Improve Your Bird Photography With These Five Tips

Photographing birds is probably most peoples' introduction to wildlife photography — they're ubiquitous and numerous but getting a decent shot might be harder than you think. This professional bird photographer offers some great tips to get you started.

Jan Wegener is an Australian based photographer who's sole focus is bird photography. His unique, eye-catching style didn't some about by accident; he has been perfecting his craft for many years, only turning to full-time bird photography in recent years. If you're looking at his images and saying to yourself that that's where you want to be in the future, prepare to put in a lot of hours. Wegener's YouTube channel is a fantastic resource for budding bird shooters, and this video offers five helpful tips to get you started.

For me, one of the most important tips that he gives is planning your shot correctly. All the typical outdoor shooting factors come into play — time of day, direction of sunlight, location, etc. However, I would probably add wind speed and its direction to that. The exact force of the wind isn't important, but if there's a relatively strong wind it's good to realize that shore birds will most often land into the wind. Knowing this, the direction of sunlight, and what you want your background to look like, will really help you to triangulate where you need to position yourself for the best possible outcome.

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16 Comments

David Love's picture

See my new video "Five steps to creating a five steps video because people like steps." In it I explain why by youtube law you can only use 5 steps or 10 steps in your videos, not 11, not 3. Does every vid have to be a watchmojo top ten format?

Nitin Chandra's picture

LoL...You sound like a senior marketing executive I knew in a company (I was on the tech side). He asked me to sit in on a couple of interviews with him and one of his questions was about the salary a person expected. If a person said X, then, he would counter with "Why not X-2 or X+2" :)

jim hughes's picture

I almost hate to say this but - it really is a "great" video. His work is absolutely tops, it's beautiful, and he's really telling you how and why he succeeds. I hate videos but I'll watch more by Jan, he has it all figured out.

I'm not really in Jan's league, but my own tip is: find a way to get closer. You can get great photos by staying home and getting the birds to come to you and sit where you want them:

https://jimhphoto.com/index.php/2020/01/07/birds-eyes/

Nitin Chandra's picture

Totally agree with you on the home part. Have been feeding pigeons and crows (and some more) that drop in to feed and after a while, you can anticipate and get some good shots which might not have been possible otherwise.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/chandra-nitin/49917314106/in/dateposted/

This is just one such example :)

jim hughes's picture

Who knew a photo of a pigeon could be so dramatic?

I want to start attracting crows.

Nitin Chandra's picture

Crows will eat anything...The crow shot I have with the full beak...It's Pedigree dog pellets...They love that as well :)

jim hughes's picture

Need something that won't be carried off by the blue jays.

Tom Reichner's picture

Jan is certainly an excellent bird photographer with a distinct style. I've been following him for a long time on Instagram. However, his style is not for everyone. I really enjoy his imagery, but I do not normally want to take pictures like his.

Backgrounds that are very sterile and very high-key can yield some very pleasing, artistic images ..... but that style does not at all resemble what I see when I am in the wild viewing birds, and I want my images to capture the essence of the experience I had when I saw the bird in it's natural habitat.

Jan has obviously found his own distinct style, and is continually able to produce images that have that same unique look. Ideally, that is what each of us will do ..... find a style - a look - that best expresses what we want to express in our bird imagery. And then work of fine-tuning that style, the way Jan has perfected his style.

I encourage others not to try to emulate someone else's style, but to find and perfect their own.

jim hughes's picture

Yes it's a 'style' I like, but there are no rules and some people prefer a less intentional, more documentary look.

Nitin Chandra's picture

I think the style also depends on where you are...The location and what you can get from there...Just IMO...

Ziggy Stardust's picture

Bland backgrounds - bleh.
A bird in its environment is a harder but better shot.

Tom Reichner's picture

"Better" is subjective. If you are aiming for a minimalist style, then the backgrounds that Jan gets are preferred. If you are shooting for environmental portraiture, then of course including more of the surrounding habitat is the obvious choice.

Just because you like something more does not make it "better". What is "better" or "not as good" must always be measured in terms of what the photographer's objective is.

Personally, when shooting plain monochromatic backgrounds like Jan does, I very much dislike the tan and beige tones that so often comprise his backgrounds. But that is just my preference. The cooler, more natural green and sky blue backgrounds that I prefer are not "better" or "worse" than Jan's tan backgrounds. It is just a preference.

But every now and then one of Jan's tan backgrounds will be pleasing to me, because in some cases that tan will complement the colors of the bird's plumage rather nicely. It all depends on what species is in the photo.

Ziggy Stardust's picture

Taste in aesthetics is subjective. So what?

This is about visual communication, so ask yourself 'what do these images evoke in me?'

Wegener's evoke dummies in me, not living birds.

Tom Reichner's picture

The very first time I saw a Jan Wegener bird image, it immediately evoked in me a reminiscence of John James Audubon's bird paintings. It also evoked in me antique oriental works of art.

Why? Because both Audubon's paintings and antique oriental artwork featuring birds often depicted a bird and a bit of ornately draped foliage against a plain background. The entire bird is usually in perfect focus, along with the foliage, whereas the background itself is utterly and completely out of focus. There is no mid-ground, nothing somewhat soft or any "inn between" zones. There is the totally in focus bird and branch, and then there is the completely out of focus background, and no more. True, classic minimalism.

Because most of Jan's work exhibits this aesthetic, it always reminds me of my childhood, when, as a boy of 8 to 12, I studied over Audubon's paintings for hours on end.

So what Jan's bird images evoke in me, mostly, is a sense of my own happy past, as well as a sense of the history of modern ornithology, and 19th century wildlife art.

Ziggy Stardust's picture

Cool.
The bird 'tog I most admire is Georgina Steytler, Wagener's fellow Australian.
Her birds are in a living landscape though she often uses high key to de-emphasise it.
Her images are full of life, because she is full of life.
https://www.georginasteytler.com.au/

Tom Reichner's picture

Georgina has some lovely images! Thanks for the link.