Spring has finally arrived and hopefully summer is not to far away. At this time of year, I start to think of photographing birds. Mainly for two reasons, it is warmer and I am will to go out at photograph just about anything and second I usually hit a warmer climate in April to get my photography going.
This April, I am headed for Florida, to photograph all sorts of different birds, plus a lot of other areas of photography. This got me to thinking, what will I need to photograph birds this trip. I need to be portable, but the birds can be small and somewhat far away so I will need my telephoto. I shoot with a full frame camera, so my telephoto will need to be stronger than if I was using a crop frame camera. My selection for a telephoto lens would be in the 300 to 500mm range, the stronger the better. Most birds will be 30-40 feet away or further unless you are well hidden in a blind or camouflaged. With a crop camera it is still nice to have the longer lens, but not a necessary, since you have the magnification of the crop sensor. I like using zooms, the one I use is a 200 to 400mm zoom with an f/stop of f/4. This works well for me on larger birds, the smaller birds it is a little weak. I like the f/4 so that my depth of field is very shallow, keeping my background out of focus. If I need to get a little closer I will add a 1.4 converter or a 2x converter. This will slow the focusing down, but will bring everything closer.
Wide angle lens can be nice to bring a long when photographing large groups of birds in flight, that are closer to you. It is also nice to show where the birds are located and how they live and where they live.
Another item needed is some sort of support. Either a pretty heavy duty tripod ( see Really Right Stuff www.reallyrightstuff.com) with a gimbal head on it (I use a Wimberly Head www.tripodhead.com), it helps to keep you steady and the gimbal head lets you follow the bird, it takes some practice, but after a while you get pretty good at following the bird.
Another way to support your camera is to shoot from the car and use the car as a blind, with some padding such as a bean bag on your sill to cushion the lens, the car works well to hide you, just make sure you turn the car off to get sharper images and if you get out of the car do not slam the door or you could scare the bird away.
The best times to shoot is early morning and later afternoon, the sun should be at your back so the birds are lit up nicely with that early morning soft warm sun and the afternoon sun. Watch the shadows, once they get pretty harsh it is a good time to quite and take a break, usually shooting from 11 AM to 3 PM the light can be pretty harsh and the only way to get any good bird shots is if they are in the shade.
One final thing that you will need photographing birds is patience, wait for them to come to you, watch their flying habits, when feeding they usually go to a particular branch then come in to eat and leave. So watch the birds see what their habits are, it will give you a better chance to get that exciting shot. Come back to the same spot over and over, the birds may be there one day and not the next, hopefully they are there when you are. Research the birds you want to photograph so that you know their habits and behavior, once you know what they will do, that will give you the better chance of success. Have fun and enjoy the outdoors and I hope you get to photograph some interesting birds.