For all those who have just ventured into bird photography, here are 10 tips that personally work for me.
1) Patience: Patience is the name of the game. Be prepared to wait for long hours. Bird photography is sometimes good luck but most of the time it is sheer efforts through long hours of waiting and good study of the behavior of the bird. Mostly the wait is around 3-4 hours but sometimes it may drag up to 5-6 hours at a stretch too. To capture the unique moment or action you need lot of efforts and endurance.
2) Study Wildlife: Know everything about the target species and their habits. For taking photos of birds you should know all you can about them, when and where you can find them and at what time. You should also know about their habitat and migration patterns. You need to be at right place and at the right time of the year to find the birds. That will ensure some great deal of good photography opportunities. The study of their life cycle also helps in determining when they are most active and can fetch some great displays. Most important do not disturb the birds, you should know when they are getting stressed so backup. A good study will allow you to predict their moves and thus you will have a greater chance of getting good shots.
3) Be an early bird yourself: Birds are most active during the early hours of the day. The light is also the best at this time, not too harsh, not too soft. If you cannot make it early then late evening is when you get good lighting conditions. Take advantage of that, getup early and hit the field.
4) Location and preparation: Before going to a particular location try and get more information about it. Like exact spots, water holes, fruit trees etc where you can find birds easily. If its your first attempt try to find a location where birds are used to human existence, that will enable you to get little closer to the birds. Always wear dull coloured cloths which can match the environment and better camouflage. Best is to use hides. If available Car can prove to be a good hide sometimes apart from its convenience. If you are on bare foot move slowly by doing so, you will often be able to approach your birds closely without disturbance
5) Shutter Speed, ISO, and Tripod: Most of the time faster the shutter speed the better it is, you will get sharp and clear picture. If the light is low try to increase ISO to get good shutter speed. Some high end cameras have best ISO performance. Whenever possible try to use tripod (good quality & sturdy), it will increase picture quality drastically. Focusing on birds eye is always a good start, if you select right aperture you will get good depth of field and entire bird will be in focus.
6) Background & Habitat, Angle, Catch light: Whenever you click pictures always pay attention to the background beforehand. A clean, out of focus background always looks good and pleasing. It emphasizes on the subject. But sometimes so called 'clutter' also shows habitat of bird which is a very important factor.
If you get good close-up shots always try and get few additional ones where you can show the surrounding habitat of the bird. Look for a good angle, try to get to birds eye level, also watch out for light direction, nice catch light (light reflection in eyes) in bird's eyes brings life to picture.
7) Equipment: Best equipment, best Auto focus and AI servo mode, F stop, Continuous burst mode helps. Try to get best equipment you can afford, cheap lenses gives cheap results. Get fast lenses with wider aperture, these lenses help in faster auto focus. Also get good camera bodies for fast autofocus modes. When birds are on the move use AI servo modes, it helps in keeping focus on bird even when it is in flight. If your camera allows keep it on continuous burst mode, by this you will get the moment you might not be able to capture in a single click, as these movements are very short & quick. High end camera can give you up to 6-10 frames per second.
8) Moment & Action, Flight: A bird's portrait shot with some action or unique moment always tells some story or brings some life in picture. Story telling pictures or pictures showing birds life/activities which we generally can't see are always interesting. Always try to capture such moments through undivided attention and patience.
9) Composition: Composing a good picture is the key to successful bird photography. The bird should never cover the entire frame. Always try and keep some space in front of the bird or space in the direction in which the bird is looking at. Follow composition rules like rule of thirds where you divide picture in 9 parts by drawing two lines vertically and horizontally, and placing the subject at intersection of these lines. This creates more balance and adds the interest points. Always keep yourself updated with such rules.
While you wait for birds to come to their favorite spots/perch try to pre- compose your shot, also pre-focus helps
10) Process your images and browse to take inspiration: This is the last step of workflow but the most important part. If you take good photos in the field you will spend less time doing post-processing. Process your images in such a way that they look pleasing and match the exact setting in which you took the photograph. If you do not have high end telephoto lens, try to crop the photos creatively to create some good photos. Always browse the websites of some good wildlife photographers to take inspiration. Add lots of photography websites to your favorites and make a genuine effort in taking better pictures. The rule never fails.