Zoom, Zoom, Zoom
Everyone knows the name of the game in bird photography is to get as close a shot as is possible, to fill the frame, which in most cases is no simple task. I know of three ways to accomplish this. I call them the three levels of zoom.
Focal Length Yup, it really does matter how big your lens is. This is one place in photography where having a big expensive lens is required. If your goal is magazine quality images then you are going to have to invest some money. There are two rules about shooting at long focal lengths that I think everyone experiences at some point. One, you will never have enough focal length so go easy on the “if I only had 100 more millimeters I could be awesome” and work within the areas you do have. If you are shooting at 300mm work on getting some great environmental portraits and concentrate on birds that are approachable and friendly. Second is everyone tries to cheat the laws of physics. Devices like tele-converters, extenders, and cheap super long lenses take a lot of light and sharpness away from your image, you give back more than you get in many cases. Even with quality tele-converters you are often against a wall to get your camera settings like shutter speed, focal plane, and depth of field where you need them to be. it is a lot of hard work and practice. Best practice is to spend the money for quality, long fast glass.
Sneaker Zoom Just like it sounds you really want to get as close to your subject as physically possible. A few things worth mentioning when trying to do the sneaker zoom: Stay low and slow. It is highly unlikely that you will be able to sneak up on any bird, they always know you are there, it is just a matter if whether they feel threatened or not. The slower you approach and lower to the ground you are the less threatening you will be to your subject. Also, it helps to approach from an angle instead of straight on and always, always, always hide or retract your tripod legs. If you don’t, you suddenly become a creature with five legs that your subject probably has never seen before. It would make me fly away.
Crop for Zoom. It used to be the scourge of wildlife photography, having to crop an image to fill it with your subject. You kill the resolution and quality goes downhill fast. Now with better cameras and high-resolution super mega pixel images heavy cropping has become a more acceptable practice. Even purists have to do it from time to time. Personally, as a general rule I think you should crop for composition only and in fact I have passed on tens of thousands of images that could have survived a heavy crop. The bottom line is if you want to have magazine quality images you should avoid the crop if you want to have images to have and to hold for the rest of your life do what makes you happy, with today’s technology you can do as you please. Of the three ways to get close to your subject I recommend cropping the least.
It’s always about compromise in photography but those are the three ways I know of to get really close to your subject and believe me I spend an awful lot of time trying to do just that.
Thanks for reading everyone. I appreciate everyone who stops by for a gander at my pictures and thoughts.
Have a Happy and Safe New Year.
You can see more of my work at www.ronboyddesign.com