4 Common Bird Photography Mistakes

Wednesday, January 12, 2022
The title for this blog may be a bit misleading. There really are no rules in photography, and therefore no mistakes. Every photographer has their own unique vision and should (generally) do as they wish to achieve their desired outcome. But there are a few things you can consider when photographing birds that can help push your photography to another level both creatively and ethically speaking. Read on for solutions to four common mistakes made in bird photography.

Barn Swallow fledgling

1. Taking only close-up photos
Everyone loves a close-up portrait because they allow us to get incredibly detailed views that our eyes seldom get to see for themselves. While close-ups are indeed full of fascinating intricacies, when we zoom in or crop too tightly, we are often missing out on the opportunity to create inspiring images that include gorgeous scenery, flora, and possibly even other wildlife. Shooting wider and keeping a wide crop not only creates interesting habitat shots, but also leaves us with crisper images, and more wiggle room in the post-editing process. Letting go of the urge to get as close as possible can also be beneficial to the subject, allowing us to maintain ethical standards and cause less stress to the birds (see #3 for more on this topic).

2. Comparing your photos to someone else's
This is not to say that you shouldn't seek out inspiration in other photographer's work, just be less critical of yourself when scrolling through your social media feeds. Viewing images from other photographers is significant to help gain new creative perspective, further your skills, and to push yourself in the field in the direction you'd like to go. When looking through the thousands or even millions of beautiful bird photos available online, it can be easy to feel like your images are inadequate but just remember that many of those photographers have been practicing for years, it might even be their career where they can spend as much time on it as they like, or maybe they spent hours in an editing program to tweak every little thing until the image was just right. Seek out mentors if you're feeling down, ask for constructive criticism, take a course, and practice, practice, practice. Practice won't make perfect - there's no such thing - but it will make progress.  

Barred Owl - photo by Shayna Hartley

3. Putting photos before the bird
Harassment is a hot topic in the birding and photography world, particularly when it comes to birds of prey, and more specifically owls. Though harassment occurs with all species, owls seem to get the brunt of it due to their high desirability or even celebrity status. Unfortunately, there are many who are willing to do anything for "the shot", and will harass the birds to the point of illness, destroy surrounding habitat, trespass, and more, until they are satisfied. I have covered this topic in great detail in previous blogs, which you can find here. But pertaining specifically to bird photography, I believe it is our duty as photographers to educate ourselves on stress responses in wildlife and to know when to back off, or when not to pursue a subject in the first place. Our egos and desires must always come second to the health and safety of the birds. 

Purple Sandpiper

4. Only shooting in good weather

Don't wait for "perfect" weather to get out shooting. Birds are active in all types of weather, and some of the most compelling images are created in rain or snow, or strong winds. If you try to wait for what seems like the perfect time, you're likely to miss out on some great photo opportunities. Just remember to dress yourself and your gear for the weather. There are many types of weather protection available for cameras and camera gear, ranging from as little as $10 and into the hundreds depending on what you're looking for and the type of gear you have. A simple hack is to grab a clear garbage bag, rip a hole just big enough for your lens hood to poke through, and head out into the wild. It may not looks pretty, but it works. 

Do you have bird photos you'd like to share? Or maybe some tips of your own? Check out our group of over 3000 bird lovers on Facebook!

Happy trails!
- Shayna

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