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By Valérie Derome-Massé

January 29th, 2021

With the current pandemic, many are turning to bird watching - and rightly so. For some, it is a therapy while for others it is a real challenge. Fortunately, birds are everywhere. 

However, if you really want to maximize your chances of observing all kinds of birds, I invite you to read the tips below that I have written over the last few months.

The observation sites

Where can you go birdwatching? I believe this is the foundation of bird photography. First of all, I encourage you to browse the website and to search "by location" by navigating the map that gathers the observation sites. The sites are grouped by density of species observed. By choosing the sites that have the most species, we maximize our chances of observing them. Then, you can consult all the latest sightings. This gives you a good idea of the species that you may encounter on each site.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
Valérie Derome-Massé
1/1600s  |  f/5.6  |  ISO 800
Nikon D500 + Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR


Discovering and getting familiar with species and sites

Once you have found an interesting site, you should go there several times to familiarize yourself with the places and the species found there. Personally, I always prefer to go very early in the morning or at the end of the day to avoid too much direct light. However, be careful not to go too late in the evening because bird photography requires a very high shutter speed and therefore a lot of light.

I have found that the most favorable environments for bird photography are open spaces near marshes and ponds. They offer a better quality of light unlike dense forests where light is scarce. 

To maximize your chances, it is also very useful to learn to recognize birds not only by their appearance, but also by their sound. By recognizing species by their calls and songs, you will be able to know what to look for. Not only will it save you time, but it will also make the experience more interesting. 

Another site I frequently use when I observe a new species is - it is a very useful tool that lists species by color and size.

Purple Finch
Valérie Derome-Massé

1/400s  |  f/5.6  |  ISO 640
Nikon D500 + Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR


The right equipment

Having the right equipment is also essential for photographing birds: it is a specialized field that requires a particular choice of camera and lenses. By choosing equipment specific to bird photography, your images will be all the more successful and you will have a lot more fun doing it. 

When it comes to camera bodies, the ideal is to use an APS-C format to benefit from the magnification factor: because of their small size and the difficulty to get close to them, give yourself the best opportunity for a good shot from a distance. A good burst is also useful. 

Currently for bird photography I use a Nikon D500 camera. For the lenses, I advise to get a 500mm or 600mm focal length. You can get by with a 400mm lens but if you want to photograph rarer bird species you will absolutely need a longer focal length. My current choice of lens is the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E E VR lens

Find the right APS-C camera for you


The right settings

I want to bring it back to knowing what you want to photograph, as this will have a great influence on the choice of parameters. For fast and fickle small birds, I recommend a shutter speed of at least 1/800. However, some small or medium sized, less active birds can be photographed at a speed of 1/500 or 1/640. In order to avoid having too much grain in the image, the best is to use an ISO lower than 2000. However, this is subject to each camera’s limitations in handling noise and grain.

Turkey Vulture
Valérie Derome-Massé
1/640s  |  f/5.6  |  ISO 640
Nikon D500 + Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR


Attracting birds to your home

Another very interesting way to practice recognizing and photographing birds is to attract them to your home. There are a variety of bird feeders, set-ups and food that attract different species throughout the year. This is a good way to start bird photography without leaving home.

Happy birdwatching!



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