Ethical bird photography for beginners

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Ethical techniques for finding, approaching, and photographing wild birds


  • 1.Getting Started inEthicalBird PhotographyWith Mark Bohrer

2. So you want to photograph birds without harming them. 3. Ethical photography preserves birds Disturb a parent, and she may abandon her young Your pictures show their value andthe right way to watch! 4. Wildlife Photographers Code of Ethics 1

  • Move slowly and quietly to keep em where they are
  • Avoid nests and dens or keep averydiscreet distance
  • Limit feeding to backyard birds wildlife will appear without being lured
  • Learn to recognize wildlife alarm signals and respect them.


  • Keep your distance. If they change what theyre doing, youre too close - and you miss their natural behavior.
  • Use a telephoto lensfrom a blind or a vehicle.
  • Dont chase or flush em. They dont need the stress!
  • Leaveplants and trees as they were.Think of the next persons background.
  • Obey all the regs.Especially respect trail closures - theyre for everybodys safety.
  • Federal and state lawprohibitdisturbing wildlife - leave em alone!

Wildlife PhotographersCode of Ethics 2 6. Wildlife photography isnt done with a Kodak Instamatic

  • Use a dSLR with a crop sensor (smaller than a piece of 35mm film)
  • Use a 400mm lens or longer to keep your distance and pull em in
  • Use a stable tripod carbon fiber if you can swing the $$
  • Use a gimbal head Wimberley for 400mm and up if you have it ($$ again) ball head if you dont


  • No white, red or unnatural colors What does the bull do when it sees the red cape?
  • Youll need something to carry it in 400mm and longer lenses require a dedicated bag. See the Long Lens Cases

The well-dressed wildlife photographer 8. What do you want to capture?

  • Who Colors, legs & bills, calls, size
  • Where Beach, Marsh, Forest
  • When Season, Time of day
  • What Are they flying, perching, feeding, breeding?
  • How do we get there?

The best bird photographers are storytellers 9. Its about the BEHAVIOR, dude!! Avoid boring pictures Do your behavioral homework so you know what to expect. Then wait for something interesting to happen! So whats the story? 10. The Story Where the birds are Long-legged waders like shallows creeks & sloughs 11. The Story Where the birdsare Sandpipers and their kin like mud 12. The Story Where the birds are Upland ground birds like grasslands and savannah 13. The Story Where the birds are Raptors like forests, savannah, coastal marshes 14. The Story Think abouthow they eat Double-crested cormorants dive for prey, but need to dry soggy feathers afterwards 15. The Story Think abouthow they eat

  • Most owls are nocturnal hunters
  • Adult burrowing owls perch outside burrows during the day
  • Owls hunt 24 hours to feed nestlings in spring

16. The Story Think abouthow they eat Some ducks dabble for seeds Some ducks dive for live bait! 17. The Story Think abouthow they eat Sparrows and other perching birds like seeds in bordering grasslands CEREAL! 18. The Story Think abouthow they eat Gulls eat anything living especially marine invertebrates like mussels 19. The Story Think abouthow they eat California brown pelicans dive for fish American white pelicans dip for fish 20. The Story Birds as consumers

  • They eat grass, seeds, insects, fish, worms, shellfish, snails
  • Bottom-up herbivores and top-down predators
  • What would happen if they didnt eat? (Think about connections)

21. Turkey vultures and other scavengers Natures garbage men clean up carrion & organic waste The Story - Ecosystem Maintenance 22. The StoryEcosystem Maintenance Eggshells return calcium, traces of Mg and S to soil and plants love that stuff! Chicks are prey for other birds & mammals - their remains decay into soil.More nutrients for plants and no waste 23.

  • Wetlands provide:
  • water filters
  • food
  • flood control
  • homes

All that, and we get to photograph the residents! The Story It maylookempty, but birds and other wildlife live there 24.

  • Wetlands provide:
  • water filters
  • food
  • flood control
  • homes

All that, and we get to photograph the residents! The Story It maylookempty, but birds and other wildlife live there 25. Shooting techniques f/8 and be there or not

  • Isolatewith narrow depth of field =LARGElens openings
  • Use highest possible ISOBUTlow enough for acceptable noise ISO 1600-3200 with current cameras at close distances
  • High ISO + large lens opening =barelyhigh-enough shutter speeds to freeze action

26. Shooting techniques Approachslowly 27. Shooting techniques Take insurance shots from farther away 28. Shooting techniques

  • How close? Fill the framewithout behavior changes:
  • Move up while theyre feeding
  • Gulls, ravens and egrets are easier to approach

29. Shooting techniques

  • Use a tripod for 500mm or 600mm lenses did I say that already?

Heck, use a tripod for 400mm lenses too can you hold 8X binoculars steady? 30. Composition AKA Shot Design 1 Remember, editors dont buy crappy pictures and spouses wont look at them either

  • If it distracts from your subject, eliminate it!
  • No cluttered backgrounds
  • The near eye should be sharp
  • Avoid bullseye centering
  • Get it right in the camera

31. Composition AKA Shot Design 2 Remember, editors dont buy crappy pictures and spouses wont look at them either

  • Take a variety of compositions
  • Give your subject room to move
  • but close enough to fill the frame!
  • Head and shoulder portraits work for birds too
  • Show some environment sense of place!

32. Composition AKA Shot Design Examples Keeping it simple blurred background, one subject with environment vertical centering is OK Give your subject room to move into the frame 33. Composition AKA Shot Design Examples

  • Watch for the behavior
  • A little unsharpness is OK butsomethingshould be pretty sharp!

34. Composition AKA Shot Design Examples

  • Vary your shutter speeds use a tripod!
  • Break the rules occasionally

35. Flight shots Show a reference point, or blue sky 36. Behavior 2 Eating Hunting(bring a flash?) Nest-building Feeding 37. Seasonal Behavior: Spring and Fall migration

  • North in Spring to Alaska & Arctic for food / mating
  • South in Fall to go where the food is
  • Some birds live here year-round
  • There are always migrants along the Flyway

Winter Spring, before heading north 38. Seasonal Behavior Nesting Raising young Mating / courtship 39. Where the birds are

  • No live native guides?
  • Use a field guide!
  • Santa Clara County AudubonsBirding at the Bottom of the Bay
  • SibleysField Guide to Birds of the Western U.S.
  • BaicichsNests, Eggs and Nestlings
  • StokesField Guide to Bird Songs(Audio CD set)
  • iBird app for iPhone or Android great bird call guide, but dont use bird calls in the field!

Ask a native guide. 40. Avoid the Digital Shoebox afterwards

  • Download files from memory cards
  • Use image file management software
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom file management and basic editing
  • DigitalPro file management, picture submission

41. Lets go outside and play

  • More Resources and Info
  • Don Edwards SF Bay NWRsTidelinenewsletter for more free bird programs
  • Santa Clara Audubons Bay Area Bird Photographers group for photo help
  • for bird location tips.