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How to Photograph Wading Birds

Wading birds are interesting subjects for nature photographers. They have tall spindly legs like stilts that keep their bodies high above the waters in which they fish. They also have pointy beaks that they use like harpoons to impale their dinner prior to eating it. They’re also very stealthy. Watching a heron stalk its dinner is an amazing sight.

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Birds are inquisitive and they will put things in their beaks that they shouldn’t. Don’t leave an empty bottle or bottle caps. These can prove deadly to birds. If you bring any type of food or drinks with you, keep your litter with you.

If you live near water and want to practice nature photography, you have a wonderful opportunity to photograph wading birds. With camera in hand, you can capture this magic. Here are some tips for photographing wading birds:

  • Get to the bird’s level. This often means lying prone. For your safety and protection, consider draping a cheap poncho on the ground before you become one with the ground.

    Never lie down in thick brush, even with a poncho. The last thing you want to do is disturb a venomous snake in the grass that may be looking for a meal.

  • Disable the beep that sounds when your camera achieves focus. The sound may scare the bird and cause it to fly away before you get your shot.

  • Wait. Wading birds literally drop in and start feeding. If nothing’s happening, wait a few minutes and some subjects may fly in.

  • Find a spot where you aren't in the bird’s direct line of sight. If the bird can see you and your equipment, it’s more likely to depart the area.

  • Look for wading birds asleep during the day. You can find them perched in trees or mangroves during the day. At dusk they come out to feed.

  • Go to where the wading birds find their fish dinner. They’re active when and where the fish are. This means you’ll find them close to shore at feeding time or perched on a branch or rock near the shoreline. Fish congregate underneath the docks, so this is an excellent area to photograph wading birds. Find an isolated dock off the beaten path.

    Some wading birds like ibis can be found in neighborhoods near the coast. If you have seen wading birds in your neighborhood, have a camera ready at all times. You never know when a photo opportunity will literally pop up just outside your window.

  • Photograph wading birds in Shutter Priority mode. Use a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second or faster. The relatively fast shutter speed freezes the motion of the bird as it dives for its prey.

  • Shoot in Continuous Focus mode and switch to a single auto-focus point. Birds move when feeding. After you press the shutter button halfway to achieve focus, the camera updates focus as the bird moves. The single auto-focus point gives you the capability to focus with laser precision. Focus on the bird’s eye.

  • Use a long focal length to photograph wading birds that are feeding. The long focal length lets you zoom in from a distance without spooking the bird.

  • Shoot at an ISO setting that yields an aperture with an f-stop of f/7.1 or f/8.0. Coupled with a long focal length, this gives you an adequate depth of field to render all the details on the bird, yet the background is still a soft blur.

  • Shoot in Continuous Drive mode. When the bird starts doing something interesting, press the shutter button and hold it down to capture a sequence of images. If you’re patient and lucky, you’ll capture one or more images of the bird spearing its prey and then eating it.

  • Wait a few seconds after a bird stops feeding. When the water stills, turn your camera 90 degrees and then take a picture of the bird and its reflection in the calm water.

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