Arts & Culture

5 tips to make your bird photography take flight

A female belted kingfisher snatches a small prize at Sweet Springs Nature Preserve in Los Osos.
A female belted kingfisher snatches a small prize at Sweet Springs Nature Preserve in Los Osos.

Interested in bird photography? You don’t have to wing it.

Courtesy of Morro Bay photographer Marlin Harms, here are a few tips for folks who want to see their hobby take flight.

Equipment is key

Whether you’re a fledgling photographer or a seasoned pro, you’ll need to spend some money on a quality camera and a decent long-focus lens. “The better equipment you have, the better results,” Harms said.

Get educated

Take a class, try a workshop or go on a field trip with wildlife photographers who know their stuff.

“It helps if you’re really interested in birds in the first place, and it helps if you’re really interested in photography,” Harms said, but even the most enthusiastic birders can use some extra instruction.

Put birding in a better light

Don’t shadow your subjects. Since it’s difficult to choreograph birds’ movements, position yourself so the sun is behind you — providing plenty of natural lighting. When dealing with smaller birds, Harms sometimes supplements sunlight with a flash.

Set a schedule

To guarantee good lighting conditions, head out when many birds are most active — just after dawn and right before sunset. (Alternately, some species are more likely to be spotted at midday.)

Harms prefers embarking in the early morning, when there’s less wind on the coast, but he also appreciates evening’s golden glow.

Be patient

Not sure when your favorite bird will show up? Stake out a likely spot and wait.

“Sometimes I’ll try for a few minutes and, if nothing’s happening, I’ll move on,” Harms said, although he’s spent hours waiting for the right moment.

He emphasized that birding takes time, so patience and an easygoing attitude are key.

“You have to appreciate what you’re waiting for,” he said.

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