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22 Oct 2013

Seeing that the weather is not too bad in the morning, I went down to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and see if I can catch some photographs of birds. The last time that I came here was almost 3 years back, and I did not manage to spot and photograph any birds due to bad weather.
This time round, I was happy to be see many birds. However, photographing bird can be very frustrating as they never seem to keep still long enough for you. Although I am not exceptionally good with birds photography, I will still share some of my experiences relating to photographing birds at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

Sufficient Light and Speed is Key

High shutter speed will avoid potential camera shake and freeze birds' motion. A shutter speed of at least 1/320s is required for a sharp photograph of birds that are not in flight. If you want to freeze the birds in flight, an even higher shutter speed of at least 1/1000s is required.

Due to the need for speed, photographing birds in direct sunlight would be ideal. Unless the lighting condition allows me to use a lower ISO, I would use an ISO of 400 or higher in exchange for the shutter speed that I need.

Long Telephoto Lens

At Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, birds are photographed from observation stations which could be quite a distance from the birds resting spot. As such, a super telephoto lens of at least 400mm is required if you want a close-up photograph of the birds.

If you do not have such a super telephoto lens, then just have to live with a cropped version of the taken photograph with the birds close-up, which is of a smaller photograph size. An extender can also be used on the telephoto lens to increase the focal length, but may result in two-stops of effective light loss.

For me, I used my longest available telephoto zoom lens (i.e. EF70-200mm F/2.8L IS II USM) on a cropped camera body for the additional reach.

Aperture Priority (AP) or Time/Shutter Priority (Tv) Mode?

Shooting in AP mode will allow greater control of the depth of field when photographing birds at eye-level view. Shooting with an aperture of F/4 - F/5.6 will produce a striking sharp with a strong bokeh in the background.

At Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, the observation station are on a much higher level ground and the bird photographed will always be having the water or ground of swamp as background. So it makes no difference what aperture is being used as the depth of field will be beyond the background. Therefore, Time/Shutter Priority mode could be a better choice in this case to maintain the shutter speed that is required.

Use AI Servo Focusing (i.e. Continuous Auto-Focus)

Using continuous focusing mode will allow the subject to be tracked and stay sharp in the focus when the bird is moving around until the shot is ready to be taken.

Use a Tripod

Do you want to carry that weight of the telephoto lens and take the shot without a tripod? Camera shake may be introduced if shot is taken without a tripod considering the weight of the lens and need to move your camera/lens with the subject. So, use a tripod such as one with ball heads, that can allow you to quickly changing angle and position while tracking the birds.

Focus on the Eye

It is important to focus on the eye, as the sharpness in the eye will bring out the liveness of bird. For ease of doing that, the camera should be set to auto-focus on the center spot only i.e. turn off automatically detect focusing spot.

Continuous Multiple Shots

Try going for multiple shots with a single press on the shutter when the birds' movement are too unpredictable and difficult to anticipate. Surely one of these shots will capture the split moment that the bird keep still enough for the shutter speed.

Be Patience and Observe

I always debated within myself on this point. If I spot a nice-looking bird that landed somewhere near me, I would want to take the shot as fast as possible before the bird fly away - that "moment" is important for me and there is no time to observe them first.

However in the case of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, the flocks of birds gathered at the resting spot is unlikely to just fly away immediately. Thus I recommend to watch and observe their movement for a while, so that you can better anticipate their actions in your shots.

Besides birds, there are other photography subjects which I will share in my next post.