For a longtime I had been thinking of starting this series called as “How I?” There are always few images that are worth celebrating over and giving a thought back on “How it was captured?” and “What could have been done to make it better?”. In this series I will go over those technical aspects, the approach followed, and of course the behavior observed right from the field, if relevant. So, without any further ado, let’s get right on it.
The above image was shot at famous Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu. This was definitely not a lucky shot. It required a lot of patience and work to get the kind of composition I wanted and of course some basic techniques, which is common while photographing any bird.
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This was our third visit back to back to this mystical place called Dhanushkodi, from our 3-day trip to Rameshwaram, in the month of November 2022. We were thrilled by the beauty this place had to offer. The road running straight like an arrow cutting the Ocean into two halves was quite a sight. If you have the luxury of driving in Danushkodi, do not miss it. Every stop that you make in the Danushkodi road, gives you two options, a beach on the left and a beach on the right. Now it’s up to you, which side you want to go. Perhaps you can decide based on the time of the day you reach, if you want to photograph the beach birds there. Just a note though, not recommended between 10:00 am to 03:00 pm, as it gets really-really hot.
When we reached the spot, I saw Sea Gulls and Brahminy Kites sunbathing at the beach. The busy shoreline, with the birds doing their usual business at the beach, must be just about 200 meters away from the road where I parked my Car. I took out my gear which is always ready for photographing birds and started evaluating the scene. I took my position and started framing the scene staying low. Soon I found myself crawling with my big lens Sony 200-600 mm. But to my surprise, an overly enthusiastic mobile Photographer ran for the birds to get a closer shot. And there was hardly anything I could do about it. Before I could respond, he had already finished the game before it could begin. I totally lost my cool and walked to the person and asked him why did he do that? And his response was, “He wanted a closer shot”. And what surprised me the most was his next statement, “What difference does it make if they flew away, they will come back.” For him it was all fun, I just gave up on him.
So the birds had flown further away and now the Gulls were beyond my reach, but Brahminy Kites were still in my range. There were Juveniles, Females, colorful Males, few Gulls, and of course lots and lots of crows. They must be still about 150 meters away from where I was. I started relooking at the scene. The crawling game was back on. I would click a few shots while being on my knees and then step forward without making sudden movements. This crawling game continued for the next 15 minutes. Thankfully, now there were no unwanted distractions.
It is always a good idea when photographing birds, that we look out for ways to create some separation between the birds when you have more than one bird in the scene. Next would be to take care of the background. A busy background will only distract your image look clumsy and lose focus from your main subject, unless done creatively to showcase the habitat.
Another thing worth mentioning is, when it comes to Photographing birds, I prefer a low angle shot which our eyes are not used to of. This not only makes the scene look interesting and compelling, but also allows you to make your subject look majestic and powerful.
When photographing with a long lens, you cannot be more watchful about your shutter speed. The rule of thumb is to have at least a shutter speed of 1/focal length to avoid any camera shake. But, while Photographing birds, though I was trying to shoot birds sunbathing who are not moving much, still you must be ready for an unpredictable action. They say, in birding things can drastically change just at the drop of a hat. So, I chose to set my shutter speed of 1/1600 sec. This was also due to the fact that I had set my camera to a crop mode which gave me an equivalent focal length of 900 mm which is 1.5 x crop factor.
One plus point about Photographing large birds is, it is easy to fill the frame. Compared to smaller birds, tracking and composing gets easier with larger birds. But it is easy to miss out on focus at the right place. To overcome this, it is always a good idea to select a narrow aperture to get more of the bird in focus. To do that I had set my aperture to an f value of 9.0.
Given the shutter speed and Aperture that I wanted; I was not left with much choice on ISO part. I had set it to a value of 320, which allowed me to not lose the details in the white and at the same time not underexpose the blacks.
It is always a good idea to cross check the color range that your subject is exposing you to. And it becomes critically important when photographing birds who have Whites in the range. If not taken care, you may end up spoiling your shot where the blacks are exposed, but whites are completely overexposed beyond recoverable limits. So, you can try and expose for the whites, blacks even if little underexposed, can be revived in the postprocessing software, but the other way around is very difficult to repair.
I shoot with a mirrorless body, which is capable of offering amazing dynamic range. For this photo, I paired my Sony 200-600 mm lens with my Sony A7iii. I love this body, not only it has got a fantastic full frame sensor, but the kind of customization it offers, has made changing different settings on the fly is worth mentioning. Earlier to do this, one had to go to main menu and navigate through the tiring plethora of setting options available to choose from. The quick way of changing certain settings with one click of a button for example, focus area, White balance, Crop factor, Track Sensitivity, or anything else that you wish to change. I just cannot imagine photographing Birds and wildlife without features like these. It’s a game changer for me which allows me to quickly jump to the required settings on the fly.
It is believed that birds sunbath to flush out harmful parasites. It also helps them to stiff their feathers. Brahminy Kites are known to spread their feathers while sunbathing.
There is always an interesting story behind interesting images. And one can never be too ready. Whenever I am on a trip, I make it a point before venturing out from the hotel to keep my camera ready, attached with my tele lens and a setting which is ideal for Photographing birds to save the only time that you would get at times.
In the end, hope this blog gave you an insight on Photographing birds. If you would like to see more blogs like this, do consider Subscribing to my blog.
If you are considering doing Bangalore to Rameshwaram by road, our video from Bangalore to Rameshwaram is out. Check it out, if that is of interest:
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Gears used in the Trip
Iphone 11 Pro and Iphone 13 for wide shots
Here is another interesting series for Nature buffs, “Stories from Wild“.