Bird Photography on the Cheap

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Seems like photography enthusiasts drift toward bird photography at some point in their lives. They are either a birder who wants to capture their life list in photos or a amateur photographer who is looking for a great subject that gets they out of the house. In either case, most of these would be bird photographers come to me with questions about how to improve their photographs. Namely they want to product photographs of the quality they see in their birding books and in National Geographic magazine.

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The problem lays in trying to compete with professionals who write off insanely expensive cameras and glass and will stalk their subjects for three weeks in some exotic location paid for by the magazine. This is why as a photographer trying to make a living on their work, I don’t want anything to do with bird photography. The quality long lenses can cost $5,000 to $25,000 and the top cameras can cost over $3,000. That’s a lot of equipment money to try to make a profit on and the market for bird photography is over-saturated and not even all that in demand in the first place. Low demand and high costs of equipment. Not a good formula for turning a profit.

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And then there is the travel costs. Unless you have a lot of exotic birds in your backyard, you will have to travel to find them. A birder friend of mine recently took a cruise to South America and the Galápagos Islands. She had a great time and added something like 900+ birds to her life list but also came back with a lot of blurry bird photos. But I disgress…


Bird Photography on the Cheap

Birds are tiny!  They represent a small fraction of your total view.  With your eyes you might focus in on the birds and disregard the surrounding but when you take a photograph of them, you realize how small they really are compared to the overall landscape.  So you are going to have to get close – either physically or optically.

So you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on long expensive lenses like the Canon EF 600mm that costs about $10K.

Tip One – Buy a lens aimed at the photo enthusiast market instead of the professional level lens such as this Sigma lens.  You can also rent lenses to test them out or while on vacation although renting a lens isn’t cheap,  It can cost hundreds of dollars to rent a huge lens.

Tip Two – Get a bridge camera with a built in long lens.  These are birders favorites as they provide plenty of zoom at a low cost.

Tip Three – Get closer to the birds.   This is the cheapest way to get close up photos of birds,  Set out some food and hunker down in a blind and wait for the birds to come to you.  You can photograph the birds with shorter range lenses if you are closer to them.

Tip Four – Crop in your photos.  Just because you see a photograph of a bird in a magazine and it looks like the photographer is right on top of the bird doesn’t mean they didn’t crop the photo.  Birds are tiny, crop in for maximum impact.

Tip Five – Create a feeding station and put plenty of perches around for more natural photographs.