WITH BEN DAVIES
If you want to try your hand at wildlife photography, there’s no better place to start than with the challenge of capturing garden birds in action. It’s certainly the most rewarding subject you can shoot without having to leave your home, and the experience will give a real boost to your skills. Freezing our feathered friends mid-flight reveals a world of detail, usually too fleeting for our eyes to appreciate in real time. All you need is some patience and little bit of know-how, and you’re well on your way to wowing your friends with your latest shots.
We’ve put together a list of seven fantastic tips, that’ll help you bag your best ever wildlife images.
Attract birds to the right spot
It’s easy to entice birds to visit your garden, and in the UK there are over 30 species that regularly make an appearance in backyards. But to draw even more birds to your home, there are number of things you can do. Try hanging up bird feeders with a good mixture of seeds and providing water in a birdbath, or even put up nest boxes in areas with adequate foliage cover. Just remember to place these enticing items in close view of a downstairs window, to give yourself a good vantage point from which to photograph the avian action.
Use a telephoto lens
In order to get as close to the action as possible, you’ll need to use a telephoto lens to magnify your subjects. Something like the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II Lens is ideal. This will give a 35mm equivalent of 150-600mm. Other lenses to keep in mind are the OLYMPUS M.ZUIKO 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 or the OLYMPUS M.ZUIKO 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens, as both are brilliant for this type of shooting. They’ll give a 35mm equivalent of 80-300mm.
Shoot with a fast shutter speed
Fluttering birds flap their wings incredibly quickly, so you’ll need to use a really fast shutter speed to capture pin-sharp detail. Taking control of your camera’s shutter speed is easy: all you need to do is switch the mode dial to the ‘S’ icon and then set the shutter speed to 1/4,000sec by rotating the command dial. Make sure your ISO is set to auto, and your camera will take care of the aperture, to ensure you get a well-exposed shot.
Set the right focusing mode
In order to accurately focus on fast moving birds, you’ll need to use a Continuous AF mode. This keeps the focus on your subject while the shutter button is half-pressed, so that the birds remain sharp while you set your composition. To give you the best chance of getting super sharp detail, you should set your focusing mode to AF tracking, if your camera has it. This means the focus will track the subject in the viewfinder, even if it strays from the original AF point.
Silence your camera
Birds can easily get spooked by sudden noise – even camera shutters – so it’s a good idea to shoot as silently as you can. While it’s not possible to completely silence the shutter mechanism on a DSLR, CSCs like the Olympus OM-D and PEN series offer the ability to turn all camera noises off and shoot in complete silence. This means you can snap away without the worry of scaring off your subjects.
Use a high-speed burst to capture birds in flight
The perfect moment often happens in the blink of an eye, and it’s not always possible to predict precisely when it will occur. To get around this, it’s best to shoot a high-speed burst of images, and then select the best shot from the sequence afterwards.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is an especially good choice as it can capture images at a blistering 10fps, allowing plenty of opportunity to grab the perfect shot.
Shoot birds the smart way
If you don’t have a telephoto lens – but do have a smartphone – then you can still get super close to the wildlife without spooking your subjects. Set your camera up on a tripod close to the bird feeder, and control your camera remotely using the OLYMPUS Image Share smartphone app, with any compatible Olympus camera. It’s easy to do, and means you’ll be able to get close-up to wildlife like never before.