At the beginning of 2017 I started a new bird photography project with the aim of increasing my knowledge of our feathered friends. A few weeks ago I photographed my 200th different species of wild birds which seems like a suitable milestone to celebrate with a blog post so I will share some of my favourites here.
Before starting this project I did occasionally photograph birds, but my knowledge, my skills and my equipment were just not up to the task and I wished to improve in all those areas.
My approach to this project was fairly simple, I went to many different places, mostly locally here in Finland, looking for birds to photograph. When I got home again I used a combination of books and the internet to try and identify the birds that I had photographed. To start with this task was very difficult, to the untrained eye many different species look "the same" and there is the added complication of the significant changes in appearance that birds can undergo at different stages of life and during different seasons of the year.
As time has passed I have become a lot more familiar with an increasing amount of different bird species but I think that it would still take a decade or more of concentrated effort before I could approach any real level of expertise. Despite still being a relative novice in this area I now know enough to get a great deal more enjoyment when out and about in nature, it has really enhanced my experience to be able to recognise a reasonable amount of the birds that are all around us.
In bird photography, perhaps more than any other kind of photography, your equipment can make a significant difference to your results. Your chances of catching the best moments are greatly increased by a high frame rate and lightning fast focusing, a lens with a very long focal length is a huge advantage in order to capture the finer details of wild birds while a very wide aperture helps to gather as much light as possible when using the very fast shutter speeds that are necessary to freeze the motion of moving birds.
Despite the benefits of specialised camera equipment the skills (or lack thereof) of the photographer are a more decisive factor. When you first get a lens with a longer focal length (e.g. 500mm or more full frame equivalent) it takes a bit of practice to be able to keep a flying bird in the frame well enough to be able to focus and shoot but over time you develop sufficiently good hand-eye coordination to manage this task reasonably well. Knowing your camera well enough to be able to make any needed changes to the settings "on the fly" without looking and while shooting is also a big advantage. A familiarity with the typical behaviour of different birds is also invaluable, having an occasional feeling for what might happen before it happens is extremely helpful.
In bird photography it can also be helpful to make full use of your senses. Sight is of course extremely important but hearing may come a close second in many situations, once you start to be familiar with some of the calls that different birds make it can really inform your search. When you recognise a bird call it can tell you both what to look for and where to look for it, in some cases the birds are so well camouflaged in their surroundings that without this kind of hint your chances of finding them are close to zero.
More than 85% of the different species I have photographed so far are ones that I have found in Finland but I have occasionally spent some time focusing on birds while on one of my landscape photography trips. A whale watching boat trip in the North Atlantic (while visiting Iceland) allowed me to photograph Northern Fulmars while my visits to the UK have included journeys to photograph colonies of Puffins and Gannets in the North Sea, slowly building my collection of images.
One thing which can be a bit surprising when starting to pay attention to birds is the amount of interesting details, there is a whole world of colour that they display in their plumage and a lot of interesting shapes and forms.
Although birds are not my main photographic focus I find it very relaxing and interesting spend some of my time with this kind of photography. The challenges are quite different as it is often an extremely instantaneous and reactive kind of activity rather than a carefully planned one, while many of the fundamentals remain the same.
Below you can see a full list of the bird species I have managed to photograph so far, I hope that I can add more to it over time.
Before I leave this topic I would like to mention my friend Mika Grönroos who has accompanied me on many bird related excursions over the past couple of years and has also had to put up with quite a few "what kind of bird is this?" questions as I tried to find my way round this topic. Thanks for the help Mika!
Until next time,
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