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The Right Equipment for Photographing Birds

Bird photography is very rewarding. However, it can be quite challenging to get good photographs of birds when you don’t have the right equipment. In addition to knowing about your subjects, you also need to know what equipment to use and what techniques to employ to capture great bird images with your digital camera.

Camera and lens

The best solution for photographing birds is a good digital SLR camera. If you’re considering purchasing a camera specifically for photographing birds, a digital SLR with a sensor that is smaller than a 35mm frame of film is ideal. The focal length multiplier of these cameras gets you close to the action.

For example, a 200mm lens on a Canon EOS 7D has the 35mm equivalent focal length of 320mm. Get the longest lens you can afford. A focal length of 200mm may be ideal for photographing large wading birds like great blue herons, but to photograph birds like bald eagles or red-shouldered hawks, you need a focal length of at least 400mm.

If you can’t afford a long lens, consider buying a good quality tele-extender. A 2X tele-extender doubles the focal length of any lens. Unfortunately, it also doubles the largest aperture of the lens, which means a 200mm f/4.0 lens with a 2X tele-extender becomes a 400mm f/8.0 lens. To ensure a sharp picture with a long lens, or with a lens with a tele-extender, consider purchasing a good tripod.

Long telephoto lenses don’t come cheap, but you can find some reasonably priced lenses that get the job done, such as the Tamron 200–500mm f/5–6.3 Di LD IF Autofocus Lens. It’s a long lens, but it’s relatively easy to handhold and comes with a built-in tripod mount.

[Credit: Photo courtesy of Tamron]
Credit: Photo courtesy of Tamron

Creating a makeshift bird blind

If you’re serious about photographing birds, you need a bird blind. A bird blind is a manmade structure that blends in with the surroundings and gives you a place to hide while waiting for birds to show up so you can photograph them. The photographer stays in the bird blind and watches or photographs the birds when they come into view.

You can easily create a makeshift bird blind using a brown or green bedsheet. Use a clothesline and clothespins to fasten the sheet to trees. It’s also a good idea to put something like a sheet of plastic or an old poncho on the ground before fastening the sheet to the trees.

Fasten a couple of twigs with some leaves attached to the bedsheet. Cut a hole for your camera to poke through, climb inside, and wait. If you’re adventurous, use camouflage material instead of a bedsheet.

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