Lenses For Bird Photography Serious bird photographers seem to gravitate to the pro 300mm ƒ/2.8, 400mm ƒ/2.8, 500mm ƒ/4 and 600mm ƒ/4 optics, in large part because they autofocus faster and more accurately than lesser lenses. But if your budget doesn’t allow for these expensive and bulky beasts, lower-priced lenses in these focal lengths can get you some good flying-bird shots. Major-brand 80-400mm, 100-400mm, 120-400mm, 150-500mm and 200-500mm super-tele-zooms are good bird lenses, but not as quick as pro models.
Canon EF 500mm ƒ/4L IS USM
It’s Now Or Never Photographers strive to get the best composition in-camera, but Lasa says it’s more important to get the best moment. If you can do both, great. But don’t miss the moment by taking too long to compose. With flying shots, you usually have enough space around the bird to recrop when editing the image. But you can’t reshoot the moment in Photoshop.
For a number of years, Lasa conducted workshops photographing wild snowy owls in Canada. While he no longer does those, he points out that species-specific bird-photography workshops allow you to go out with an expert (or a team of them) to an area where the birds are found. Benefits include on-the-spot expert advice, access to the desired species and a much greater likelihood of getting great shots than if you head out on your own. You’ll get more out of a workshop—and more great shots—if you hone your action techniques on local flying birds before setting out on a workshop adventure.
Miguel Lasa’s Top 10 Tips For Your Best Bird-Action Photos
1 Passion & Patience. Give yourself time to get your shots. Birds live by their schedules, not yours. 2 Do Your Research. The more you know about your subjects, the more likely you are to find them and capture photogenic moments. 3 Use A Suitable Camera. Bird-action pros use pro cameras for a reason—they react more quickly and autofocus more quickly and accurately. 4 Use The Right Lenses. Pros use pro super-telephoto lenses because they’re sharper, autofocus more effectively and can better withstand hard outdoor use. 5 Use A Fast Shutter Speed. Birds move fast. Unless you’re after a blur special effect, use the fastest possible shutter speed for sharp flight photos. 6 Use Spot AF. The center AF point is generally the most sensitive, and the camera will acquire focus more quickly and maintain it better if only the center AF point is active. But be sure to keep that point on the bird at all times—that takes practice! 7 Use The Histogram. You have a tool that helps you nail those exposures—use it! Check the histogram for a test shot before the real action begins. 8 Use Fill-Flash When You Need It. An external flash unit with a flash extender can lighten shadows and separate the bird from the background. 9 Get The Moment Now, Compose Later. You’ll probably have “air” around the bird, allowing you to crop the shot when you edit it. So concentrate on capturing the decisive moment and keeping the active AF point on the subject, and worry about precise framing later. 10 Take A Bird Workshop. If you want to photograph a specific type of bird, take a workshop that specializes in that bird. The leader will find birds, get you close, show you how to get the best shots and can provide good feedback on your efforts.