favourites are usually owl pictures, and action shots.

Fortunately birds are really everywhere and the joy in this form of photography doesn’t necessarily break the bank. This is the perfect social distancing hobby that will allow you to get some fresh air, discover new bird species and capture the colours of nature.

If you would like to follow Douglas on his birding adventures, you can follow him here:
@thegingerbirdman and @_dougulous_

Other birders Douglas recommends:
@barredlife (US)
@emilie.reid.photographie (US)
@dan_the_ripper (Sweden)
@steeve_r_baker (Canada)
@gourmetbiologist (US)