Tip #66: Birdscapes that Captivate

Lesser Flamingos in a Row (Phoenicopterus minor) - Lake Navaisha, Kenya
Canon 7D + 300mm f2.8IS L

Bird photography is one subset of the broader nature genre I pursue. In keeping with the philosophy of a nature generalist... “take what you can get when you can get it,” I am always looking to make serendipity happen. For many, the wildlife landscape is the pre-shoot or safety image. It is the picture to get before the picture you want. A healthy fear of predation makes our subjects skittish, even during a patient approach. As such, experienced photographers have learned to shoot a “safety” first, make the “I got it shot,”...and then move in for a “best.”
My approach to the wildlife landscape is dramatically different. A bird in its environment tells an ecological story about a niche, interactions, and biology. The interesting “Birdscape” is not a safety, it is a thoughtful photograph created with the intent to illustrate a sense of place and time.
Sandhill Cranes at Dusk (Grus canadensis) - Crex Meadows, WI
Canon 7D + 300mm f2.8IS L with a 15 second exposure
To make a birdscape consider the following suggestions...
  • Use a tripod to lock down the camera and reduce vibration.
  • Level your horizon before you begin to shoot.
  • Scan the edges of your frame as you consider the final composition. This prevents the inclusion distracting elements that seem to appear from nowhere.
  • Consider the whole landscape and the story you want to tell.
  • Seek dramatic and flattering light by shooting your wildlife landscapes during sunrise and sunset. 
  • Plan ahead. Make your bird landscapes a viable choice rather than the safety shot.
  • Make this an opportunity to experiment with long exposures or telephoto landscapes. 
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